Taking back history : Irish women's fiction, 1928-1988
Watson, Leah Elizabeth
In this study of modern historical fictions by female writers I argue that there is an "invisible intertext" in women's writing in Ireland that challenges the tradition discerned by mainstream critics. The mainstream tradition is, in fact, a male tradition and it includes only those historical fictions that inscribe a view of modern Irish history as "the story of the struggle to overcome British domination." In an extended first section, I examine modern Irish literary and historical discourse to reveal the particular ways that women have been written out. I demonstrate that a major project of mainstream critics and historians has been to explain a "clash of cultures" (Protestant and Catholic). In its insistence that cultural difference has produced distinct literatures, this project has tended to obscure cross-cultural similarities in the lives of women. These similarities, I argue, are evident in women's writing. I demonstrate also that mainstream literary criticism has fused a male-dominated literature to a militaristic history to create a literary canon that excludes female authors. I then compare historical fictions by female authors from Elizabeth Bowen (1929) to Jennifer Johnston (1987) to show that not only do women's texts bear striking similarities to one another (whether the authors are Catholic or Protestant) but also that taken together they challenge the picture of Irish history presented by male authors.