‘Being the Not Wife’: Representations of Second Wives and Stepmothers in the Fiction of John McGahern and Anne Enright
In Margins of Philosophy, Jacques Derrida suggests that ‘the subject at consciousness has never manifested itself except as self-presence’.1 Self-presence, and the interpretation of classification of the self within a familial setting, has, and continues to be, a universally recurrent personal and societal concern, one which causes every person to question and assess the nature of their place within their own family unit. This chapter investigates – in the work of John McGahern and Anne Enright – the position and self-identity (within the family unit) of female characters, who come to take the place of matriarchal head of the household in the aftermath of the death of a first wife or a marital separation. While this theme is explored in numerous novels by both writers, this chapter will explore in particular the representation of Elizabeth in The Barracks (1963), of Rose in Amongst Women (1990), of Evelyn in What Are You Like? (2000) and of Gina in The Forgotten Waltz (2011), The examination will be conducted through the lens of the literary theories of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.
While these two writers differ in some respects, the similarities evident in their writing justify a comparative examination of their collective work. By foregrounding issues relating to women’s rights, agency and representation, writings by both McGahern and Enright shed light on the ever-changing place and position of women in Irish society from the mid-twentieth to the twenty-first century. As will be seen, their work highlights the internal ← 79 | 80...
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