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.




Blog obsessed

Last night I dreamt about my blog.  As far as I can recall it was an all-night dream and proves my anxieties about i) managing this new piece of media and ii) knowing what should be going into it.  It terms of research most of my time has been spent attempting to find out how to do Twitter and a blog.  I followed a band on Twitter, WolfAlice, (named for Angela Carter‘s story) as the lead singer, Ellie Rowsell, is a past student of mine.  She wrote a brilliant, haunting, terrifying song, King of Darkness, for her A level Drama and Theatre Studies practical (a devised piece responding to A Midsummer Night’s Dream).  Her reply to me was, “Is that you Ms Fenton?”  It was me.  This seems to have been re-tweeted and favourited (?) all over the place.  Whoops.  Apparently Wolf Alice has an album out tomorrow.  Perhaps you caught them at Glastonbury last summer or the one before?

Today I have been thinking about tragedy and wondering why some women  playwrights (Marina Carr, Timberlake Wertenbaker and April De Angelis, for example) have recently been re-working Greek tragedies.  I saw Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats a few weeks ago in Dublin.  That was Medea.  Now she has a Hecuba opening at the RSC.  Just before I left London I saw De Angelis’s After Electra at the Tricycle.  Wertenbaker has written lots, but, of course, she was a classicist at university.  I recommend her Our Ajax as a visceral piece of theatre.  And her Britannicus; recently at the Wilton Music Hall.  One of my favourites is Love of a Nightingale, (Philomela) written in the aftermath of the death of her previous partner John Price.  Look at the phosphorescence speech in Scene Thirteen which is, I think, as moving as Maurya’s laments at the end of Riders to the Sea (Synge).

And I have been looking at Riders to the Sea in terms of its status as tragedy.  T R Henn, writing in his introduction to the Methuen edition of The Complete Plays, 1984, states “it is the only one-act play that can be described as a tragedy in the fullest sense”.  This seems quite a bold statement.  Has/had he read all the one-act plays ever written.  Hats off to him then.

So next to Synge: A Celebration ed. Colm Toibin (2005) in which he collects responses, in any form, to Synge, from writers such as Sebastian Barry, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright.  I have read a few and recommend Marina Carr’s one-act play (Ha! Mr T. R. Henn – I bet you haven’t read this one) which is called A Glass of Champagne and which depicts the meeting of the recently deceased Synge and less recently deceased Chekhov in a place of “sulphur and vapours … whirling terrors and night sweats” . (Sounds like my blog dream.) Shakespeare’s in it too with Hamnet.  It’s a good piece of literary criticism and funny and frightening too.

It would be great to be able to find and then see what my fellow students are reading and blogging about.  I think I have managed to find a few sites by following links on Emilio’s page.  Thanks Emilio!  I also saw the “white hair” blog (sorry forgotten the title) which made me laugh.  Only 58!  You should try being me…

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.

Suspicious of research blog

It seems to me that there is an assumption, in this module, that social media, are convenient and benign; in my experience and from my wider reading and from a feminist perspective, this is not necessarily so.  Do the benefits outweigh the perils?  Is the process that we are obliged to follow essential to our achievement of our best work? I will be interested to see what arguments are promulgated over the next few weeks.  And to see whether my suspicions are laid to rest.