"Nun, Married, Old Maid": Kate O'Brien's Fiction, Women and Irish Catholicism
Tighe-Mooney, Sharon (2009) "Nun, Married, Old Maid": Kate O'Brien's Fiction, Women and Irish Catholicism. PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
The settings of Kate O’Brien’s novels span late nineteenth early twentieth-century Ireland and are concerned with the lives of middle-class women. This thesis argues that O’Brien’s rendering of the interiority of the bourgeois family and the inner lives of middle-class women, reveals a site of the public discourse of Church and State. O’Brien’s representations of female characters are analysed through the framework of the Family, as well as the social, cultural and religious background of this period, focusing particularly on the influence of Catholicism on women’s roles as wives and mothers in Irish society. O’Brien provided a powerful dramatisation of the lives of women that were determined by the particular modes of femininity advocated by Irish society and Church teaching, as specified by Church writings, especially Papal encyclicals, on woman’s role in the family. Catholic Social Teaching edicts on women’s roles in the family were incorporated into the 1937 Irish Constitution, which in Article 41 especially, defined a woman’s role as that pertaining to “her life within the home” (Bunreacht na hÉireann, Article 41.2.1). Chapter One sets the historical and ideological context in which the “struggles” of the characters subsequently analysed takes place. Chapter Two looks at instances of struggle in O’Brien’s work for some mother characters, who exemplify State and Church discourses of ideal womanhood, and those around them, while Chapter Three explores the instances of protest in the lives of ideologically-bound wives. Chapter Four focuses on the struggles of single women who are precariously positioned with regard to the family. The common theme shared by O’Brien’s female characters is their negotiation of personal desires and energies within and without the structures of the family unit. By focusing on the individual experience, O’Brien questioned ideological perspectives of middle-class women’s homogenised acceptance of their prescribed roles in the family and in society, and made the seemingly private, public, a space for ideological analysis and debate.
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