Academic journal article Nebula

Stepping out from the Margins: Ireland, Morality, and Representing the Other in Irish Chick Lit

Academic journal article Nebula

Stepping out from the Margins: Ireland, Morality, and Representing the Other in Irish Chick Lit

Article excerpt

In her introduction to a study on Irish writer Kate O'Brien, Adele M. Dalsimer cited the two structures that have long been identified as the heart of Irish culture: as she says, the 'family is at the centre of communal life" and "Catholicism is the anchor of unquestioned orthodoxy and cohesive moral standard" (Dalsimer: 1990, xiii). Though these attitudes were largely enforced by the Church, whose teachings were adopted by the entire nation, the law in Ireland also reflected these same attitudes; both Church and state in Ireland maintained that people should hold a certain morality, particularly relating to areas of sexuality and reproduction:

Single motherhood was considered shameful in Ireland at that time and children born outside of wedlock were discriminated against in the law. Domestic violence was widely considered a private issue to be dealt with primarily within "the family", and use of contraception/artificial family planning was illegal. (Connolly: 2005, 3)

Irish society became so fixated on issues of so-called "morality" that they took even further precautions to ensure the moral values of their people were upheld:

As part of the continuing campaign to control the personal morality of young people, the Free State took measures to limit the number of public houses and to reduce opening hours; film censorship was also introduced to protect young minds from corrupting influences. However, the craze for modern dancing, which provided the opportunity for young men and women to associate together in venues outside the control of the Catholic hierarchy, was a particular cause of alarm. (Hill: 2003, 106)

Such strict codes of moral behaviour resulted in Irish people often feeling limited and repressed by society. Such "ideals" for morality among Irish people were even encouraged in various other formats; even the Irish television and radio broadcasting company, RTE, was advised 'to defend traditional ideals of marriage and motherhood? (Hill: 2003, 143-144), which were intrinsic to the notion of Irish morality. Irish people therefore felt enormous pressure from a wide variety of outside influences--Church, society, family, even television--as to the path their life should take.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, however, Irish society underwent many changes which had a direct impact on Irish family life and which were seen to lessen the call for so-called morality, such as easier access to divorce and remarriage, and so 'the nature of family life for many was radically different at the century's end? (Hill: 2003, 243).

However, while progress was undoubtedly made as Irish society became more accepting of behaviours which deviated from the "norm", issues such as those of lone-parent families (particularly single mothers) and single-sex relationships, among other things, have taken longer to be acknowledged, and have been the source of much controversy and objection. This paper will outline the difficulties "marginal" groups--such as homosexuals and single mothers--faced in an Ireland obsessed with morality, and will then use the example of a selection of Irish chick lit novels to demonstrate how these issues are being acknowledged and voiced by such authors, and how, in doing so, they are helping to distance such groups of people from their currently marginal and largely ignored status.

Single Motherhood

The Irish puritan morality mentioned above spread itself through a huge part of Irish culture, and the development of popular culture was hindered by the application of strict censorship laws. For example, many books, particularly by female writers, were banned for containing scenes which were deemed "unsuitable" for Irish society. Irish writer Kate O'Brien's Mary Lavelle (1936) was banned for obscenity in Ireland, while her later novel The Land of Spices (1941) was also banned due to a 'brief allusion to a gay male relationship? (Garnes: 2002, par. …

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