Next year, I am writing a thesis on contemporary Irish female autobiography for the English Honors Program. As of now, I have proposed an idea that involves exploring how Irish women writers of every genre use autobiography (or as women writers more commonly refer to it, “memoir”) as a way to more firmly establish themselves in a seemingly patriarchal literary tradition. However, they do not do so overtly—as demonstrated by a tendency to dismiss their Irish-ness, confessions to the difficulties that accompany womanhood, and most significantly for the purpose of my to-be thesis, admittance to the incongruence between authorship and femininity.
Although one might assume that such discussions would prove problematic, I have noticed that, through language, the three women whose works I am examining (Anne Enright, Nuala O’Faolain, Eavan Boland—I nearly shiver to mention their names in hope that I will do their works justice and in fear that my idea is even relevant, although I highly doubt that either Enright or Boland will ever stumble across this blog.), through language, demonstrate their capability as Irish writers in their respective genres. And, they are ALL marvelous writers—Enright, a Booker Prize winning novelist, Boland, an award winning poet, and O’Faolain, a highly esteemed journalist—in addition to their roles as talented and enlightening memoirists.
My work at CUNY Lehman has actually brought me into a space that not only values Irish literature, but also has quite an extensive set of resources on Irish literature housed in a room adjunct to the very office in which I work. Needless to say, yesterday, while taking a break (which may have turned into a good hour long…) I began to peruse this library, taking note of the books that seemed helpful. My co-worker, noticing my enthusiasm for the project, even scanned the covers of the books so that I would have the information I needed whenever I wanted.
With the year of work ahead of me, thoughts about my project are already looming large in my head. In fact, I think about my thesis quite constantly; it’s almost as though the project has taken residence in my brain, sometimes dormant, and sometimes running around like mad, but, still, always present.
I guess, in the end, what I want to prove is a statement that Eavan Boland makes when describing female poets’ contributions to the art of poetry:
“They won’t just have rebalanced elements within the poem. They will have altered the cartography of the poem. The map will look different.”
Irish women writers have not simply added to the literary tradition of the thirty-two counties that comprise Ireland. They have changed it. They have made the map look different.