Pedestrians crossing from the top of Talbot Street toward Henry Street in Dublin, Ireland, in 1969.

Pedestrians crossing from the top of Talbot Street toward Henry Street in Dublin, Ireland, in 1969.

When the first novel of Edna O’Brien’s “Country Girl” trilogy was published in 1960, it was banned –- and burned –- in her native Ireland. The author’s own mother went through the book, blackening all the offending words. Today it’s hard to imagine that a series about two Irish girls coming of age could stir up so much moral outrage. The story of Kate and Baba traced their lives from youthful friendship through sexual awakening to marriage. In the trilogy’s second book, the pair have moved from the countryside of their childhood to what they hope is a new life in Dublin. But their principles and friendship are tested when Kate falls in love with a married man. Join Diane and her guests for a Readers’ Review of Edna O’Brien’s “The Lonely Girl.”

Guests

  • Michelle Woods assistant professor in the English department at State University of New York at New Paltz.
  • Dan Moshenberg director of women's studies at The George Washington University.
  • Maureen Corrigan critic in residence and lecturer in the English department at Georgetown University.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpt from “The Lonely Girl” by Edna O’Brien. Copyright 2002 by Edna O’Brien. Reprinted here by permission of Plume. All rights reserved.

Transcript

  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Ireland's first female President Mary Robinson regards Edna O'Brien as one of the great creative writers of her generation. She remembers secretly reading O'Brien's "Country Girl" trilogy as a teenager in the 1960s. She was astonished that O'Brien tackled the taboo subjects of female sexuality and desire but says she was grateful for the author's insights.

  • 11:07:28

    MS. DIANE REHMHere in the studio to talk about the series' second novel, "The Lonely Girl," for this month's "Readers' Review," Maureen Corrigan of Georgetown University, Dan Moshenberg of the George Washington University and Michelle Woods of the State University of New York at New Paltz. And we do invite your conversation, your participation. Do join us, 800-433-8850, send us your email to drshow@wamu.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning everybody.

  • 11:08:10

    MR. DAN MOSHENBERGGood morning.

  • 11:08:10

    MS. MAUREEN CORRIGANGood morning.

  • 11:08:10

    MS. MICHELLE WOODSGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:11

    REHMGood to have you all here and before we begin our conversation let's hear a clip of Edna O'Brien, the author, reading from the first page of this novel, "The Lonely Girl."

  • 11:08:31

    MS. EDNA O'BRIEN"It was a wet afternoon in October as I copied out the September accounts from the big grey ledger. I worked in a grocery shop in the north of Dublin and had been there for two years. My employer and his wife were country people like myself. They were kind but they liked me to work hard and promised me a rise in the New Year.

  • 11:08:55

    MS. EDNA O'BRIENLittle did I know that I would be gone by then, to a different life. Because of the rain not many customers came in and out so I wrote the bills quickly and then got on with my reading. I had a book hidden in the ledger so that I could read without fear of being caught. It was a beautiful book but sad. It was called, 'Tender is the Night.'

  • 11:09:21

    MS. EDNA O'BRIENI skipped half of the words in my anxiety to read it quickly because I wanted to know if the man would leave the woman or not. All the nicest men were in books, a strange, complex, romantic men. The ones I admired most."

  • 11:09:40

    REHMAnd that is Edna O'Brien's voice. She is reading from her novel, "The Lonely Girl," the second in a trilogy. What did you think of this novel, Maureen?

  • 11:10:00

    CORRIGANI first read this novel in 1975 when I was in college and I had just come back from a summer in Ireland and my head was filled with Yates and Joyce and Maud Gonne and all these great names from the Irish revival. And when I read the trilogy I remember it was as though someone had punched me in the gut. This was a tougher voice than what I was used to from Irish literature and Edna O'Brien is certainly tougher about relationships and women's passion and the cost of falling in love.

  • 11:10:38

    REHMAnd to you, Dan Moshenberg, what was your reaction to this?

  • 11:10:45

    MOSHENBERGWell, it's hard to remember my reaction from that long ago but what I recall is having an interest in the trilogy in the context of women's literature more generally rather than Irish literature. And what O'Brien brought to that, powerfully, was an analysis of rural, young rural women moving to the metropolis and that was original and new in women's literature of the '50s and '60s generally, not just in Ireland.

  • 11:11:18

    REHMAnd thinking as you must because you are director the Women's Studies program GW, did you feel that it was a truthful rendition of a young woman, Irish or otherwise, but most especially Irish, moving from that late teenage period into young adulthood?

  • 11:11:53

    MOSHENBERGNo, not exactly. In that it's the narrator is older and so it's not the truth that she would've had at the age of 21, 22 but it is her truth later on. So there are layerings of truth going on throughout the book. But I have to say what was most important was that it existed. Was that there was the story out there at all.

  • 11:12:19

    REHMMichelle Woods, talk about how you reacted to reading this book.

  • 11:12:25

    WOODSIt seemed, I read it in the '80s, and it seemed very contemporary to me then growing up in Ireland. In the '70s and '80s it still seemed a very true story for women at that time certainly in terms of, if you think of the character of the ferret who's trying to seduce her in the van as she's escaping away from her father and he says, "I'm a good catch. I have a pump in the yard, I have a brother who's a priest." And that wasn't all that far away from what women were still driven to expect in the '80s in Ireland.

  • 11:12:55

    REHMMichelle, tell us about Kate. The book is clearly in her voice.

  • 11:13:03

    WOODSKate is quite precocious. She's a bright, intelligent young girl but she grows up on a farm that had seen better days but her father's a drinker. He's caught, he's trapped in his own self and he basically sells the farm away in the first book of the trilogy. And she wants to escape that life. She sees her life being stuck in this tiny village and not being able to fulfill herself and her dreams and the dreams that she's read in these books that she's grown up with.

  • 11:13:33

    WOODSAnd so that's why I think the figure of Eugene Giallard seems so attractive even though he seems a throwback. He seems almost a 19th century hero, a Mr. Rochester. Edna O'Brien talked about this as her -- it was based on her ex-husband and it was, you know, he was a Mr. Rochester figure in Jane Eyre marriage.

  • 11:13:55

    WOODSAnd you can really see that, you can see why she's attracted to him. He represents culture, Europe, an escape from the drinking, the desperation. And an Ireland that O'Brien described in fervent, enclosed, catastrophic.

  • 11:14:11

    REHMShe even uses the same initials for Kate's lover to be E.G. as Edna O'Brien's ex-husband.

  • 11:14:26

    MOSHENBERGShe does, yes.

  • 11:14:28

    REHMShe does and what sense do you get from Mr. Giallard as far as Kate is concerned, Maureen?

  • 11:14:41

    CORRIGANWell, I think O'Brien does a wonderful job of showing how the relationship devolves because, of course, Kate falls in love with Eugene because of his cosmopolitanism and his power...

  • 11:14:56

    REHMHow does she even, how does she meet him?

  • 11:14:59

    CORRIGANWell, they meet at a dance and she's sort of this hopeless, messy type, but she's referred to -- she overhears people referring to her as the "fat literary girl." And I think he is charmed by the fact that she is so hopeless and so naïve and he's kind of, you know, he wants to take her under his wing and educate her.

  • 11:15:29

    CORRIGANBut look at how that relationship starts to fall apart. He becomes impatient with the fact that she's so naïve and that she's so backward in terms of sex. And she finally gets a little weary of being humiliated by him.

  • 11:15:46

    REHMWell, of course Eugene Giallard has been married once before, married to a very sophisticated, worldly woman who I gather lives in New York and is likely to come and visit Eugene at some point. But, you know, I really want to go back to the beginning of this novel rather than skipping ahead because here is Kate with her friend, Baba. Tell us about Baba, Dan.

  • 11:16:27

    MOSHENBERGBaba's the best friend you could possibly have. She's a bon vivant, she wants to experience life. She is happily not bookish, she is strategic in her relationships, at the same time she makes pretty much every possible mistake that a young woman can make and she's actually a great character.

  • 11:16:50

    MOSHENBERGIn many ways she is the person who most embodies the dilemma of women's independence, again not only in Ireland, in a number of places and especially in some sense in post-colonial context.

  • 11:17:07

    REHMBecause she likes to break all the rules?

  • 11:17:10

    MOSHENBERGBecause she likes to like what she likes rather, because it's not even about breaking the rules necessarily. She's not necessarily taking pleasure in the breaking of rules. It's not about taboos. She's going for what she wants.

  • 11:17:26

    REHMAnd expressing herself exactly as she pleases?

  • 11:17:32

    WOODSExactly. There's that wonderful scene where they're in Davie Burns pub, famous from Ulysses, and she says they have one Pernod between the two of them and she says, "Let's look fast." Let's look flirtatious and I think she's important. I think if she wasn't in the book Kate would be quite a flat character, you know, very typical, bookish young girl. Whereas Baba's the little devil on her shoulder saying let's do this.

  • 11:17:56

    REHMSo why is Baba drawn to Kate?

  • 11:18:02

    WOODSTo me it seemed a very true rendition of those relationships you have as a late teenage girl, early 20s where there's a bit of competition, you know. It's not just, it's slightly frenemy-ish, you know, where Baba she always puts Kate down, you know, so we don't get a martyr figure which is great. She puts her down all the time but at the same time she needs her because she needs her foiled. It's a two-man act or two-woman act, I'd guess you'd call it.

  • 11:18:30

    REHMMichelle Woods, she's assistant professor of English at State University of New York at New Paltz. If you'd like to join us for this month's "Readers' Review," we're talking about Edna O'Brien's book, "The Lonely Girl." Stay with us.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd welcome back for this month's Readers' Review. We've chosen "The Lonely Girl," a novel by the Irish writer Edna O'Brien. And here with me three people who've not only read but in fact studied "The Trilogy" written by O'Brien. This is the second in the trilogy. Dan Moshenberg. He's director of the women's studies program at George Washington University. Michelle Woods is assistant professor of English at State University of New York at New Paltz. Maureen Corrigan is critic in residence and lecturer in the English department at Georgetown University.

  • 11:21:03

    REHMWe do invite you to join us, 800-433-8850. Send us an email. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Maureen, talk about the reception that these books receive, the first, the second, the third. What was it?

  • 11:21:27

    CORRIGANThe reception was almost something that Edna O'Brien could've dramatized herself. The books were burned. Priests collected each book in the trilogy and gathered them together and set them afire. Edna O'Brien's own mother was horrified by what she had written and blacked out pages. So you really do get a sense that that paralyzed Ireland that Joyce write about and that Edna O'Brien herself talks about so eloquently in these books, that that Ireland was still so very much alive in the 1960s when the trilogy came out.

  • 11:22:06

    REHMSo that the idea of this young girl even falling in love with an older married man -- put sex aside for a moment but just falling in love was horrific.

  • 11:22:26

    CORRIGANFalling in love -- and I actually think that you people are underestimating Kate a little bit. She not only falls in love with him but she lives with him. My god, it's 1962 in Ireland. Her -- Kate's father shows up at Eugene's crumbling mansion and demands to have his innocent daughter returned to him because she must have been doped. Otherwise, why would she be living in sing with this man?

  • 11:22:54

    REHMAnd he doesn't come along. He comes with a coterie of really angry men.

  • 11:23:02

    CORRIGANYes, yes, who are ridiculous at the same time that they're incredibly touching.

  • 11:23:11

    REHMWhat do you mean?

  • 11:23:11

    CORRIGANWhat I love about this book is -- one of the things I love is the way it dramatizes the class divisions. And Eugene is cultured in Cosmopolitan. Kate comes from, as Michelle was talking about, that rural village in Ireland. People are not educated. They're not sophisticated but there is also something very authentic and touching and true about Kate's alcoholic father, almost like Sancho Panza getting on his donkey and coming to rescue his fallen daughter. There's a love there that's also dramatized between father and daughter.

  • 11:23:51

    REHMDan.

  • 11:23:52

    MOSHENBERGI have a somewhat different take on that. I'm not so fond of violent men. So I think one of the questions to go back to the sexuality issue is whether it is in fact sex that is the broken taboo. And I don't think it is. I actually think that the book burning was based on a woman telling the story. If it had been Eugene or a version of Eugene telling the story it would've been a minor novel and nobody would've cared and that would've been that. But having a woman occupy the space of the narrator of a novel of sex and sexuality was dangerous.

  • 11:24:38

    MOSHENBERGAnd that danger continues to this day, to a certain extent in Ireland and in other countries. Maybe not in terms of what you can write and not write, but certainly in terms of, you know, access to women's health needs and hospitals and other issues. So it's an ongoing issue around the world.

  • 11:24:56

    REHMAnd just going to your point about violence, when those men arrive they truly beat Eugene. I mean, it was not a nonviolent encounter. Michelle.

  • 11:25:14

    WOODSYeah, and it was actually based on Edna O'Brien's own biography, right. She escaped with Ernest Gebler to the Isle of Man. They were staying with J.P. Donleavy who wrote "The Ginger Man." He was a friend of Gebler's. And her father actually hired a private plane, this poor farmer. And he came over with the village priest and various members of her family and was really violent. They beat up Donleavy and Gebler and tried to get O'Brien back to Ireland. So it's really based on something factual.

  • 11:25:44

    WOODSAnd it's important to note that censorship in Ireland, the last censored book in Ireland was in 1998, so it's something that was born with the free state, the committee and evil literature which was set up in 1922 and went right through to the 1990s. So it's very connected to Ireland of -- post-independence Ireland with this notion of these evil anti-Catholic books.

  • 11:26:10

    WOODSAnd I think you hit the nail on the head, you know, with this idea that it was being with a divorced man was the sin. It wasn't even the sex and that it's a woman writing about it was the important thing. The priest figure says to her, divorce is worse than hell. It's the worst thing that you can do. And I think that's important.

  • 11:26:30

    WOODSIt's also worth noting that Ernest Gebler who Eugene Gaillard is based on wrote a book in 1946 about a poor woman trying to escape the slums. She has sex with a man, gets pregnant. She's caught into this marriage but she eventually escapes. She leaves Ireland and leaves her dying husband. She goes and decides to become a nurse in London. And that book was banned in 1946, his first book. So I think that's important to know that there was a whole culture of banning everything that wasn't pro-Catholic, pro-nationalist.

  • 11:27:05

    REHMAll right. So now we've talked about how it was received in Ireland. What about the rest of the world, Maureen?

  • 11:27:15

    CORRIGANWell, Philip Roth has said that Edna O'Brien is the finest woman writer. I love that he has to say woman writer, but the finest living woman writer.

  • 11:27:23

    REHMThat sounds like Philip Roth.

  • 11:27:26

    CORRIGANAnd certainly she's had an amazing career since the trilogy. So I think she's now regarded as something of a national treasure. The fact that the books were banned and condemned at first is actually very familiar to me growing up Irish-American in the '60s and Catholic. We still -- growing up I still remember things -- books being put on the condemned list by the Catholic Church. So that attitude toward books -- certain books as being very dangerous because of the situations or the ideas they dramatize, I don't think is just something that we can identify as belonging to Ireland. We've certainly had it here too as well.

  • 11:28:15

    REHMAnd tell me, once again, how old you were when you first read this.

  • 11:28:20

    CORRIGANI was probably 21 myself.

  • 11:28:23

    REHMAnd had you known of the books previously?

  • 11:28:29

    CORRIGANI had heard of them when taking an Irish lit course. I had heard of Edna O'Brien but we didn't read her there in that course. We read, you know, all of the great names of yore, Yates and Singh and just O'Casey. So I discovered O'Brien on my own.

  • 11:28:51

    REHMI remember having an interview with Edna O'Brien shortly after her first memoir came out and thinking how beautiful and how sad she seemed. And that voice of hers, that we've just heard, underscores for me the wounded passion that's there in the way she thinks of herself, presents herself and writes. How do your students react to this trilogy?

  • 11:29:39

    MOSHENBERGI was I could answer that. I've never taught it.

  • 11:29:41

    REHMYou've never taught it.

  • 11:29:42

    MOSHENBERGNo, I've never taught it. I haven't taught -- of course I would accommodate it but I was thinking as Maureen was talking that I'm not sure what the reception is over the long haul. Because when you consider the availability of the individual novels within the trilogy, for example -- and they're not all available -- you consider the availability of Edna O'Brien's early work and it's not all available -- you'd talk to people who are not the usual suspects as to -- as I have just in passing as to who know who Edna O'Brien is and who doesn’t.

  • 11:30:17

    MOSHENBERGAnd it's a mixed bag, including among people who are if not knowledgeable about Irish literature, certainly care about women's literature at large. So there's a place still to be crafted for her work.

  • 11:30:34

    REHMYou know, I'm baffled. Why is Edna O'Brien not -- if what you say is true worldwide and certainly here in this country, and there's not a single caller waiting to speak, why is that, Michelle?

  • 11:30:57

    WOODSI think it's partly there is real division in Ireland and England she'd be a very famous literary figure. But I would say, I started college in 1990 and she wasn't on our courses. I went to college in Ireland and she was seen as kind of a chick lit writer. There was all this problem with the whole banning and that kind of element, but also this idea -- even the cover. I mean, you know, it's kind of pinkish and pastel. And I do think Philip Roth's comment that she's a great woman writer is very telling.

  • 11:31:26

    WOODSAnd I think she was seeing this being too light, too fluffy in a way, which isn't true partly because she comes after the generation of Joyce and Beckett, the great experimentalists. And I think because the prose seems to be, certainly in "The Country Girl's" trilogy very opaque and simple, although it's not. I think it's a very complex simplicity. I think she was kind of, you know, sidelined. She wasn't seen as being important.

  • 11:31:52

    WOODSIn Ireland, that's changed. I would say she's probably on university courses. I've taught her at SUNY New Paltz as well. And I do think certainly this trilogy is important, not only in terms of women's history and women's fiction, but also it just tells us a great story about her coming of age of, yeah, the literary fat girl in some ways. Maybe a precursor to Lena Dunham in "Girls" in some sense that, you know, this girl trying to find her way and having this conception of love through books.

  • 11:32:24

    WOODSAnd there's also a real connection to Joyce. There are all sorts of Joycean references through this, too. And she's very serious about that. An incident that (word?) Beckett really rated her as a writer as well and she said about Beckett that he loved Ireland with a beautiful sad and imperishable loneliness. I think that probably says something about her too.

  • 11:32:45

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show. Our Readers' Review for this month, Edna O'Brien's novel "The Lonely Girl." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Dan, talk about Kate's relationship with men.

  • 11:33:20

    MOSHENBERGKate's relationship with men is, on the one hand, Kate's relationship with Kate constantly. She -- and I have difficulty getting at Kate's relationship with men because I have difficulty finding Kate. And what I mean by that is -- and this goes to what you were saying about sadness -- throughout Kate the narrator tells us that she's no longer in Ireland, that she's no longer there. And everything she does in that context is so overwhelmingly sad. It marks the 21-year-old Kate as much deeper but also much sadder than we might know.

  • 11:34:06

    MOSHENBERGSo what is Kate's relationship with men? There's Kate's relationship with her father, which I find characteristically violent -- not characteristic of Ireland but characteristically violent and not really tragic. There's Kate's relationship with Eugene, which thinking of Joyce, is in some ways a relationship with cinema. What I mean, in some ways it's a relationship with a man involved in the movies who doesn't live in a book, right. And then there's Kate's relationship with all the various other men in the novel.

  • 11:34:43

    REHMSo that Kate's relationship with Eugene you say it's sort of about a movie. It's almost imaginary.

  • 11:35:00

    MOSHENBERGYes.

  • 11:35:01

    REHMIt's not really a real relationship. And that's where I had such trouble with this novel because Kate's passion with books does not come through as a passion for Eugene, Maureen.

  • 11:35:29

    CORRIGANBut it's such a wonderful novel about how we readers can superimpose what we want on reality. And that's what Kate does. She superimposes these heroes out of books onto Eugene, who falls far short of that heroic figure that she's hoping to find in life. I think that "The Lonely Girl" is another one of these novels that also warns us about the danger of reading novels, what it can do to your mind. How it can mess up your imagination.

  • 11:36:04

    REHMMichelle.

  • 11:36:05

    WOODSI completely agree. I mean, she says on the first page, I like men and books. There far more complex compared to her readers. And it's really interesting because at one point he mentions -- Eugene Gaillard mentions Anna Karenina. I said, is that an actress? Is that his sister? She -- but later in the book we see her reading it. She opens -- she's by the fire and she opens the first chapter of Anna Karenina. And we can read about how we will -- I mean, it's obviously a tragic book, a tragic ending. The 19th century heroin called into a destiny that she kind of fulfills in some ways. And does then speak to that danger that Maureen was talking about.

  • 11:36:40

    REHMSo is Eugene interested in creating his own Pygmalion? And when she falls short of his imagination he's done. He's finished.

  • 11:37:00

    WOODSAbsolutely. I think Pygmalion, of course, Shaw is a great analogy. I think he wants -- he thinks he can educate her. She knows nothing. He's giving her everything. And in real life that was the case with Ernest Gebler and Edna O'Brien where, you know, he had a huge bestselling success with his second novel in America called "The Plymouth Adventure." It was made into a movie with Spencer Tracy and Gene Tierney. It made a ton of money. So he was the successful author and she learned...

  • 11:37:29

    REHM...had written nothing by then.

  • 11:37:31

    WOODSNothing, yeah.

  • 11:37:33

    REHMI see. Really fascinating. We do have lines filled now. When we come back, we'll take your calls.

  • 11:40:02

    REHMAnd welcome back. A number of you have asked about the trilogy written by Edna O'Brien. We are talking about the second in the trilogy. It's titled "The Lonely Girl." You cannot buy the first in the trilogy titled "The Country Girls" on its own. You must buy the whole trilogy. And that's unfortunate. Perhaps publishers will change that, because Edna O'Brien's own memoir titled "Country Girl: A Memoir" will come out on April 30. And that is next month. Let's open the phones to Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Matt. You're on the air.

  • 11:41:02

    MATTHello, Diane. Thank you for having me on.

  • 11:41:04

    REHMCertainly.

  • 11:41:05

    MATTI'm a longtime listener, first time caller.

  • 11:41:07

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:41:07

    MATTI was really pleasantly surprised to hear this conversation today because I’m actually reviewing "Country Girl: A Memoir" for the Dallas Morning News. I'm in the process of reading it right now. And one thing I wanted to comment on is I think one of the reasons why the reception of "The Country Girls" and "The Lonely Girl" and the trilogy in general, the kind of reception received in Ireland was because so much of it she represents in the memoir as being actually true.

  • 11:41:39

    MATTThe scene, for example, when Eugene -- you all were talking about earlier when Eugene come -- when her father comes to collect her from Eugene's house with some of her other relatives. I mean, she represents that scene in the memoir as being pretty much precisely, that's exactly the way it happened.

  • 11:41:54

    MATTAnd I think there's something about -- especially when it's written in the first person, anytime you have a story that represents a coming of age story, a sexual awakening, young adulthood by an author, especially, you know, I think with -- perhaps with a woman, there's sort of an assumed autobiographical angle that I think the audience, the readership sort of assumes. So I think that part of the reception was not just based on here was a young woman writing about these kinds of things, but here's a young woman that was essentially exposing her own life and her own family.

  • 11:42:26

    REHMYes.

  • 11:42:27

    MATTAnd, you know, her mother marked out -- in the memoir she talks about her mother marking out those sections in the novel and she's...

  • 11:42:32

    REHMRight.

  • 11:42:32

    MATT...marking -- she was marking out the sections that were true. That was the thing that was so, you know, horrifying to her that she sort of had aired the laundry of the family. But one other thing I'd like to comment, and maybe your guests could talk about this because I don't think you've talked too much about it, but the quote from Phillip Ross you've mentioned. And I think one of the things clearly there are many aspects to her work that make her exceptional, but one thing that I found sort of startling and impressive to me was her prose style. It's remarkably clear and lucid and as far as, you know, word choice or syntax, but it's not particularly tortured or exotic.

  • 11:43:10

    MATTBut it has this great rhythm and balance to it. And its sentences, you know, reminds of people like Fitzgerald or John Cheever, they're sentences you want to read aloud. And also the lack of irony or insincerity or sarcasm, I mean, the memoir is just a remarkable piece of complete sincerity and the perception that comes across is of utter honesty. And I think her prose style, in particular, line to line is also something that perhaps should be mentioned here.

  • 11:43:42

    REHMWell, Matt, it certainly sounds as though you have your review written. Maureen, do you want to comment?

  • 11:43:52

    CORRIGANI -- you know, one thing that I know Edna O'Brien has talked about is that when she was thinking of beginning to write "The Country Girls" she had gone to a talk by Arthur Mizener who was Fitzgerald's first biographer. And hearing Mizener read from Fitzgerald and also Hemingway, since he was mentioning Hemingway, that night really inspired her, that one could write sentences that had lyricism but that were direct. And I think you find that certainly in Edna O'Brien's prose.

  • 11:44:27

    CORRIGANAnd one thing I'll quickly interject, O'Brien mentions tender is the night on the first page as we heard of this book. Fitzgerald was out of print when he died in 1940 at the age of 44. And so I think realizing that people's reputations can sort of ebb and flow...

  • 11:44:46

    REHMRight.

  • 11:44:46

    CORRIGAN...that maybe we can take hope that Edna O'Brien, too, her stocks will rise.

  • 11:44:53

    WOODSAbsolutely. I agree. And I think, you know, when it was all republished in the '80s, I think, this is when postmodernism had taken hold and everyone was into their complex language, and because of Joyce and Beckett and so on that she wasn't seen as being great because she didn't have this experimental style. But it is in a certain way, the prose is very lucid. And to write she did say that when she went to this lecture on Fitzgerald, it just -- she'd been writing all this purple prose, but now she saw there was a way to talk about her life.

  • 11:45:23

    REHMInteresting.

  • 11:45:23

    WOODSAnd there are these beautiful bursts of lyricism that work in the novel because they're spaced out.

  • 11:45:28

    REHMBut they're about nature.

  • 11:45:30

    WOODSExactly. Exactly.

  • 11:45:30

    REHMThey're not about human beings.

  • 11:45:33

    WOODSExactly.

  • 11:45:33

    REHMThey're about nature, which I found fascinating. I mean, she sort of saved that lyricism to talk about water flowing or trees in bloom or a valley or something...

  • 11:45:48

    WOODSYeah.

  • 11:45:49

    REHM...of that sort.

  • 11:45:50

    MOSHENBERGBut it's not real nature at the same time, right? I mean, it's a nature that comes out of the romantic poets, but it doesn't come out of Irish social reality of the day. I mean, what's going on in Ireland in terms of those who were working the nature is completely other than what she's describing. She's describing a kind of words worthy in nature, a kind of nature that is somehow a symbol of innocence. And that is not the nature that she grew up in.

  • 11:46:21

    REHMThrough her own vision and being in love and being of a romantic inclination, what comes out sounds exactly that way. But, you know, that was another thing that bothered me. It seemed inconsistent. It seemed inconsistent that she should write about the landscape in this way and yet be so recalcitrant in her emotional interaction with Eugene, which was almost laconic.

  • 11:47:05

    WOODSBut I think it's also that she's really innocent.

  • 11:47:08

    REHMShe's shy.

  • 11:47:08

    WOODSShe has no idea of what. You know, and I think what's beautifully handled in the novel is the idea that they sleep together a few times before they actually have sex. And it's so innocent. And she talks about seeing his member has a flower. It's this really -- and I kind of get that I think as a young, innocent girl, you know, how do you approach something that's really -- especially an island in the '60s and '50s was really -- you never heard anything about it.

  • 11:47:34

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:47:35

    WOODSAnd then suddenly you have to engage with the other sex. And I think there's a certain -- it's slightly lyrical actually when they finally do get into bed and...

  • 11:47:43

    REHMIndeed. Indeed.

  • 11:47:43

    WOODS...it's quite beautiful, and not brutal, not like the brutality of the farm with a cow, with a calf and so on.

  • 11:47:50

    REHMAll right. To Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Good morning, Caroline.

  • 11:47:54

    CAROLINEGood morning, Diane. I'm thrilled by your program always.

  • 11:47:58

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:47:59

    CAROLINEYou're welcome. I just wanted to make one point, and that was that two of your guests looked at the violence -- or the violence when Kate's father came to take her back. And seeing it from the point of view of today's society, we abhor this kind of typically now outdated male violence. But if you look at it from the vantage point of the time and place, it seems to me there's a touching aspect to the father's violence in this situation, because he -- it's his duty. It's proof of his membership in the society in which he lived. And in that sense I do find it touching.

  • 11:48:40

    REHMBut how inconsistent is he, this alcoholic, miserable man who, you know, doesn't earn a penny, but that he doesn't spend it on alcohol? I have very little feeling of affection or sadness or certainly not respect.

  • 11:49:07

    WOODSYeah, I think your caller did hit on something though, that this idea that, you know, he has to live up to the society he's in.

  • 11:49:14

    REHMSure.

  • 11:49:14

    WOODSHe has to show that he's doing something, because otherwise the shame will then fall onto his family, you know. And I think it's interesting. It's really pathetic and sad, you know, that he asked for a drink. That's the first thing they do...

  • 11:49:26

    REHMYes.

  • 11:49:26

    WOODS...when they come into beat up Eugene is they want some booze.

  • 11:49:30

    REHMYeah.

  • 11:49:31

    WOODSAnd I think it's part of -- its scene is almost this carnival-esque type, this strange grotesque kind of, well, this is what we do, this is how we fulfill our end of society.

  • 11:49:39

    REHMAnd this apparently from her memoir is exactly what happened, Dan.

  • 11:49:46

    MOSHENBERGYeah. But at the same time you want to be careful about alibis for honor beatings.

  • 11:49:51

    WOODSYeah, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

  • 11:49:51

    MOSHENBERGYou want to be careful about...

  • 11:49:53

    REHMYou bet.

  • 11:49:53

    MOSHENBERG...suggesting...

  • 11:49:54

    WOODSAbsolutely.

  • 11:49:54

    MOSHENBERG...in a different way that the women and some of the men of the time weren't disturbed by the code of honor that turned -- that traumatized whole populations, that turned women into disposable populations.

  • 11:50:12

    REHMAnd still goes on today.

  • 11:50:14

    WOODSExactly.

  • 11:50:15

    MOSHENBERGExactly.

  • 11:50:15

    REHMMaureen.

  • 11:50:16

    CORRIGANBut one thing that I would throw in, and this is not a defense of violence, but you have to remember that Kate's father doesn't have language, he doesn't have words. That's not where his power derives from. Eugene can talk his way out of situations. And he can gain superiority by being fast on his feet with language. Where Kate comes from, the men and the women are practically mute. When she goes back to her father's farm, people barely speak. They don't have that gift of words that she's trying to acquire through her reading.

  • 11:50:48

    REHMThat's an interesting point. Let's go now to Pittsburgh, Penn. Hi, Linda.

  • 11:50:56

    LINDAHi, Diane. How are you?

  • 11:50:57

    REHMI'm fine, thanks.

  • 11:50:59

    LINDAThank you for this show. I was so excited to hear it. I read the book, the whole trilogy in fact, when I was a freshmen at UC Berkeley in 1988. And it had such an influence on me. I identified so much with Kate as a character. There were some similarities in my upbringing and I hadn't yet had all of the awakening experiences that she was going to have. But it was just I ate it up. And over the years after that I would reread the whole trilogy, probably about once a year. And I underlined it. And it was just a really important influence for me.

  • 11:51:34

    LINDABut the interesting thing about it is after a certain amount of time when I had matured and had some experiences, I came to see it as kind of holding me back, because it defined a woman's life as being so focused on her relationship with a man. You know, that was the most important thing, the only thing that mattered, it's a measure of success, and it wasn't about anything else, having adventures or ambitions or a career of one's own. So while it was liberating and feminist in a way for me at first, I came to see it as regressive. And I eventually actually gave the book away in one of my moves. Now I'm sorry. Now I'd like to have it back.

  • 11:52:14

    REHMWell...

  • 11:52:14

    LINDABut it's interesting how it changed.

  • 11:52:16

    REHMYeah. And of course before long you'll have access to the new memoir. You know, maybe it is a book you read at a certain age and then -- and you can identify at a certain stage of your life, and then maybe you move on, Dan.

  • 11:52:42

    MOSHENBERGMaybe. On the other hand, and this goes actually to an earlier caller as well, I think there's great irony in the sadness of the book. There are all of these moments in which the writer is saying to us this is not the story. The way this story is being told is not the story. I have -- she says at one point, I have this one quirk and it's the only thing I have left that I call my own. The story is the story of women's autonomy and women's ownership of property as well as of self. And that story the young Kate doesn't know. The Kate who's living the story we're reading. But that story happened in the past. And the actual story, if you like, of the story is sewn throughout the book in ways that are easy to avoid.

  • 11:53:30

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You know, we've talked about the fact that Kate's father and entourage show up. And they show up because Kate's father has received an anonymous letter telling him that Kate is living, in effect, in sin with Eugene Gaillard. Who wrote that letter?

  • 11:54:06

    WOODSI think you can make several guesses at it.

  • 11:54:09

    REHMPlease.

  • 11:54:09

    WOODSAnd I think it's also a culture of surveillance. Even when she's in prison, she goes back home, there's -- Mad Maura's there looking at her. Everyone's watching her. I think that's very true to life in Ireland, you know, right up to the '80s. I think the sense that you're being watched, you had to go to church and so on.

  • 11:54:29

    WOODSI think there's also another element, if I can just say, about Eugene Gaillard is that there are implications, as Ernest Gebler was, that there's Jewish blood in him. There's some anti-Semitism going on when they come -- the group of them come and they talk about his big nose and that he's a foreigner. So he's not only divorced, but he's also not Catholic. And I think that's a huge element in the novel. And with this secret letter writer, you know, is it Baba? Could it be Baba? Could it be -- could it be someone else?

  • 11:54:55

    REHMWhy would Baba do that?

  • 11:55:00

    WOODSI think part of this competitive nature, for fun almost. He's a bit of a stirrer. And I go back and forth as to whether it's her or not. I don't know, but it could be anyone.

  • 11:55:09

    REHMWhat did you think, Maureen?

  • 11:55:10

    CORRIGANOh, I think it's Baba. I forget which one of you said that she's the best friend you could possibly have. I don't think she's the best friend you could possibly have.

  • 11:55:18

    WOODSNo. She's a frenemy. She's...

  • 11:55:21

    CORRIGANYou know, I wonder if I could ask Michelle a question though. I'm always puzzled when these women writers who inspire feminism in their readers...

  • 11:55:31

    WOODSYeah.

  • 11:55:31

    CORRIGAN...themselves say they're not feminists. Why does Edna O'Brien disown the term feminist? Do you know?

  • 11:55:38

    WOODSI think it's such a complex issue with her and a very controversial one because she was seen as feminist, then she -- people -- because she kind of disowned it and so on, but she wasn't. She was anti-feminist. And I think -- I don't know. She's a different generation also. She's in her early 80s. I think feminism came to Ireland really in the '80s. You know, that's when it became a public institution and when Mary Robinson became president in 1990 it was huge. So I think it's a partly a different generation, but partly trying to stay out of the controversy.

  • 11:56:08

    REHMAll right. I want to take one last quick call. Erin, you're on the air.

  • 11:56:14

    ERINHi, thanks for taking my call. Big time fan, first time caller.

  • 11:56:18

    REHMVery quickly.

  • 11:56:18

    ERINAnd I'm just running in -- I'm running into work at Washington University in St. Louis to teach Edna O'Brien.

  • 11:56:24

    WOODSOh, great.

  • 11:56:25

    ERIN(unintelligible) to our students every year and take them to Ireland and even saw "Country Girls" played at the Gaiety, and she walked in on the President of Ireland's arm. So she is well liked by these young people, men and women. And we put her in the context primarily of Joyce and Yates. And that might answer the mix of lyricism on Yates' part and realism on Joyce's part. As well as her short fiction, I would recommend "Irish Revel." And the final parts of that story I think you'll see the lyricism and realism come together.

  • 11:56:58

    REHMErin, I'm so glad we got your call in. Congratulations to you and your students. Have a great next trip to Ireland. And thanks to all of you, Maureen Corrigan, Dan Moshenberg, Michelle Woods. The book we've been talking about, the second in Edna O'Brien's trilogy titled "The Lonely Girl." Thanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm.

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