The Ante-Room


Noting, in the newsagent for €2.99, a very pretty edition of, what some consider Kate O’Brien’s best novel, The Ante-RoomThe Ante-Room, I bought it.  And have now read it.  On the MA in Irish Writing and Film, we study O’Brien’s The Land of Spices and Mary Lavelle under the nurturing eye of Dr Éibhear Walshe, so it seemed rational enough to read another of O’Brien’s works.  Having done so, I used Google to search for analysis and found and read appropriate extracts of a PhD thesis by Sharon Tighe-Mooney. This, entitled, “Nun, Married, Old Maid”: Kate O’Brien’s Fiction, Women and Irish Catholicism, stimulated a number of thoughts.

Why, in academic writing do titles so often employ triads or triplets of words?  This one, has the rather clumsy “Nun, Married, Old Maid” which should surely be “Nun, Wife, Spinster” or, even, in alphabetical order “Nun, Spinster, Wife”?  I could develop this even further in terms of the various heroines’ love affairs with Christ, Man,or Duty but I do not want to labour what is mainly a stylistic point. Additionally, the three words/concepts Fiction AND Women AND Irish Catholicism are not happy together either; they are not equals.  You cannot compare Fiction with the portrayal of Women in fiction.  Would it not have been better to write Women and Irish Catholicism in Kate O’Brien’s Fiction?  This may seem petty, but to me it is important because I consider, in spite of my own errors, accuracy and clarity to be essential at this level of academic work.

In the fifth chapter of O’Brien’s novel, her heroine, Agnes, tells a suitor that she has a “maggot in her brain”.  Tighe-Mooney analyses this idea in terms of a blue-bottle grub: a maggot.  She explains how useful this analogy is.  But the word maggot has more than one meaning; see John Fowles’s novel A Maggot.  If I do a simple search for a definition of the word I am presented with two meanings: ” a whimsical or strange idea” follows the larva in the Google box.  So, obviously it’s OK not to know Fowles’s novel.  But is it OK not to check the word “maggot” before analysing it at such length?  The archaic meaning does not necessarily occlude the scientific meaning but it surely is the more important definition for analysis in the context of the novel.

Is this one of the reasons why I should put my own research on a blog?  So that peers can reach out and correct me?  This would be a convincing argument if any one ever actually read my blog.  But judging by my stats they don’t.

Meanwhile I should just say that The Ante-Room is an excellent novel, one that references Henry James as well as, I think, Charlotte Bronte.  The power of Irish Catholicism in the 1880’s context is interesting to me, especially in concert with O’Brien’s work on European Catholicism in her other two novels mentioned above.  I learnt from Tighe-Mooney’s thesis too; although my carping comments might not reveal that.

What shall I read next?  Shall I address some of the background reading for my dissertation on Enda Walsh or shall I do Heather Laird’s reading for our first seminar of the Post Colonial unit?  Too soon to do the latter, if I am to remember the detail this time next week?  Happy reading in 2016.

And do let me know what errors you have spotted.

Works Cited

Fowles, J. A Maggot 1996 London: Vintage. Print.

O’Brien, K. The Ante-Room. 1934. London: Virago. 1988. Print.

—. The Land of Spices. 1942. London: Virago. 2006. Print.

—. Mary Lavelle 1936.London: Virago. 2006. Print.

Tighe-Mooney, S. “Nun, Married, Old Maid”: Kate O’Brien’s Fiction, Women           And Irish Catholicism. 2009.  Maynooth University. eprint.



Before the Start Jack B. Yeats

So I now have an image on my blog.  It was difficult as, for some reason, it did not want to get itself loaded.  Nevertheless, it is loaded.  Jack B. Yeats is my favourite Irish artist and I have seen some of his pictures, in the flesh, so to speak, both here in Cork at the Crawford and also in Dublin.  They are immediately recognisable to an art gallery visitor, such as myself, who just strides through glancing at the pictures on the left and on the right, my head switching like someone at a live tennis match.  Something strikes me and I approach it.  In Ireland I find it is Jack B. Yeats or William Orpen.  So that is my way of citing my image; the painting is held at The National Gallery of Ireland, in Dublin.  W.B. Yeats would be so proud after all his efforts to establish such an institution.

This painting features on the cover of my 1995 copy of Synge’s The Complete Plays.  I suppose it is there as an illustration to The Playboy of the Western World.  A play soon to open in Cork at The Everyman, and, incidentally, the first play I ever directed when I was Head of Drama at a grammar school for girls, in 1981.  Strangely in that school there were no drama lessons.  My brief, apart from teaching English, was to direct two plays a year.  So I cast the naughtiest girl in the school,  Joanne, to play Pegeen Mike.  And the handsomest boy from the local boys’ grammar school to play Christy.  They played in the round, dodging a peat fire, made of stuck together bits of peat from a gardening centre, and lit by a lamp bulb, covered with a red lighting gel.  Inevitably this contraption started to smoke and caught fire during the first act.

But I love the horserace in Playboy.  I love the horserace in The Quiet Man.  I am now the proud borrower of UCC’s library book, The Kirwans of Castlehacket, Co. Galway: History, folklore and mythology in an Irish horse racing family by Robert Lynch.  (2006) Four Courts Press, Dublin.  It has a chapter on Emily Lawless.  I found this out during my session yesterday with Ronan Madden.  Well done, Ronan, you taught me how to search databases.  No mean achievement, I assure you.

Can’t wait for my visit to Cork Racecourse Mallow on October 17th.  This is deep research, as in deep cleaning.  Experiential. Let me know if you have any tips – but be clear that I usually choose a horse by its name and the jockeys’ colours.