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Writing Modern Ireland$
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Catherine E Paul

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780989082693

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9780989082693.001.0001

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date: 18 January 2019

The Deathly Conformity of Irish Women: Novels by Mary O’Donnell and Susan Knight

The Deathly Conformity of Irish Women: Novels by Mary O’Donnell and Susan Knight

(p.207) The Deathly Conformity of Irish Women: Novels by Mary O’Donnell and Susan Knight
Writing Modern Ireland

Jeanette Shumaker

Liverpool University Press

This essay examines the problematics of women's predicaments in traditional Irish society as represented in the novels of Mary O'Donnell and Susan Knight. Patriarchy's construction of femininity as submission, particularly in traditional countries such as Ireland, makes women especially vulnerable to deathly conformity. Irish women's conformity as an obstacle to their growth has been explored in a number of recent works, including Knight's Grimaldi's Garden (1995) and O'Donnell's The Lightmakers (1992) and Virgin and the Boy (1996). This essay analyzes the expectations and prejudices faced by the protagonists of O'Donnell and Knight's novels—including the imperative to bear children, restrictive ideas of female sexuality, and generalized pressures to conform—and argues that they reflect the ways in which Irish tradition confines women rather than allowing them to flourish. Yet in these same novels, women deviate from expected gender roles to approach self-realization, sometimes with the help of men who are broad-minded enough to challenge Irish traditions.

Keywords:   novels, Mary O'Donnell, Susan Knight, Ireland, deathly conformity, Irish women, Grimaldi's Garden, The Lightmakers, Virgin and the Boy, female sexuality

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