When Politics Meets Gender: Trauma in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation

Hawk Chang


The signing of the contentious Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 was a traumatic experience for many Irish people. This is not only because of the ensuing Irish Civil War, but the psychological adjustments that the Irish people have to make in their partitioned land. Since the Irish Republican Army (IRA) emerged during the Anglo-Irish War (1919-21), it has been bent on terminating the British government’s control of Ireland and establishing a truly independent and unified Irish Republic through armed struggles. This traumatic history, which was embedded with the conflicts and compromises of such struggles, became a pivotal issue in many Irish writings. As a consequence, it helped shape subsequent Irish literature and culture when the dream of a free and unified Ireland was constantly recalled and reconfigured. These painful markings are reflected in complex ways in Edna O’Brien’s fiction House of Splendid Isolation (1994), in which an IRA fugitive named McGreevy holes up and finally bonds with Josie O’Meara, an aged widow, in a dilapidated house. Apart from the political turmoil, considerable anguishes caused by love and marriage converge to entangle the protagonists’ traumas. This paper focuses on how, by shifting between the multifarious narrative perspectives, O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation stitches the interwoven personal, interpersonal, and national suffering together. In addition, the role women play in facilitating sympathetic understanding and reconciliation amid the violence and traumas in contemporary Ireland is discussed. The findings imply that, despite the age-old traumatic experiences caused by political conflicts in Ireland in the past few centuries, a trauma-free tomorrow via love and reconciliation, mostly with the help of women, is possible in contemporary Ireland.



politics; trauma; Ireland; Edna O’Brien; House of Splendid Isolation

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17576/gema-2017-1704-02


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