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Another Way Out: Women in Kate O’Brien’s Fiction
Thesis title in Czech: Ženy v románech Kate O'Brien
Thesis title in English: Another Way Out: Women in Kate O’Brien’s Fiction
Key words: Kate O´Brien, irská literatura, ženy v Irsku, feminismus
English key words: Kate O´Brien, Irish literature, women in Ireland, feminism
Academic year of topic announcement: 2010/2011
Thesis type: diploma thesis
Thesis language: angličtina
Department: Department of Anglophone Literatures and Cultures (21-UALK)
Supervisor: doc. Clare Wallace, M.A., Ph.D.
Author: hidden - assigned and confirmed by the Study Dept.
Date of registration: 18.04.2011
Date of assignment: 18.04.2011
Administrator's approval: not processed yet
Date and time of defence: 27.05.2013 08:30
Date of electronic submission:16.05.2013
Date of proceeded defence: 27.05.2013
Submitted/finalized: committed by student and finalized
Opponents: prof. Mgr. Ondřej Pilný, Ph.D.
In her essay about Kate O’Brien, Ailbhe Smyth once wrote: "All of Kate O’Brien’s work is about an "other way out.""(1) This is precisely what O’Brien does in her novel: she searches for another way out of situations that her heroines go through, for solutions, which are not only uncommon when considering the state women lived in Ireland in O’Brien’s time. Women play the central role in the novels of Kate O’Brien. However, O’Brien’s presentation of her heroines differs from how women were presented in other writings of her time – O’Brien’s female protagonists are women of the new era; they are modern and seek independency from the patriarchal world. O’Brien presents women in many positions, as mothers, dutiful daughters, but also as independency-seeking heroines who decide about their life; with this presentation she differs entirely from the situation the women lived in Ireland in her time.
In O’Brien’s novels only her minor heroines as Molly Considine, Dona Consuelo or Mrs Murphy are similar in their fates to the women of her time – Molly dies of love to her husband, which is transferred into her constant bearing of his children; Dona Consuelo is thought by her husband as dead since she is in the background and Mrs Murphy has to suffer in an unhappy marriage being left alone with a drunk. However, none of O’Brien’s female characters really represents a typical Irish woman of the 1930’s or 1940’s, a time when the author published her novels. The women in Ireland had almost no rights, they could vote, but since 1922, women were confined primarily into the household and her main roles were “to ensure stability of the state, the preservation of the family and the upholding of Catholic values.”(2) Women were to be chaste and modest, after marriage most of them were banned from work, many were deprived of education, could not divorce (legalized in 1995) or undergo an abortion (still illegal in Ireland). Moreover, having children outside marriage was and is still somewhere considered as the biggest shame of the family in Ireland, a country where the Catholic Church plays a dominant role.
The independently constructed heroines of O’Brien are, therefore, shocking when considering the time in which the author was writing. No wonder that two of her novels, Marry Lavelle and The Land of Spices, were banned for obscenity. However, it was not only obscenity as the reasons why the novels were considered immoral and not presenting a model of good behaviour to its readers. Mary Lavelle has a love affair and even sexual intercourse with a married man when she herself is engaged; the novel clearly presents the idea that when she returns back home, she will have problems because she will not be chaste as it was expected by the Church. The Land of Spices was banned because of a little mention of homosexual love; however, the novel is more radical: it presents a society when women are free from male authority but have the same privileges as men. This fact mirrors the situation in Ireland, where the convents offered the only possibility where women could fully realize themselves. However, O’Brien’s next book That Lady goes even further. Its main heroine Ana de Mendoza is a woman who resists authorities and strongly pursuits her own will, acts scandalous by having a love-affair with a married man, fully enjoys her life.
O’Brien was very innovative and daring for making up such strong female characters who challenge the patriarchal society and create their own rules. In the thesis I would like to write about how O’Brien constructs her female characters, in what these differ from the established role of woman in the Irish society and how they reflect O’Brien’s personal experience.
1) Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O´Brien, 27
2)Twentieth-century fiction by Irish women, 11
Back to the Present: Forward to the Past, Irish Writing and History since 1798, Volume II. Patricia A. Lynch, Joachim Fisher and Brian Coates eds. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2006
Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O´Brien. Eibhear Walshe ed. Cork: Cork University Press, 1993
Irish Women Writes, New Critical Perspectives. Elke D´hoker, Raphaël Ingelbien and Hedwig Schawall eds. Bern: Peter Lang AG, 2011
Political Systems and Definitions of Gender Roles. Ann Katherine Isaacs ed. Pisa: Universitá di Pisa – Edizioni Plus, 2001
Heather Ingman. Twentieth-Century Fiction by Irish Women: Nation and Gender. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 2007
St. Peter, Christine. Changing Ireland: Strategie in Contemporary Women´s Fiction. New York : Palgrave, 2000
Hill, Myrtle. Women in Ireland: A Century of Change. Belfast : Blackstaff Press, 2003
Kate O´Brien. That Lady
--- The Ante-Room
--- Without My Cloak
--- The Land of Spices
--- Mary Lavelle
“God-Given Roles for Men and Women.” Catholic Planet.20th March 2011.
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