Noting, in the newsagent for €2.99, a very pretty edition of, what some consider Kate O’Brien’s best novel, The 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.
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.