Edna O’Brien on Compass

TV Programme Alert

ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp.) TV last night featured an interview by Gay Byrne with Edna O’Brien. It’s137694-004-31D8B91F riveting watching, as they clearly like and trust one another. She speaks from the heart about a compliant childhood troubled by fear of the nuns and of her parents, and of her own attempt to get away from it through a disastrous marriage to a domineering man.

Her account of the courage involved in the kind of writing that documented this regime of intimidation and repression of women and sexuality is very moving. She tells a tragic tale of discovering her mother’s copy of her first novel, The Country Girls, hidden and wrapped up in the turf house, and with many crossings out in black pen. She was close to her mother and her writing career took a huge toll of that relationship.  No doubt she’d been influenced by a parish priest two villages away who invited those who’d bought the book to bring it to church for burning ritually. Edna O’Brien had achieved the status of a witch. And her writing put her in the vanguard of feminist satire some decades before feminist writing became de rigeur.

Her actions in writing to  put her squarely in a tradition of Irish writing which went back at least three quarters of a century to George’s Moore’s Moll Flanders and Synge’s Playboy.  The complaints made against her were similar: ‘a smear on Irish womanhood’, ‘sewage’. It took rare courage to write the second book. This is one feisty woman, committed to thinking her own thoughts and feeling her own anguish, and amusement at the authoritarian structures to which as a child she had submitted. Such forms of moral repression and control are

She also speaks feelingly of what it means to her to remain a Catholic, albeit a sceptical and anti-institutional one. Not to be missed, and it will be available on iView for a while.

Frances Devlin-Glass