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Irish Women Writers

New Critical Perspectives

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Edited By Elke D'hoker, Raphaël Ingelbien and Hedwig Schwall

After a decade in which women writers have gradually been given more recognition in the study of Irish literature, this collection proposes a reappraisal of Irish women’s writing by inviting dialogues with new or hitherto marginalised critical frameworks as well as with foreign and transnational literary traditions. Several essays explore how Irish women writers engaged with European themes and traditions through the genres of travel writing, the historical novel, the monologue and the fairy tale. Other contributions are concerned with the British context in which some texts were published and argue for the existence of Irish inflections of phenomena such as the New Woman, suffragism or vegetarianism. Further chapters emphasise the transnational character of Irish women’s writing by applying continental theory and French feminist thinking to various texts; in other chapters new developments in theory are applied to Irish texts for the first time. Casting the efforts of Irish women in a new light, the collection also includes explorations of the work of neglected or emerging authors who have remained comparatively ignored by Irish literary criticism.

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Ann Owens Weekes

Extract

Towards Her Own History: A Century of Irish Women’s Fiction Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September (1929) is an obvious and canonical starting point for any survey of Irish women’s twentieth-century fiction; it also illustrates how dimly perceived circumstances impinge on the life of its protagonist. Setting her novel during the Anglo-Irish war of 1920, Bowen uses several characters to highlight the plight of her heroine, Lois Farquar, the immature eighteen-year-old niece and heir of Sir Richard Naylor, landlord of the Danielstown estate. Sir Richard and Lady Naylor represent the passing order of Anglo-Ireland; their houseguests, Hugo and Francie Montmorency, the degeneracy of their class; a later guest, Marda Norton, the politely desperate resorts of those who sense and fear pending change. Lois and her cousin Laurence might be expected to represent the future, but both are detached from class and country. This, apparently, is an endemic condition: Sir Richard and Lady Naylor foster detachment from reality as they suppress all talk of revolution, focusing on the trivial while war rages around them. Presiding over dinner, Lady Naylor attempts to stif le discussion: ‘From all the talk you might think almost anything was going to happen, but we never listen. I have made it a rule not to talk, either’ (Bowen 1979: 27). Bowen satirises Lady Naylor’s mistaken presumption of the ‘people’s’ af fection: ‘One knew that one’s coming gave pleasure and gratification: she would enter the little drawing-room, even when empty, with her queenliness at its full’ (230). Demanding that...

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