A WOMAN'S VOICE SPEAKING: MID-CENTURY IRISH WOMANHOOD
IN THE SHORT STORIES OF FRANK O'CONNOR
OWENE HALL WEBER
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I first became aware of Frank O'Connor in the 1970s through a pair of stories,
and "My Oedipus Complex,
" in texts I was teaching at St. Johns Country
Day School in Orange Park, Florida. My interest was heightened in 1983 when I read "The
Duke's Child" in The New Yorker, William Maxwell's angry critique of James Matthews's
biography of O'Connor. Maxwell had been O'Connor's friend and editor at The New Yorker.
and he believed that Matthews's work failed to do justice to O'Connor as a writer and as a
Thus I was already intrigued with O'Connor when I began to study Irish literature with
Richard Bizot at the University of North Florida in 1986. As a result, I elected to make
O'Connor the focal point of my Irish experience.
When I travelled to Ireland that year, I took
a side trip to O'Connor's birth place in Cork, where I discovered that the Hivernia Theatre
was that day presenting a dramatization of two of O'Connor's stories,
"Music When Soft
and "News For the Church.
" During a luncheon held at the theatre, I met Nancy
McCarthy, O'Connor's first love and lifetime friend, then 86 years old, and we formed a close
friendship which lasted until her death two and a half years later.
Through Nancy I began
corresponding with O'Connor's American-born widow, Harriet Sheehy, who lives in Dublin.
When Harriet came to New York, I visited with her and made the plans which resulted in this
"You must write about Michael's women,
" she said.
"No one has ever said a
thing about them
" (Personal interview, 6 September 1986).'
By this time I was enrolled in graduate school at the University of Florida, and when I
returned from New York, I designated O'Connor's women as the topic for my doctoral re-
Early the next year Harriet graciously invited me to visit at Ferry Point Farms in
Annapolis, Maryland, the family residence where she and her husband had lived at one time
and where all the O'Connor files were stored.
It was a gold mine of information: countless
a rough idea of what I wanted to do. A year later when Harriet decided to sell the Annapolis
files, my husband suggested that I talk to my dissertation director, R. B. Kershner, about
getting the University of Florida to purchase the papers. As a result of conversations between
Dr. Kershner and Sam Gowan, Associate Director for Collection Management of the Univer-
sity of Florida Libraries, the university bought the material, and the Frank O'Connor Papers
became part of the university's Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts Collection.
The following year I was able to visit Nancy McCarthy again, and this time I spent a full
week tramping about "Michael's Cork"
with this enchanting octogenarian, trying to absorb
as much as possible of her outflow of tall tales, warm memories, and unceasing praise for
the man whom she had dearly loved.
That year I also visited Harriet in Dublin, and there she
allowed me to copy the three stories used in this study which are not yet part of the O'Connor
" "The Awakening,
and "The Goldfish.
" I corresponded with Nancy up
until her death in October of that year, and each letter she wrote ended with the same encour-
"bless the work.
" Over the years I have also kept in touch with Harriet through
letters, phone calls, and mutual friends.
This rather unusual tale of my coming to know and
write about the work of O'Connor is a modern equivalent of having known Anne Hathaway
and undoubtedly accounts for my dedication to the topic and my commitment to
as O'Connor liked to say.
I will always be grateful to these women who were part of
O'Connor's life for their interest in and contributions to my work.
I am also indebted to members of the University of Florida faculty for their instruction,
support, friendship, and patience. Brandy Kershner, my director and mentor, has backed my
efforts from the beginning, and I am grateful to him for his time, talent, and truthfulness. I
must also express thanks to Anne Jones, who has repeatedly read and challenged my writ-
ing. In addition I would like to express my thanks to the other members of my committee:
Alistair Duckworth, Sidney Homan, and Hal Wilson of the History Department, and to David
Leverenz, who was not on my committee but was always on my team.
I would also like to
thank Elizabeth Langland, Carolyn Smith, Felicity Trueblood, R. A. Shoaf, Melvyn New, Brian
McCrea, Greg Ulmer, and the English Department secretary Cathy Williams for their advice
The lihraries nf the University of Florida have provided almost all the resources for this
researching the O'Connor Papers; and the staff of Library West, who have cheerfully renewed
hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books over a seven-year period.
I would also like to thank the library staff at The New Yorker, who have many times assisted
me with topics related to O'Connor and other Irish writers, and Elaine Berman, the Education
Editor, who has supported my academic efforts for years.
Further assistance was provided by four acquaintances of O'Connor's who granted inter-
views, answered my questions, and pointed me in the right direction in my search for knowledge
about O'Connor: Brendan Kennelly, Augustine Martin, Thomas Flanagan, and William Maxwell.
One of the joys of scholarship is discovering friends in the academic world who believe in
your work. First among these for me has been Dick Bizot, who introduced me to Irish literature
and Ireland from Dublin to dolmen, read and annotated my writing over a period of many years,
travelled with me to conferences, and offered me creative and productive advice. Another is Bill
Slaughter, who first suggested that I go to graduate school and taught me about poetry. Yet
another is Michael Steinman, probably the most important O'Connor scholar yet and a good
friend who took time to read and make valuable suggestions on my work, return my phone calls,
and encourage me to keep toiling in the vineyard.
I would also like to thank my printer, Susan Critchlow, my word processing assistant, Helen
Van Wagenen, and Scott Joplin, who found the lost files.
Finally, one cannot accomplish a project like this without the loyal support of personal
friends and family, who create the milieu in which academic growth can take place and take up
the slack while it is happening. I would particularly like to thank my friends with whom I have
played and prayed, and also my parents, my five children and brother and their families, my
cousin, Thad Crapster, and most of all my husband, Larry Weber, who read and advised me on
everything I wrote, travelled through Ireland with me and carried my books, and has served me
best by standing and waiting straight through to the finish.
t .3 I 'I i .1 I ri .1 -
1 In 1955,
Michael Francis O'Donovan took the pseudonym Frank O'Connor, which was
rr 111 r r 1 It I C- nrn
to write under an assumed name so that his job would be secure. His first published work under
the name Frank O'Connor was a verse translation,
"Suibhne Geilt Aspires,
" which appeared in
The Irish Statesman March 14, 1925. He never published thereafter under his given name. In
material quoted in this study from personal interviews, O'Connor's widow and his friends
usually refer to him
TABLE OF CONTENTS
PREFACE .................................................... ....................... .......................... ....................................... ii
Notes ................................................................................................. ........................................... iv
ABBREVIATIO NS .........................................................................................................................
ABSTRACT ................................................................................................................................... v
INTRO DUCTIO N ......................................................... ............. ................. ... ........................ 1
IRISH TOM BO YS .................................................................................................................. 15
Notes ......................... .................... ..................... ............ ............. ......... ........................ 44
Q UICKSILVER G IRLS ......................................................................... .. ........................... 45
CeCC*CCCC*CC* C** Cee~~e***~e*********CC* CCCC*C ***S**ee*e*~ 11 1
SfFEVJ'CII cc......... ....eC.e.e.e. e.c..... cecee ,~ eee* ~ c.*eeee ~ce~cc... e*~e.e*cee 139
ABBREVIATIONS IN THE TEXT
References to O'Connor's works are cited parenthetically in the text and refer to the following
An Only Child. New York: Knopf, 1961.
Bones of Contention. New York: Macmillan, 1936.
The Backward Look: A Survey of Irish Literature.
London: Macmillan, 1967
Crab Apple Jelly. London: Macmillan, 1944.
The Common Chord.
New York: Knopf, 1948.
The Cornet Player Who Betrayed Ireland. Dublin: Poolbeg, 1981.
Collected Stories. New York: Knopf, 1981
London: Macmillan, 1964.
Collection Three. London: Macmillan, 1969.
London: Hamish Hamilton, 1957
"Frank O'Connor On Censorship.
" The Dubliner
Mar. 1962: 39-44.
Guests of the Nation.
London: Macmillan, 1931.
" Holiday Dec. 1949: 34-63.
Frank O'Connor, trans.
Kinas. Lords, and Commons: an Antholoav from the Irish.
London: Macmillan, 1961.
The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story.
Cleveland: World, 1963.
Mv Father's Son.
London: Macmillan, 1968
More Stories by Frank O'Connor.
The Stories of Frank O'Connor.
New York: Knopf, 1954.
New York: Knopf, 195
A Set of Variations. New York: Knopf, 1969.
The Saint and Mary Kate. London: Macmillan, 1932.
"The Short Story.
" Unpublished typescript, no date available.
Traveller's Samples. New York: Knopf, 1951.
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A WOMAN'S VOICE SPEAKING: MID-CENTURY IRISH WOMANHOOD
IN THE SHORT STORIES OF FRANK O'CONNOR
Owene Hall Weber
Chairman: R. B. Kershner
Major Department: English
This study examines Frank O'Connor's concern with the narrative impulse in fiction
and his sensitivity to the experience and politics of women's lives and argues that in his short
stories O'Connor gives women a voice which anticipates the outpouring of creative expres-
sion enjoyed by Irish women of the nineties.
It presents O'Connor's development of the
image of woman in four groups arranged chronologically: little girls, adolescents, married
women, and old women and uses as a primary resource the Frank O'Connor Papers of the
University of Florida.
Chapter I, the introduction, explores the causes of the loss of prestige which Irish
women encountered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and considers how
O'Connor, as a man writing within yet opposed to patriarchy, develops techniques which
help break down gender barriers.
" introduces O'Connor's aggressive yet sensual little girls,
who demonstrate his interest in woman's search for authenticity as an integral part of her
formative years and his first experiment in crafting a character type.
examines O'Connor's images of unmarried girls
O'Connor shows increasing awareness of the needs of unmarried women and recognizes
their progress in the capacity to deal with options.
Chapter IV, "Hard
reflects O'Connor's interest in married women caught in the
difficult pursuit of selfhood within a relationship and divides their stories into three groups:
voiceless, unrealized peasants; intelligent women irrevocably bound in hopeless marriages;
and emancipated women participating in society.
Chapter V, "Bold Crones,
" focuses on eccentric old women who devise schemes to stave
off poverty, achieve lifetime goals, and cope with life'
With their loud, clear
and determination, they represent O'Connor's highest achievement as images of
survivors in an oppressive society.
Chapter VI, the conclusion, re-examines the connection between O'Connor's interest in
voice and the new image of Irish womanhood.
Frank O'Connor was gifted with a
speaking voice and an intense
appreciation for voice in literature and life (Browne et al 109).
He also had an ardent interest
in women, especially Irish women, and he repeatedly asserted the need to improve their lot.
It is the argument of this dissertation that through his efforts to restore to the short story the
narrative impulse and because of his sensitivity to the experience and politics of women's
stories, O'Connor gave a voice to women of mid-twentieth century Ireland which anticipates
the outpouring of creative expression that Irish women writers of the nineties are now enjoy-
ing. This is an unexplored aspect of Connorean scholarship and one which I believe will
gain importance as the new interest in Irish women writers increases.
Anyone who writes about Frank O'Connor and his role in twentieth-century Irish
fiction inevitably comments on his voice and his passionate concern with it.
the thing I noticed above everything else,"
O'Connor at The New Yorker (Sheehy 140).
"His voice was
William Maxwell says of the day he first met
Michael Steinman, in his study of Connorean
manuscripts, points to O'Connor's
"tireless battles with voice and form" (1).
entitled his biography of O'Connor
and notes humorously,
"it was said of O'Connor
that his voice was
so low that barnacles clung to it and that in conversation with him organ-
tuners boomingly despaired of their diapasons
In O'Connor's own study of the short
story, The Lonely Voice, he writes that the short story must convey
an intense awareness of
human loneliness" (19) with the
sound of a man's voice speaking--or a woman's"
interview with Malcolm Cowley in 1957
O'Connor assessed the relationship between himself
and the voice by describing the way he reacted to people when he met them in the street:
I notice particularly the cadence of their voices, the sort of phrase they'll use, c
that's what I'm all the time trying to hear in my head, how people work things--
In the forties when O'Connor began using his extraordinary voice to read stories on the
radio, he came to realize that the written word had been robbed of the narrative impulse,
and he horrified prompters when he read by adding narrative effects not included in his
as the traditional story teller had a live audience, O'Connor came to
understand that the modem short story writer and the radio broadcaster had an invisible
audience, and neither could afford to neglect that audience.
"Generations of skillful stylists
from Chekhov to Katherine Mansfield and James Joyce,
" he notes,
so fashioned the
short story that it no longer rang with the tone of a man's voice speaking
" (LV 29).
became his goal to recreate the sound of a speaking voice in his fiction and to advocate it in
his writing about fiction.
He achieved that goal by means of a narrator who, as Denis
"discloses the truth a character could not disclose himself" (232).
result, according to Thomas Flanagan, O'Connor made the narrative voice
"the center of his
To illustrate O'Connor's role in breaking what I call the
" both for the
short story and for women, one has only to look at O'Connor's proposed revision of Kipling's
" in The Lonely Voice (102). As Kipling wrote it, the story begins with a testi-
monial to the honorable deed of Helen Turrell, an English woman who adopted her de-
ceased brother's illegitimate child by the daughter of a non-commissioned officer.
for her noble act by the complacent British community in which she lives, she takes charge of
the boy's upbringing until he joins the army and is killed in battle at Ypres.
The story con-
cludes when Helen visits the cemetery and the gardener reveals that she has come to visit
the grave not of her nephew but of her son.
According to O'Connor, Kipling wants us to believe that he and the villagers belong to
a smug group of aristocrats who do their duty whatever the circumstance.
stead, would have the narrator speak with the lonely voice of a submerged population--in
all the lonely, unmarried, pregnant women, faced with disgrace and forced to
Rewriting the story, O'Connor would have it begin,
"Helen Turrell was
about to have an illegitimate baby" (LV 102).
If the narrator were to tell the truth about
Helen, he would reveal the substance of her character; only thus could
we hear the sound of
her lonely voice.
place of women in the new Free State:
It is an Ireland that is disappearing, an Ireland arranged for the convenience of
some particular man, where women--some of whom were more brilliant than any
man in the household and risked their lives just as much--worked harder than servant
girls and will probably never realize why it is that when I look back on the period, it
is of them rather than of their brothers that I think.
Gradually O'Connor began to receive acclaim for his stories about women, although early
critics sometimes failed to perceive the importance of his work to the cause of Irish women.
"Few men writing today have a keener eye on women than has O'Connor; the fact that they
happen to be Irish is a mere accident of geographical location,
" Horace Gregory wrote in
the Saturday Review shortly after the publication of O'Connor's collection More Stories in
, after the election of the first Irish Prime Minister who had not been part of
the Rebellion, Julian Moynahan claimed in the New York Times that O'Connor was one of the
literary spokesmen for independent Ireland and hinted at a connection between O'Connor's
women and the state:
O'Connor has no rival as historian of the submerged population's Woman and
. In [his women's] tendency to act against their own best interests,
perhaps in some sort of final, wounded recoil against the entire puritanical
conditioning to which they are exposed, these women may epitomize Ireland.
, in the introduction to O'Connor's posthumously published Collected Works, Richard
Ellmann was the first actually to assert that O'Connor had taken a firm political position in
favor of women:
"As for women, though they occupy a subordinate place in the economy,
O'Connor is on their side as they slice through the male palaver
In 1990, Harriet
Sheehy, O'Connor's widow, claimed that an essential part of O'Connor's philosophy was his
advocacy of women and that one needed only to explore his fiction to
see how modem his
attitude towards them actually was:
If you went carefully and sympathetically through Michael's stories, just took the
women out and said,
'What is Michael saying about them?'--you would find
had very advanced ideas of what women should be allowed to do, to think, to feel.
"The Perils of Biography" 256)
To understand what it means to be on woman's side and to have
very advanced ideas,
In O'Connor's history of Irish literature, The Backward Look (1967), he writes that the Act
of Union in 1800, which abolished the Irish Parliament and eliminated any independent
power in Gaelic Ireland for more than a hundred years,
produced such a profound change
in the whole life of the community that it makes the literature that followed it seem more like
a new subject than a new phase
He also claims that if their had been, an Irish
Parliament, it would never have tolerated "the cold, deliberate ferocity and cant of the 1840s"
which is usually called the Great Famine, but might better be termed "
a genocide or an
extermination" because it resulted in the deaths of over a million Gaelic-Irish whom the
British did nothing to assist (133).
The nationalistic concept of the Famine as a watershed in
Irish history began to be scrutinized after the 1960s by social and economic historians who
discovered that many of the conditions of pre-Famine Ireland continued into post-Famine
Ireland (Rhodes 10).
What they also discovered, however,
that the one place where the
popular image of "two Irelands" divided by the Famine was among the rural poor and
particularly among women (45-46).
The nation that developed after the Famine consisted of a homogeneous group of rural
farmers and urban shopkeepers who claimed an increased local and familial authority
which led first to the loss of prestige for women and later to the mass emigration of women
Before the Famine, rural women could expect to marry young, work alongside
their husbands in the fields, and raise children.
They could also provide extra income from
Thus pre-Famine wives were, in reality, contributing, although not equal,
partners in their marriages. Although O'Connor never wrote about these women, Liam
O'Flaherty presents a detailed picture of the socio-economic conditions for rural couples o
this era in
" The story focuses on one day in the life of Mary Delaney as she
works with her husband to prepare their plot of ground for planting and as she allows the joy
of their shared existence to overcome her dread of their enslavement to the
After the Famine, the role of women changed.
With the laboring classes nearly elimi-
nated by famine and emigration, rural farmers shifted from cultivating land to raising
livestock, partly because it required fewer helping hands. At the same time, most women
found themselves unable to meet the competition of mass-produced goods from the industri-
The role of rural men changed, also, and further jeopardized the role of women.
famine farmers, jealous of their holdings in a tenuous economy, tended to retain their lands
until they died and then leave them to the eldest sons, rather than divide them among many
as in the past.
The only marriageable males were those who inherited lands, often at
age forty-five or older.
To win one of these males, a woman usually had to offer a dowry,
and as the average farmer could afford no more than one dowry, he controlled his daugh-
ters' futures. As a consequence, few young people were in a position to marry, and by mid
century Ireland had developed the lowest marriage rate in the world.
With the chance of
marriage severely limited, non-dowered daughters found themselves facing a future in which
they had three sometimes less-than-satisfactory alternatives: emigrate, migrate, or vegetate.
Between 1850 and 1925,
six million Irish emigrated, more than half of them women.
They left behind families whose relationships were unique in the history of the world.
ers, often bound unromantically to older authoritarian men, had neither
social life nor
responsibility beyond home and tended to find their only joy in adoring their sons.
were free to develop separate spheres of existence in which they could attend all-male social
gatherings and remain insensitive to the woman's world. Although most families would be
glad to part with the burden of unmarried daughters, they were usually grateful for unmar-
ried sons who remained as free laborers at home in a state of permanent celibacy. As the
large unmarriageable population grew, society came to distrust any relationship between
men and women and began to develop the idea that sexual relations were sinful and to
effort to keep young people apart.
The idea was not limited to rural communities.
As an alternative to emigration,
unmarriageable daughters--and sometimes sons--might migrate to a nearby village, hoping
to find occupation, indenture, or marriage.
In this way, Terence Brown notes, the migrating
of Ireland tended to spread the new attitudes:
The values and familist social structures of the farm world were transferred to the
shop and town thereby ensuring that the cultural and political influence of the small
and strong farmers in the country was augmented by that of the grocers and small
traders of the town. (22 23)
The reorganization of the Catholic Church coincided with the advent of the new conser-
with the opportunity to spread the concept of male dominance.
The clergy extolled absti-
nence and purity and decried everything from dancing to v-necked dresses as they beat the
bushes to prevent the natural attraction of youths from developing into
Changes in education and the teaching profession also strengthened the new doctrine
of male supremacy.
In pre-Famine Ireland two-thirds of the teachers were men educated in
schools independent of the church; as a result the school represented an alternate authority
to the church.
According to J. J. Lee, this authority was considerably weakened when, by
1946, females trained in church-run teaching colleges and steeped in the doctrine of male
supremacy, made up about fifty percent of the teaching population (Mac Curtain 41).
in turn, taught their young female students the same doctrines.
Thus education, which
should have brought freedom for women, resulted instead in control over them.
There were other ironies. At the end of the nineteenth century, the movement for
women's rights paralleled the rising interest in labor and national rights.
Under the leader-
ship of a small group of strong, intelligent females, women won the opportunity for higher
education, the right to organize trade unions, the vote, and the right to hold office.
out the Treaty debate and the Civil War, however, these women clung firmly to the republi-
can ideals of the losing side.
When the country these women had helped create came into
existence, they found themselves again subordinate citizens. As Margaret Mac Curtain
"The paradox remains to be explained: Irish women were free in the areas they had
struggled for, why then were they content to remain subordinate in a society they had helped
Nevertheless, they retained their inferior positions.
"The absence of women
as a significant force
in Ireland was the topic of an address
entitled "Women and the New Irish State,
" delivered November 1975 by Senator Mary T. W.
Robinson, now President of Ireland, on Radio Telefis Eireann
absurdity of this title--Women and the New Irish State--
(Mac Curtain 58).
," she noted,
"only begins to dawn
when you substitute the word men for women, and consider the likelihood of someone being
asked to deliver a paper on 'Men and the New Irish State.
Constitution of 1937 reinforced the ideas of "authoritarian
'" According to Robinson, the
iism, loyalty and anti-intellectual-
ism" (fRm and cnndemned married woman to a role of non-narticination when it declared
common good cannot be achieved"
and "that mothers should not be obliged by economic
necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home."
The movement for government control began in 1929 with the Censorship of Publica-
tions Act, which eventually banned
of modern works, including some by O'Connor,
among them two well known collections: The Common Chord in 1947 and Traveller's
Samples in 1950.
Government control continued in 1935 with a ban on the sale and importa-
tion of contraceptives and on married women working in certain industries; in 1937 the
Constitution prohibited divorce.
Thereafter just as writers would fight for control of their
words, women would have to battle to control their lives and their fertility.
It would not be
until the economic revival and the feminist movement of the sixties and seventies that women
would begin to gain any real power over the
"palaver" they had endured since the Act of
Union and the Famine.
It would take an additional twenty years for women writers to begin to break through
the literary palaver.
Thus in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, a vast three-volume
collection edited by Seamus Deane and published in 1991, one finds very few women
writers, and Irish scholars are now joking that Deane is frantically assembling a fourth
volume which he will entitle
"Mad Women in the Annex
" (Personal interview with Thomas
Flanagan, 26 Feb. 1993).
Yet Irish women have written and have written well, Ann Owens
Weekes argues in the first exploratory study of Irish women's writing, Irish Women Writers:
An Uncharted Tradition (1990).
Critics, however, have viewed women's writing
as if through
a "single lens
" (2), according to Weekes; they have compared women's writing to men's
writing and not judged women on their own merit. Recently, however, collections devoted
exclusively to women's writing have begun to emerge. Among the earliest was Wildish
Things: An Anthology of New Irish Women's Writings published in 1989, in which editor
Ailbhe Smythe sets forth her protest against the past:
"Irish women have been bound by
negative imperatives for a long time" (7).
"have been overwhelmed
as much by
the needs of the nation as by the needs of patriarchy,
" Smythe continues (8).
women, we are thus doubly damned, doubly silenced"
The same year, in Territories of
the Voice, the first collection of contemporary short stories by Irish women writers to appear
_ t- i1- TT-:-2 i---__ _- -._ T _-c I __C ( Th' -R TIT ...... .-.- A T--..1.- .... -3 :- :--
Irish Women (1990), editors Casey and Casey write that "since the mid-1960'
s Irish women
have participated in cataclysmic political, economic, and social upheaval. and have
survived that passage" (1).
The literary rite of passage for Irish women was not visibly underway when O'Connor
began writing in the late twenties, and this study is not intended to credit him with its com-
Nevertheless O'Connor claimed to be a
below), and it is appro-
private to consider what he may have meant by this claim and how his writing relates to it.
When asked to critique a group of women writers in 1947
always been an ardent feminist, and am never really happy unless there are women about"
Despite O'Connor's claim, his friend Brendan Kennelly argues that
O'Connor had very little notion of what being
Personal interview, 6
to have meant is that he liked women--"very, very much,
as Sheehy states (Personal interview, 14 January 1987)--and that he believed himself sympa-
thetic to the problems which, as noted above, the Irish patriarchal society had imposed upon
Despite his avowed affection for and interest in women, O'Connor never attempted to
create a collection of women's stories exclusively.
His first collection consisted of a set of
stories about family life, which he entitled Domestic Relations.
His subsequent major collec-
tions encompassed a variety of topics although he always included women's stories. His
journals imply that he envisioned, but never realized, other more specifically focused collec-
tions on several topics: The Collar, stories about priests; Small Ones: Stories of Children (J/
The Little Town:
of Provincial Life (J/14); and Growing Pains, stories about
In 1972 after O'Connor's death, however, Harriet Sheehy selected a
dozen stories with strong female protagonists and published them in a paperback collection
entitled A Life of Your Own and Other Stories.
In addition to these twelve stories, at least
forty others by O'Connor focus on women as the leading character; within this body of
woman-centered work one finds a well defined submerged population for whom O'Connor
through his narrator hoped to become the sympathetic spokesman.
This spokesman, however, appears at times contradictory because O'Connor could,
rrnl nftffn Alie- trln r unrtriotr rnf strnrc whntetn rntinrt hniiTrt wnm nTA
Tn "'ThP ~nrrprpr'e Hn.
By contrast, O'Connor could also favor the practical businessman, Jim
"The Masculine Principle,
" who decides that he will not marry his girl, Evelyn, until
he has earned enough money to buy a house for them, and, even after she is pregnant and
delivers his child, he postpones the wedding until he has the necessary funds. At times
O'Connor also depicts both sides of the coin in one story,
as in "The Pariah,
" in which all the
free-thinking girls in the village gather in the kitchen of their friend Sue and explain to her
brother Jack that they are not interested in his friend Terry Connolly because
a man just to want you as a wife" (DR 117).
'you don't want
Jack responds to their remarks by confiding to
the reader his rather patriarchal attitude towards these girls' single status:
deciding that what Mother called the
"I ended by
'bad old days' when the choice of a husband was
made for them by responsible relatives, were the best days that brainless girls had ever
As these and other stories imply, O'Connor was as unwilling to resist his professed
"feminist" leanings as he was unable to reject his patriarchal background, and he seems to
have adopted a stance which approaches what Declan Kiberd praises in Men and Feminism
in Modern Literature as
"the best hope for a new sexuality":
If man cannot purge his sexuality of its aggressive impulses, he might at once
contain and express them in a mode of playful parody, epitomizing both his ancient
need for them and his modem doubts about their desirability. The immutable
differences between men and women could be treated in a spirit of fun, with that
cheerful acceptance of human limitation which is the basis of all true humour.
Evidence of O'Connor's
"cheerful acceptance of human limitation
emerges throughout his
work, and one must sometimes scrutinize his humor to make sure that he has not allowed his
patriarchal background to undermine women when they speak in a different voice.
Other male writers within the canon have also found themselves uneasy with their
natural home in patriarchy
" (Claridge and Langland 18).
In Out of Bounds: Male Writers
and Gender(ed) Criticism, Laura Claridge and Elizabeth Langland explore
to be a man, posed against as well as within patriarchy
"what it means
" (7), and they conclude that "both
men and women feel constricted and confused by [the] paradigms [of patriarchy]" (11).
They argue that feminism encompasses both a political and an ideological agenda in which
assumed comfortable with the patriarchal tradition
and to reexamine their work and their
and I find,
Following this lead, I examine O'Connor in the space termed "
as Donald Ault does of Blake, that O'Connor
liberation from a patriarchal straitjacket but.
out of bounds,
"achieves a sophisticated position of
so apparently innocent of the terms of
Both politically and ideologically O'Connor evinces an interest in women's
Frequently, in his non-fiction he condemns the legislation which curtailed women's freedom
of choice in abortion, contraception, and divorce.
In his article on the Republic of Ireland in
Holiday Magazine (December 1949) he explicitly denounces the legal and societal regula-
tions which hobble women.
In his stories about unwanted children such
and "Babes in the Wood"
and those about unhappy marriages such
" he implies his objections more subtly.
He also pleads for
sex education for
women in stories about naive girls such
"News for the Church"
In addition, one often finds O'Connor writing in the
and "A Mother's Warning.
space by adopting
to break down gender barriers. As a male writer telling a woman's
story, O'Connor occasionally shifts the point of view or the narrative voice from one revision
to another specifically for the purpose of discerning a more authentic way to produce the
woman's voice speaking.
In only one published story,
" does he actually use a
first person female narrator.
early version but abandons it, and in
" however, he tries a female point of view in an
"The Ugly Duckling
" he creates a little boy narrator at
one point before he finally settles on a sympathetic adult male who is a good friend to tell in
a woman's story.
According to Steinman, in all O'Connor's revisions one
him struggling to get the
"voices right" because he liked "showing more than telling
preferred to avoid "
authorial interpolation" (22).
As he told Malcolm Cowley,
"If I use the
right phrase and the reader hears the phrase in his head, he
the individual" (169). A
good story teller, according to O'Connor, operates like a good playwright who gives the
actor a part then lets him do with it what he likes:
"It's transferring to the reader the responsi-
ability for acting those
I've given him all the information I have and put it into his own
Another rmre in which O'Cornnr reiects authority and
to write in the
according to Steinman (1).
Some of the files of his working drafts,
for example contain as many as ten or fifteen revised versions, for example
Mother"; other stories, such as
"Variations on a Theme,
appear in a different form in each of
three or four collections.
From version to version of the same story, O'Connor alters the titles
and the characters' names:
"The Ugly Duckling
was first "Beauty
its female protagonist was first Margaret and later Nan.
In other stories, he shifts the turn of
"Expectation of Life,
"after Jim's wife dies, he remarries in one version but remains
unmarried in another.
O'Connor not only revises whole texts, he also moves portions of text from one story to
According to Carol Gilligan's In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and
"connection" tends to
as a feminine principle while
the masculine (11).
Thus O'Connor's intertextual connections may also represent
writing in the
" he presents Josie Mangan, whom he first
introduces as the leading character in
"The Flowering Trees,
"The Adventuress" he
recreates Josie both physically and emotionally as Brenda Regan.
Another form of connec-
tion appears in
"The Mad Lomasneys,
" in which he borrows the opening scene from Josie
Mangan's youth in
"The Climber" to give Rita Lomasney and Ned Lowry a background as
In other stories O'Connor's text tends to interrupt itself to prevent closure and through
such discursive digressions also suggests a veering away from authority and finality. In
"The Unapproved Route,
" Frankie Daly marries a pregnant girl named Rosalind, and the
father of Rosalind's child appears on the scene just after the baby is born.
In the end,
Rosalind deserts Frankie for the father of her child, but before the narrator reveals the
outcome, he interjects an extended statement on the forms of magnanimity,
very well between men but are misplaced with women" (MS 369).
"which are all
The interjection breaks the
story line and lessens the authority of the conclusion.
O'Connor's preference for the short story over the novel, I would argue, shows yet
another non-authoritarian aspect of his writing: his desire to expose a view of life caught at a
moment rather than in its totality, life lived tenuously on the edge rather than predictably in
the mainstream. As he advises in The Lonely Voice. if one wants a
"description of what the
singled out to demonstrate his position in the mid-twentieth century as an early explorer in
the "territories of the voice
" which the women of the nineties now inhabit (DeSalvo et al v).
The primary source for this dissertation is the Frank O'Connor Papers at the University
of Florida, which I discuss at length elsewhere (Weber 358-364).
This collection contains the
literary manuscripts and related materials, including one set of books, which O'Connor left
to his widow Harriet Sheehy.
The papers occupy twenty-eight manuscript boxes and include
holograph journals and notebooks, corrected and uncorrected typescripts, carbon copies,
tear sheets, galleys and correspondence related to the publication of O'Connor's works. 1
material is organized into seventeen divisions by genre and labeled alphabetically.
Throughout this study, I refer to specific files by alphabet letter and file number.
In addition I have consulted most of the hard bound and paperback collections of
O'Connor's work, published in the United States and Ireland.
Various unpublished writings
by O'Connor given to me by Harriet Sheehy and a wide range of published criticism about
O'Connor and of gendered writing also are featured in this study.
various persons who knew O'Connor complete the sources. On tv
Personal interviews with
ro occasions I spent time
with Nancy McCarthy in Cork. At three different times I also visited with Harriet Sheehy: in
New York, Annapolis, and Dublin.
In addition I interviewed four men who considered
themselves friends of O'Connor: Brendan Kennelly, Augustine Martin, Thomas Flanagan,
and William Maxwell.
The stories about women in this dissertation are arranged in four chapters and pre-
" little girls;
married women; and "Bold Crones,
" old women.
The sources for the chapter titles
and "Bold Crones
are original with this work.
quoted from Matthews (80), and "Hard
" derived from O'Connor's
"The Landlady" (CP
150). The study traces the development of O'Connor's women from youth to old age follow-
ing a theory by O'Connor himself: "If you've got a story to tell about people and tell it in the
way in which it comes chronologically, you've got the best thing you can get in fiction"
Within three groups, I divide the stories into subsets and in almost all
order them by their publication dates.
One must remember however that unlike Tovee who wrote Dubliners as a deliberately
and he jotted them down in a small theme book, one of which, with some
120 themes, is located in the O'Connor Papers (J/35).
Brendan Kennelly once described
these themes as
an unscrupulous collection of non- events
" (Personal interview, 6 July 88).
Most of O'Connor's stories grew out of themes such as these and often out of the combina-
tion of several.
Michael Steinman has recently completed a study of theme book J/35, and in
a work soon to be published he discusses the stories which evolved from these themes.
O'Connor's stories about women were among both his earliest and the last published and,
except for the little girl stories which were exclusively the work of his early career, they
represent the full range of his writing experience.
My method of selection varies with each group depending on the number of stories
O'Connor wrote on the topic. In every
I have tried to focus on stories in which women
appear as leading characters in the main plot and have avoided longer stories which
present a less defined picture of a woman because of a wider range of major characters and
numerous plots and subplots.
In the chapter on the little girls, I have used every story
I divide the stories of unmarried women into two groups: those who choose
to remain single and those who are hoping to marry.
In selecting stories to critique about
unmarried women I have tried to use as many as are necessary and appropriate to support
I divide the stories about married women into three classes: the very early
ones about women plagued by poverty and ignorance, a group of later stories about more
sophisticated women caught in unhappy marriages, and a final set treating independent
women who are the most emancipated in O'Connor's work. As with the unmarried women, I
use whatever stories I feel are necessary to explore the concept.
In the concluding chapter,
as in the one on the Tomboys, I have included every story O'Connor wrote with a brave,
determined old woman as the leading character, and a few related stories.
Each of these
groupings is an important area of women's studies because each represents a specific kind
of woman at a particular time in modem history.
I have omitted mothers as a category because O'Connor places more emphasis on
women as developing human beings than as mothering females.
The finest tribute to
motherhood which O'Connor wrote appears in his autobiographical volume An Only Child.
'U- ~ I -.-. I.* r I t1 *.1 '* I 1
of mothers, stepmothers, fostermothers, and grandmothers as leading characters, but their
primary roles in the stories are as women. For example, Josephine Corkery in
the mother of
six children, but the story concerns not her mothering but the
decision she made after her children were all grown: to enter a convent as she had always
wanted to do.
Most of O'Connor's stories about mothers echo Oriana Fallaci's advice to
women, as quoted by Louise Bemikow in Among Women:
You'll have to struggle to demonstrate that inside your smooth shapely bodythere's
an intelligence crying out to be heard. To be a mother is not a trade. It's not even a
duty. It's only one right among many.
others of this fact. (70)
What an effort it will be for you to convince
The rights of Irish women, the truth of their stories, and the sound of their lonely voices
In writing about Mary Lavin's
O'Connor states that
even penniless, even abandoned, even bullied by her relatives, a girl who is carrying the
child of a man she loves
is still the principal person in life's drama" (SS
makes woman the principal person in life's drama forms the
The truth that
of every story in this
O'Connor compares his efforts to comprehend the importance that this truth holds for
a woman to his own labors in translating Old Irish poetry:
I think I understand it, as I think I understand poems I have painfully and patiently
translated from Old Irish, wondering all the time if they don't mean something
different; but like Old Irish, it is a new and exciting and rewarding world to glance
into--this world of the Irish woman. (SS 14)
The chapters which follow present O'Connor's deep and sympathetic glance into the
world of Irish women.
In his graveside oration, Brendan Kennelly stated that O'Connor was
and he asserted that through O'Connor's translation of
Irish poetry, he hoped to inspire the youth of Ireland to
"discover the past, know the present,
and challenge the future
" (Sheehy 166).
The study of O'Connor's translation of the experi-
ences of Irish women into short stories will prove likewise inspirational for the field of
O'Connor's tough little Tomboys first appeared in print in the 1930s.
With one excep-
tion, however, they remained uncollected--like a group of Irish foster children-until fifteen
years after his death.
Collectively they form a composite image of an aggressive, sometimes
violent, little girl who fights like a warrior and is feared yet admired by her peers and sib-
lings; she can also be as cunning as a fox and as sensual as a siren.
Considered as a
group, the Tomboys represent the foundation for the line of O'Connor's women which
tends from childhood to old age.
O'Connor's stories about children are generally classified as his
the term usually encompasses only males.'
and the classification of
O'Connor's little girl stories as a unit are original with this dissertation.
only four stories which I classify in the Tomboy group.
In all of them, a tough little girl is the
protagonist, and her ideas and actions motivate the plot.
Three of the stories,
"The Climber" (1940), and "The Adventuress
" (1948), were published in
journals early in O'Connor's career but did not appear in any of his collections until 1981
when Harriet Sheehy compiled The Cornet Player Who Betrayed Ireland, a book of
O'Connor's previously uncollected stories. A fourth Tomboy story,
published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1957 under the title "Tl
"The Ugly Duckling,
hat Ryan Woman
collected in O'Connor's Domestic Relations the same year.
The little Tomboy from the three
earlier stories is again the protagonist in
"The Ugly Duckling,
" but before the end she has
grown up and is moving into the realm of adults. A similar little girl appears in two other
"The Story Teller
and "Babes in the Wood,
" but in neither of them is she the central
character in a child's world.
Two of O'Connor's male juvenile stories are also discussed in
and "What Girls Are For.
" These stories show how O'Connor
collected and anthologized, his Tomboys, like most women of their times, have taken a back
seat to their male
counterparts and as a group remain heretofore unrecognized by critics
and unexplored by scholars.
Nevertheless, the Tomboys comprise one of O'Connor's distinct submerged popula-
tions with an important set of characteristics all their own.
They count as national
foremothers the proud, feral women O'Connor encountered in his translation and study of
early Irish poetry: women like the Hag of Beare, Queen Medb of Connacht, and the bold
judges and witnesses of Bryan Merryman's
They also follow a canonical
tradition of brave little girls begun in the nineteenth century with Dickens's heartless Estella,
Bronte's wild Cathy, and Stowe's mischievous Topsy and continued in the twentieth century
with McCullers's resolute Frankie Adams and Faulkner's venturesome Caddie Compson. In
addition, the Tomboys are characterized by a Rabelaisian mixture of grandeur and grotes-
querie which reemerges in another group of O'Connor's women whom I have named the
Bold Crones (see Chapter V).
These little girls also mark one of O'Connor's earliest experi-
ments in crafting a character type. As a result of his work with little girl stories, O'Connor
amassed a rich stockpile of plots from which he
could draw to explain the curious actions
and decisions of adult women when he set out to write their stories.
aspect of the Tomboy as a character study, however,
The most significant
is that O'Connor represents in her a
woman's search for autonomy as an integral part of her formative years.
In recent years little girls have been recognized as an important topic of academic and
In The Girl Within (1989),
Emily Hancock of the Center for Psycho-
logical Studies in Albany, California, interviewed twenty
willing to delve into the details of their lives" (4).
"self-developed women who were
Almost all of them recalled a period of time
as girls in which they had
world on [their] own" (6).
of joy [and] of confidence about negotiating the
During the process of talking about their pasts, many of the women
"stumbled almost by chance on the girl they had left behind" (4), what Hancock calls
" From her research Hancock concludes that "
women's full development depends
on circling back to the girl within and carrying her into womanhood" (260).
In a more recent study of women's psychology and girls' development, Meeting at the
Crn]srnads (} 19 2.
T.vn Milkl Brown of 1Colby- Colle tae and Carol Gillinan of Hrrvarrd found
young women tend to dissociate themselves from the painful experiences of
their childhood or reinterpret and rename their actions and experiences in idealized terms
Thus Brown and Gilligan claim that society and women in particular need to listen to
the voices of little girls to discover why, at the onset of adolescence, they abandon the voices
of their childhood, silence themselves, and allow prescriptions of nicety and purity to force
them into confusion and uncertainty.
Sixty years earlier, O'Connor had already begun hearing little girls' voices. Although
he was neither a psychologist nor a professor, he was a story teller with an unusual talent for
listening and for evaluating and writing about what he heard.
stories when he was a bachelor.
He wrote his first little girl
Thus these stories were not the product of fatherly pride but
instead suggest the observations of a close friend of the family or of an admiring brother.
O'Connor's initial interest in the stories of little girls possibly derives from a childhood desire
for a companion because of the poverty of his experience as an only child and from his
awareness of what Ellen Moers calls the
rough-and-tumble sexuality of the nursery
the play and bonding between siblings which he would have read about and perhaps
envied in Victorian novels.
As William Maxwell notes,
In his fiction he could be surrounded by a houseful of siblings.
"An only child, Michael behaved as if he were the oldest of a
large family of boys and girls" (Sheehy 146).
The early little girl stories were intended to be
included in a book entitled The Mirror in the Water, but the book was never published
O'Connor's failure to include all but one of these stories in a later collection
suggests his apprehension over the little girl as a successful character type and supports
another of Brown and Gilligan's premises: the notion that society tends to trivialize the
subject of little girls.
O'Connor created his early Tomboy stories just after he wrote his first novel, The Saint
and Mary Kate, the story of a prostitute's daughter in love with a sensitive, pious boy. Nei-
ther the novel nor the heroine was very successful: as the story ends, Mary Kate is aban-
doned by the Saint, and her aged female mentor writes in a letter that Mary Kate is
ing in looks
"turning out a real little lady,
" but "too fond of crying
theless, O'Connor remained drawn to the image and began reconstructing the character
Like the little girls in the psychological studies of the ninties, some of O'Connor's
Tomboys, over the course of the series and in his rewritings, lose touch with their feelings,
push their strong emotions underground, and leave behind a silent residue of discontent.
This self-silencing, Brown and Gilligan argue, is instigated and perpetuated by mothers and
teachers, who force their own ideas on little girls instead of listening to them.
O'Connor, like Dickens, Bronte, and Stowe before him, creates little girls with either absent,
ineffectual, or hostile mothers probably because he had observed the same phenomenon in
literature. As Susan Peck MacDonald writes in The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in
"the good supportive mother is potentially
so powerful a figure as to prevent her
daughter's trials from occurring
and] to shield her from the process of maturation
Despite the opportunity to mature which the absence of strong mothering might offer
them, O'Connor's little girls in growing up, like the girls in Brown and Gilligan's control
groups, gradually become alert to societal prescriptions and eventually, but reluctantly,
In O'Connor's stories about young unmarried and married women, the little
girls develop into women who acknowledge the dictates which divide them into good and
bad according to their selflessness or selfishness, and, as a result, these two classes of
women in O'Connor's stories often find themselves diminished and losing the battle for
Only in their old age do O'Connor's women reclaim their voices and speak out
again, with a flair reminiscent of their girlish grandeur.
Both grand and vocal, O'Connor's Irish Tomboy makes her first appearance in 1936 in
"The Flowering Trees
as Josie Mangan, the acknowledged leader of a gang of boys and
The children's life together belongs to what Bakhtin calls in Rabelais and His World
"the culture of folk carnival humor
" (4). As in the Middle Ages, when the peasants lived a life
apart from the official existence of the ecclesiastics and lords, the children of the Tomboy
stories operate in a
Characterized by the spirit of play, the
realm of children exists apart from yet within proximity of the official adult world and sub-
scribes to a law of its own (7).
In their adventures they have suspended the
mC T11CTCO f
" (8) of parental dictates.
"cncr-inlrr nonro rvf hillinn
Characteristic of their speech is a kind of abusive lan-
rrrto" ( 1 RI whir-h r-nntrihlc tn tho frcotlrnm nf th r- rmni-
paradox does for logic (32)
Thus from certain distortions and perversities which imply a
kind of degeneration in the Tomboy stories comes the regeneration or growth which the
children experience as they begin leaving childhood and learning about being adults.
In addition to Josie Mangan's gang and life in the carnival world, she also has a part in
the other world, a family life which likewise contributes to her autonomy.
mother is deceased, she gains independence through the freedom from female parenting,
and she takes on responsibility as caretaker for a younger brother, Jackie.
In little boy
stories, as in O'Connor's own household, mothers tend to be saintly and long-suffering while
fathers are usually drunken ne'er-do-wells.
In "The Flowering Trees
" Josie's father is kind but
feckless and enters the picture just long enough to issue commands which the children,
having their own law, ignore whenever possil
the housekeeper, about whom Josie laments,
ble. The only voice of authority emanates from
"No one knows what I suffered with her since
me ma died" (CP 64).
The plot revolves around an itinerant Fiddler whom the gang finds one day in early
spring in an old garden.
Nature forms a background and provides the children a world akin
to the wild Irish settings of Fenian legends.
Josie determines first to attract the Fiddler and
then to persuade him to play for the gang picnic. As her relationship with the Fiddler grows,
"the trees shoot into leaf and bloom,
"thus the title
"The Flowering Trees
pected illness, however, interrupts Josie's plans; when she recovers, she finds the gang
"the leaves falling,
and the Fiddler gone
Although it appears to be a story of action and questing,
"The Flowering Trees
shows O'Connor's concern with the power of words.
When the gang first finds the Fiddler,
Josie is not with them; immediately they bring
of their discovery to her, their leader
(54). At first she is
and pretends to be busy with her records of their savings for the
1 and a appel [sic]
nlrc,,,,, :,r,,,.,r, rl.,
problem introduces J
manner of control, and while we laugh at her naivete, her act
suggests an animalism which we tend to fear.
Faulkner offers a similar solution in As I Lay
Dying when Cora bakes a set of cakes and the lady who was going to buy them changes her
"Its not everybody can eat their mistakes," she
to herself (5).
cannot eat her mistakes, she attacks them with word and fist.
Once she and
the gang set out to find the Fiddler, her little brother Jackie gets tired and protests,
to go home
To inspire his cooperation Josie goes after him with a fit of Gothic
Suddenly as the vision of the fiddler burst on her imagination anew, her tears
changed to blind unreasoning fury
.. She smacked Jackie's hands.
She pummelled his stomach till he doubled up and fell.
pinched his behind.
Jackie screamed. Josie caught one hand and Kitty the other ...
his arms from dislocation, Jackie had to run.
Once they find the Fiddler, a strange quasi-love story takes place in which the Tomboy
vacillates between her boyish and womanish personalities.
When the Fiddler strikes up a
begins to dance and suddenly become aware of her sexuality: "the blood
mounted to her cheeks; she raised her head and stiffened her body till she felt it poised and
motionless above her flying toes ... for the first time she found herself deliberately willing
someone to admire her"
Almost immediately the Fiddler becomes J
special friend, and, because his
attention strengthens her authority over the gang, she thinks of him as her
vassal" (CP 59).
Later, when he reprimands her for calling her friend names--again a problem with words--
she resents his attempt at silencing and interprets it as his preference for her friend Kitty.
Again angry at the interference with her plans, she feels the fury rising:
"Her dream was
shattered, herself an outcast and mere hanger-on in the new alliance between the Fiddler
She wonders if she has lost the gang:
"The others, traitors and lipservers,
had gone over to the enemy.
" Lapsing into her customary abusive verbiage, she prays that
"God will strike them all dead" (60).
O'Connor introduces another verbal complication in a peculiar man accompanying the
is known as the
and whose inability to communicate suggests a
1 A -- ~ A n a 1- 1 a j. ~q. .. a A ryn n .. al an rr .Clt ml.....l a.... 4~l..nn~ln Ar. r.lt4 nrnn ,. '
But they never knew what to make of the Stutterer. When he began to speak they
looked at him in excitement, wondering what great things he was about to tell them.
He would chuckle and choke and grow crimson, and wave his hands--but it never
came to much that they could
The Fiddler himself is a man of obscure origins and unclear motives and is faintly
reminiscent of the strange man in Joyce's
" He gradually assumes an am-
bivalent position as both delightful and dangerous.
He appears to know too much about the
children's families, and he
he sends her a letter noting
"talks a lot about death"
purity of his affection
Later after Josie's fit of anger,
" (60) and gives her a lily.
Crowley, the village nurse, warns the children to avoid the Fiddler, but at Josie's insistence,
they hatch a
conspiracy" (61) to get him to their picnic despite the admonition.
The story comes to a climax on the morning of the picnic when Josie breaks out in spots.
In high tribute to his little girl hero, O'Connor notes that at the news of J
assembled about their fallen chief" (CP 63).
Like Parnell she
is betrayed by a
woman, the housekeeper, who has the final word and pronounces her unfit to go, and the
conspiracy" (a picnic with Home Rule
fails in its mission.
The illness transforms Josie, and through her womanly brush with love some of her
childish nature dies:
Summer was over, the days were drawing in.
Of the Fiddler there was no further
news; the gang had been remiss and for weeks had deserted their fortress.
he had tired of waiting.
Josie visited the field when the leaves were falling; she
visited it three times before she realized that all was over.
The Fiddler was gone.
In writing the story O'Connor seems to discover that when little girls encounter and survive
ordeals, they emerge somewhat silenced: Josie has lost the authority of the gang and the
chance to have the Fiddler play.
Like the Stutterer's, her efforts never come to much that
In "The Climber,
Tomboy with the same
published four years later, Josie Mangan reappears as the same Irish
family. Leaving behind the old garden and the Fiddler, O'Connor
concentrates on his native Cork where Josie and Jackie meet a pair of sissified brothers,
whom they lead on a
of adventures around the town and up the lanes.
Fired by a
-- -- --
"The Flowering Trees,
" when Josie
out on a quest, she succeeds.
by his daughter's request, Mr. Mangan begins courting Mrs. Donoghue and tries to impress
her by reciting
from Shakespeare and recounting tales of the Mangan family heroes.
is at once ashamed of her father's performance and begins to doubt the sufficiency of
the Donoghues' lifestyle.
When she learns that her father has shaved his beard and is
planning to marry Mrs. Donoghue, she knows that her plan has backfired.
The loss of the
beard seems to represent a kind of castration for J
father, a loss of the symbol of his
manhood and therefore a confirmation of the inadequacy of refined living:
His face when he came in presented a sight so horrible that Josie could not bear
to look. It was round and chubby and chinless; it had lost all its majesty and
romance; it looked ridiculous.
Up to this point "The Climber
seems not strategically different from
"; in both stories Josie finds herself threatened by another woman as a result of her own
"The Flowering Trees
" the Fiddler writes a letter which solves the problem,
"The Climber" Josie herself must carry out a plan which, like her prayer for lightning
and thunder on the picnic, is both cunning and cruel. Accompanied by Jackie, she takes the
unsuspecting Donoghue boys on a walk and bundles them over the wall of a garden where
they are apprehended by Mrs. Ryder-Flynn, the
" lady of the manor with
"legs of a
greyhound and arms of a prizefighter
" (CP 96).
In both stories O'Connor creates grotesque situations which excite apprehension and
disapproval, but as Bakhtin suggests, both emotions are part of the folk tradition, and in
their absurdity, they lead to a continuance of the human condition. As she stands watching
the boys carried off in disgrace, Josie
is filled with
remorse and pity,
and she decides that
"whoever had said revenge was sweet didn't know what he was talking about" (CP 96).
Although the story is clearly didactic, the
savagery of girlhood" (Moers 107) which
O'Connor creates in the Josie stories and her continuing triumph afterwards recall the Gothic
violence of her predecessors: Estella's cruelty to Pip and Cathy's fury in dealing with anyone
who comes between herself and Heathcliff. That evening JI
s father returns from Mrs.
"booted out without mercy
"' (CP 96).
He awakens J
and offers to recite
Shvlock for her.
nI stead she asks for Romeo.
Suddenly her father realizes how iealous Josie
blend of reunion and innocent eroticism as the little Tomboy emerges a hero, having exer-
cised authority practically unchallenged over three boys, a man, and a woman.
is heroic and womanly as well as childish and rebellious, Afric in
Story Teller" (1937) is innocent and contemplative and only just beginning to question
authority. Nevertheless, I include her in the study because she has what one might call a
family resemblance to Josie and the Tomboys.
The plot revolves around an old story teller
who is dying and his devoted granddaughter who comes to realize that the fairy magic
which he has foretold will not materialize.
The earliest version of the story appears in an incomplete manuscript (J/37-b) in which a
mature female first-person narrator recalls her childhood admiration for her grandfather and
his famous stories and her mother's objections to both.
This is the only little girl story in
which O'Connor experiments with a female first-person narrator, and he changes in the
published version to an anonymous third-person narrator.2
As in many of O'Connor's little
boy stories, when children or adults remembering their own childhoods narrate their stories,
they observe less carefully; they let their imaginations select the details and tend to focus on
their own personal involvement.
The narrator who is not a participant can observe more
objectively and can heighten the effect of the situation by presenting it against the back-
ground of the surrounding community.
"The Story Teller,
" O'Connor apparently
decided to move from the personal story of a little girl celebrating her grandfather to the
more abstract theme of the passing of the tradition of story telling in Ireland.
In both versions O'Connor implies that the story teller is his good friend Timothy
Buckley, the Tailor of Gougane Barra, the best known West Cork story teller in O'Connor's
day. In the first version, the little girl states that her grandfather lived up on a hill, and "he
was small and fiery and had claw eyes.
" She also notes that neighbors and students from
the nearby city came to visit.
Not only was the Tailor
small and fiery,
" but he lived in a
cottage at the top of a hill in which his granddaughter, Sheila Buckley O'Riordan, and her
family were still living as late as 1988, and among the visitors to that cottage was O'Connor
himself when he lived in Cork. In the published version of this story, the story teller's son
muses on his father as a
patient, long-thinking man
CP 70) and recalls that when
1 J -- J...~- a -. I..: .aA: a~ aU~.:~* a. 1 1. :I ... *m* 1. V A n tr- .
Buckley's fireside tales, O'Connor quotes the same expression
as the Tailor's favorite line
when he was trying to get his wife to quit bustling about the room when she had guests
Although the story teller is the title character and the principal person of interest, the
nameless little girl in the manuscript version, like Afric in the published story, contributes to
the picture of O'Connor's Tomboys because of her independent stand in alliance with her
grandfather and the mysteries of his art, in opposition to unbelievers like her mother.
first version the narrator herself beco
mes a sort of story teller as she recalls her grandfather
and his art:
I thought my old grandfather the most wonderful man that ever lived. We had
a little cottage by the sea and he and Grandmother had one up the hill. He was
small and fiery with small claw eyes, and night after night in the winter I'd go up to
his house. Sometimes some of the old neighbors came, and sometimes students, but
whoever was there my grandfather was king.
Someone would ask him for a story
and he would lean forward and begin,
"Once upon a time,
and before you knew
where you were you would be launched like a boat on the river of his tale. And Law,
the language he used! Where he got it from I didn't know.
Trips to grandfather's house become personal adventures for the little girl, and she
persists despite her mother's objections.
Her sister Annie represent the kind of little girl who
has already begun to conform to the feminine prescriptions which Brown and Gilligan
record: Annie sides with her mother and will not go to Grandfather's with the narrator be-
cause she does not enjoy his stories. The h
utes to the narrator's independent thinking.
Hostile mother, like Josie's absent mother, contrib-
Determined to continue her friendship with her
grandfather, the narrator devises a scheme to evade her mother's control:
"I used to be mad
at Marm for talking lies against Grandfather's stories, but I knew the less I said the more
chance I had of going out"
Later the narrator's intense feelings and angry lan-
guage suggest J
"It was cruel the way Marm hated him, and I hated her for it
but I could say nothing" (3).
s head with nonsense,
When her mother complains that the old man is
" her father resembles other Tomboy fathers and
in it" (2).
After the grandmother dies, the grandfather moves in with the family.
evenings both the narrator and her father can enjoy the stories, but "Marm
Now during the
" finds no humor
to befriend and comfort him:
"When the weather was fine he'd go sit out in the row and I'd go
sit with him and he'd be teaching me things.
The manuscript version ends abruptly in the middle of a sentence:
their got sick and [Marm] brought the priest to him.
"Now the Grandfa-
It seemed it was years since Grandfather
went to the altar.
The priest sat with him a long time, but he couldn't. (J/37-b 3).
ending to this version has been lost or O'Connor had written down in his notebook as much
of the concept of the little girl's bond with her grandfather as he needed to establish the
He would return later to work it into a real story.
The second version opens about where the first ends: two little girls, Afric and Nance
(perhaps Annie of the earlier version
making poteen (illegal whiskey)
die that night.
are headed up to the hills to tell their father, who is
that the priest and the doctor say the girls' grandfather will
The mother/daughter conflict of the manuscript version becomes immediately
apparent when Nance informs Afric that "Mom says you were to stop talking about the
boat you said would come for grandfather. Mom
says there is no boat" (CP 66).
and confident as in the early version, Afric replies,
"Mom doesn't know. Grandfather knows
Afric's unshakable belief in Grandfather's tales becomes the focus of the published
version as she reflects on his stories about death now that the old man is about to die.
Grandfather's stories in the early version puzzle the little girl, and she describes them as
long for me.
'Tis only the bits I can remember
" (J/37-b 2). Afric, however, recalls them clearly,
especially one about "the travelling man, death,
" who will come,
a man with long, long legs
and a bandage over his
eyes" (CP 67).
Frightened by the idea of death and perhaps by the
grotesque image which the old man has sketched, Afric suspects that Grandfather has quit
telling the stories because he also fears a
man as big as a mountain.
Despite her fear, Afric is almost as much of a Tomboy and a father's girl as Josie.
the mountain Afric has found a lamb which accompanies her everywhere and seems to
reflect her carefree nature and perhaps even her grandfather's:
an idiotic, astonished
animal which stopped dead and bucked and scampered entirely without reason
When she volunteers to get turf for her father's fire, the lamb trips her and like a pair of
siblings thev wrestle and roll about in
"the smell of earth and arass
" (69). Later when the
sort of fascinated terror for the big man with the bandage over his
" (CP 72).
In the first
light of day she makes a discovery which may well be a turning point in her life:
There was no farewell, no clatter o
silver oars or rowlocks as magic took her
Nothing, nothing at all.
With a strange choking in her throat
she went slowly back to the house.
her grandfather had been
She thought that maybe she knew now why
As Hancock notes about many girls growing up, Afric will relegate her belief in the
magic of her grandfather's stories to the
" because there is no longer anyone to
tell stories to her or to listen to her stories.
What connects O'Connor's early version of "The
such an important aspect of women's studies of the nineties is that the female
narrator has circled back to the
and carried her into womanhood in her own
One can only regret that the magic of that female narrator's voice was
lenced in revision.
O'Connor creates a somewhat different little girl when he
a first-person male
narrator who relates his own childhood experience--the masculine version of the female
narrator in the manuscript of "The Story Teller." In
"Old Fellows" the male narrator recalls in
exaggerated juvenile language a boyhood outing with his father which is interrupted by the
old fellow's repeated trips to the pub and his lengthy round of arguments with a sailor
accompanied by a pretty little daughter.
The daughter, like the Tomboys, is a strong-willed,
self-possessed child who can be both violent and vicious, but unlike the Tomboys she is only
a secondary character whom the narrator places on a pedestal from which she appears
cold, beautiful, and frightening.
Two versions of this story are contained in the Frank
O'Connor Papers: one published in The Bell in January 1941 entitled "A Day at the Seaside
(A/56), and another, entitled "Old Fellows,
"Small Ones: Stories of Children" (J/15), a
O'Connor's collection Crab Apple lelly in 1944.
" located in an unpublished manuscript journal,
nd published in a slightly different version in
All three stories offer the same plot with only
a few variations in wording and imaging.
The story revolves around the narrator's difficulties in dealing with the sailor's daughter
while the two children wait for their fathers outside the pubs.
The little boy
is in awe from the
moment he first spies her:
As a child fascinated by the girl's beauty, he differs from the Fiddler in
" who is attracted to Josie because she can dance to his music.
presents his Tomboys
Tomboy is in her spirit.
Is attractive because of an outward physical beauty.
In the later version of "Old Fellows,
little girl's beautiful appearance by adding
a satiny white dress
The beauty of a
" O'Connor elaborates on the
(J/15 16) to her white hat
so that she takes on a virginal appearance, and, as if to bring himself near her standard, he
also notes that he had on
a new sailor suit.
The possibility of communion with this new-
found vision, however, is shattered almost immediately when the little boy attempts to make
friends by smiling and
is arrested by the little girl's rebuff: "And lo and behold! she drew
herself up and walked past me up the path and she withered me with a look as much as to
say 'How dare you, you impudent puppy!"' (A/56-a 8).
In the Tomboy stories all the children seem to belong to the same special child's world.
If the little girl were Josie, she might be intrigued by the little boy and perhaps challenge him
to some playful contest.
The challenge instead is the provocation of a cool temptress, and
the little boy, having no experience with women, is
"withered" by the encounter:
"The girl was
haughty and cold. It was the first time I had come face to face with the heartlessness of a
real beauty and her contemptuous stare knocked me flat... I wished I was back home with
" (J/15 16).
Just as Mrs. Donoghue ousts Mr. Mangan after J
cruelty to the
so the little boy in the sailor suit anticipates that his mother will protect him.
same effect occurs in most of O'Connor's juvenile stories, and, as a result, the motherless
Tomboys always appear more mature than the well mothered little boys.
As the outing in
progresses, both children realize that the two fathers
have begun a quarrel which will take many trips to the pub to conclude and that, as children,
they are operating just outside a man's world into which both physically and emotionally
they cannot enter. Although they meet off and on during the day while waiting for their old
fellows, they are unable to commiserate with each other because of the little girl's hostile
"Tis all your fault and your father's fault,
she tells him.
"Ye have ruined my day on
me." (J/15 18).
While we never know what Jackie or the Donoghue brothers feel about them-
selves after Josie's fits of vengeance, the little boy narrator in
makes sure that
- --. -l- 1 ,......L J sL. ....a. 1..~~1 1~C~~CI .I ~AI~L*~ n..11 a:l a n i 1. 41a
and then claims even more sympathy for himself by gallantly trying to sail her toy boat and
failing in the effort.
Toward the end of the evening as they are starting home, the little boy spots the little
girl one last time,
a small figure in white.
It was like an apparition
" (J/15 21-22).
appears frightening, however, and like a ghost she has no real power.
When the old fellows
head for the pub one more time, the little girl becomes
" like Josie
when Jackie balks
on the way to the Fiddler, and she attacks the boy's father physically:
"She scrawled at him
and beat him about the legs with her fist but he only laughed at her, and when the door
opened forced his way in with a shout" (23).
Unlike Jackie, who ultimately gives in to Josie's
brutal persuasion, the old fellows laugh and push the beautiful little girl aside.
Having exhausted all other weapons, she lures the little boy into a game of words and
begins calling his father names:
"Your old fellow is only a common laboring man
. my daddy
he is ignorant and conceited" (J/15 23).
Following her lead, the little boy
"Your old fellow is only a sailor and my father
all sailors are liars.
Finally, she challenges his bravery and dares him to walk home alone. Her challenge
recalls the behavior of the women of Irish myth who, according to Philip Leary in
Honour of Women in Early Irish Literature,
men to noble deeds:
participate in the male honor code by inspiring
"Emer [wife of Irish saga hero Cuchullain] is repeatedly seen inciting
are lax in their honour
Thus O'Connor's little girl reaches back to the
deeds of her saga foremothers when she incites her companion to act, and in heroic re-
sponse to her challenge, he sets out for home.
In the end, O'Connor's little girl can claim, if
not the adventurous spirit of the Tomboys, at least their capacity to make their voices heard.
Four years after
"News for the Church,
appeared, O'Connor began publishing in The New
a story about a young unmarried girl some ten years
older than most of the Tomboys (see Chapter III).
Among those stories which followed in that
publication were several stories with little boy heroes but no female character other than a
simple Irish mother, such as
" (1947), and "The Drunk-
The only important little girl character who appears in the early New Yorker
stories is Florrie Clancy in
"Babes in the Wood" (1947).
Although Florrie is somewhat remi-
niscent of J
and adds to the developing picture of O'Connor's Tomboy, she, like the
unpublished version in the O'Connor Collection in a copy book with stories from the 1940s
and 1950s (J/8); and a fragment, which consists of a half page of notes in manuscript in a
copy book from the 1950s (J/12).
The published version is the story of Terry Early, aged five,
and Florrie Clancy, aged nine, both illegitimate children being raised in foster homes.
When Terry's mother, whom he knows as
mentions that she might take him to live in
England with her and a
" (CS 138), Florrie bluntly tells him that "Auntie
" is his
mother and really does not want him.
Florrie also informs him that he and she are not
"What's wrong with us?" he asks.
" she replies.
" fails to come, Florrie returns
as his best girl, and, like babes in the wood, they find
in each other the comfort no other person will provide.
The unpublished version, clearly an earlier one, bears the title
out and retitled in pencil "Babes in the Wood.
It is narrated by a priest who tells the story of
Terry, the same illegitimate boy, but this time a grown young man who is involved with
Florrie, an illegitimate but disreputable girl from the same village.
The fragment version,
apparently written sometime after
version, consists of a half page of text
narrated in the first person by Terry and ends in his attempt to explain his need to find
Maybe she is married.
But wherever she
is I must find her. Everyone looks for
One who has no family of his own must go in search till he finds it.
Nothing else will satisfy him. Even a homeland isn't enough.
In two later stories,
"Music When Soft Voices Die
and "A Set of Variations on a
" O'Connor explores yet another aspect of the foster child's story: the child's need to
find its birth parents; and in
"The Weeping Children
" he relates the story of an Englishman
who goes to Ireland to look for a foster child who is his wife's illegitimate daughter by a
In "Babes in the Wood,
" however, the children have formed a bond
with each other and seem to have relinquished any hope of relating to their birth parents--a
hopelessness which makes the story all the more pathetic.
In both the published and unpublished versions of "Babes in the Wood,
creates an unfortunate atmosphere which reflects his disapproval of the consequences of the
'I'L L LL~~,
1__~__. 1_ __~.I.._. ___ L1-.~ -.~ -1
is riddled with bastards. All the illegitimates of the city are farmed
out here. Not that it's their fault, poor creatures. And like everyone else there's good
and bad among them, mostly bad.
Florrie, like Terry, is a victim of the law, but O'Connor makes her a sort of villainess as
well, perhaps to intimate that the stigma of illegitimacy is
on girls than on boys.
Although in the end O'Connor seems to resurrect her by Terry's devotion to her, once the
priest identifies Florrie as one of the
"bad," the remainder of the story adheres to her nega-
She has a
nature which faintly resembles that of the little girl in
" but here her airs separate her from the villagers:
"she was a queer girl.
Clancy they used to call her,
and she has
and a rather stiff manner" (48).
She leaves the village to become a nurse and turns up later having loaned Terry a scandal-
ous book about all the women with whom the author had slept.
When the priest questions
Florrie about the book, her answer is a calculated pronouncement of the
"What is it but life?" (49).
"You'd like us to live like dogs apologizing for
" she continues.
The story ends with the priest'
s disapproval and Terry's determi-
nation to find Florrie, because she is
"the only one
" he has (50).
In the published version of "Babes in the Wood," O'Connor draws on his knowledge of
little boys and Tomboys and creates a childhood situation for Terry and Florrie to explain
some of the difficulties in life which their illegitimacy has imposed on them. As before, this
version focuses on Terry, and this time O'Connor provides him with a trio of threatening
mother figures, who add a blend of humor and Gothic horror to his circumstance.
a protective person like the little boy's mother in
" Terry's foster mother, is
rough, deaf, scolding old woman doubled up with rheumatics, who'd give you a clout as
as she'd look at you
" (CS 136).
His friend Florrie, being four years older, is another
quasi-mother figure, who lives with Miss Clancy at the Post Office a mile through the woods.
"tall and thin, with jet-black hair, a long ivory face, and a hook nose" (139).
and black hair call to mind the witch of fairy stories, and she tells
well that she even frightened herself and was scared of going back through the woods
" Like Florrie, Terry's
" also tells frightening stories, and in recounting the
growling and wailing and creeping on all fours with her hair over
Vtn arm aflnc. I~n Inn~l I m rmrn ."xib rr 4rnlrIn, r
~*;n~j nn r] hlnnclrrm
later develops more strongly in the
" Tomboy stories:
"She was gentle, she was
generous, she always took his part" (CS 139).
Like most of the Tomboys, Florrie has a
defective mother and as a consequence an independent nature: Mrs. Early tells Terry his
own mother was a
"decent woman but the dear knows who that one [Florrie
is or where she
Despite Terry's esteem for Florrie, we
see in her the same ruthlessness
which Josie displays; she becomes
so jealous of his toys from
and his grandiose
tales of a new life, that she destroys his illusion.
Then with the same sort of seductive behav-
toward the Fiddler, she lures him back:
"She led him up the short cut through
the woods .. Then she sat on the grass and sedately smoothed her frock about her knees ..
If you'll swear to be always in with me I'll be your girl again"
In the end she puts her
arms around him:
"He was hers at last.
There were no more rivals.
Although Florrie Clancy is not the heroine of her own story, she
as a strong link
between the early Tomboy image and the later one.
She is the first of the little girls whom
O'Connor describes physically, and he adds to her boyishness by giving her the long, lean
structure which the later Tomboy Nan Ryan in
"The Ugly Duckling
"is said to inherit from her
The adolescent Florrie in
is supercilious and called "Lady
anticipates the grandeur of Lady Brenda in
The year after
"Babes in the Wood"
appeared, O'Connor introduced a new Tomboy,
initially known as Brenda O'Mahoney (in later versions Brenda Regan) in a story entitled
" (Far and Wide, 1948).
This title derives from an unpublished typescript by
O'Connor entitled "The Short Story
" in which he writes,
"There are only two kinds of Irish
woman--the adventuress and the cow, and that's why I have a soft spot for adventuresses
so appropriate for the Tomboy stories that any one of
them might have borne the title, and, as one might suspect, there are few
O'Connor's work and none among the Tomboys.
In addition to the version published as
"the story appears in the
O'Connor collection in three other versions all entitled "Lady Brenda.
" The first two, con-
trained in the short story section of the collection as A/33-a and A/33-b, are slightly different
variations on Brenda Regan's story, and although they point to her superior manner, they do
- ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ r -t~_-.~ -.II,- I--- r a n1i ,'t-- .Ii..- ...1---
Revision was part of O'Connor's craft and in his early days as a writer he often threw
away early drafts after he had written what he believed was a publishable one. As a result,
for most of the early works there are only the published versions extant.
Sometime in the
forties he seems to have begun saving drafts although he usually credited his wife Harriet
with being the first to rescue them from the trash.
" is the first Tomboy
story for which a
of early drafts still exists.
These drafts comprise a set of variations
on the little girl theme in which O'Connor redefines her from a harsh outspoken Tomboy to a
rather grand little lady.
They also suggest that during the
course of his rewriting the story
and fleshing out the character, O'Connor lost touch with the
" who animates his
All four versions tell roughly the same story: Brenda
is a proud little girl who decides
that her brothers and sisters should go in with her to buy their father a fountain pen for a
Because she lacks the funds to buy a really good pen, she settles for a
cheap one and changes the price on the box, only to have her father recognize the difference
and ruin her gesture.
"The Adventuress" is
the first of O'Connor's little girl stories to be
narrated by a little
boy who is a secondary character.
The change from an omniscient outsider narrator may
result from O'Connor's attempt to give the stories the idealism and naivete of the already
successful little boy stories, but the change actually weakens the little girl's stance.
little boy narrator, O'Connor moves from an adult world, in which nature surrounds and
reflects the children's free play, to the little boy's own world where his thoughts control the
" however, the plot of "The Adventuress
revolves around the
little girl, Brenda, and the narrator is her admiring little brother whose name, Michael,
suggests O'Connor's own longing for siblings.
we see Brenda through Michael's
we find him excusing her faults as idiosyncrasies and admiring as feats o
might have been presented by an outsider as unnecessary roughness.
Like Florrie Clancy, Brenda has the typical Tomboy look:
her "tall, gaunt and temperamental" father.
"a long, grave, bony face" like
Just as she is endowed with an unfeminine
appearance, she takes on boyish challenges and makes friends who defy the feminine
nrescrintions (CP 139).
She is her father's
"*t r i 4 4+
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EtA. V tJL&&L tAAJX ttA.L
"cheek" him to the face but
with the stoicism of a Red Indian.
While others call her
"a liar, a cancer, and a notice-
Michael remembers her as
soul of generosity,
and he recalls
that she once
"blew" three and
six on an air-gun for him. In addition he notes that she was
a natural aristocrat"
and adds grimly that she considered everyone beneath her and
associated with the most horrid children whose allegiance she bought with sweets or
cigarettes--pinched off my brother Colum.
" Like the little girls in Emily Hancock's study,
Brenda has forged her own patterns of acting and relating to people and as a result has
acquired a sort of
wholeness of self"
"unity with the cosmos
" (Hancock 8), which
Michael finds awesome.
The action in
" begins with the quest for a pen, and Michael accompa-
Unlike Josie's bedraggled little brother, however, Michael proudly refers to
himself as Brenda's
him validate her aristocratic manner.
a title he shares with the Fiddler and one which helps
In the shop, Brenda shifts into her womanly mode, and
amazed at her self-possession
'queenly toss of her head"
bargains with a
gawky-looking assistant" (CP 141).
When she has to settle for what the
"a decent little pen
" (143), Michael knows it has
"hurt her pride,
and he fears that
"will drive her to a desperate act. Her unpredictability, he
one of the joys of being with Brenda.
Once her father notices the price, he complains loudly about the
and her mother feebly tries to distract him.
probably suspected that there was mischief behind"
Michael suggests that his
(CP 145) and, in her usual
childlike way, wanted to keep it from their father.
Without a strong parent figure to defend
her, Brenda must wage her own wars.
To get money for the better pen, she blackmails her siblings and threatens to tell their
father it was their idea.
They grudgingly consent because, as Michael says,
nothing you could positively say Brenda would not do .. or Father would not believe" (CP
In a bitter denouncement, Brenda concludes,
"The trouble with our family, Michael. .
is that they all have small minds. You're the only one that hasn't. But you're only a baby,
and I suppose you'll grow up just like the rest." With a philosophical cheerfulness, Michael
-. .. -I -.l -I q .
"toughest" (1) in a family of which none was
exactly what you'd call a
" For her
daring actions he substitutes an encounter with a
corner boy" (2) who accuses her of
" To prove her status, she strikes up a conversation with a perfectly strange lady,
whom she tells that her mother is dead and her brother may go to an orphanage.
a social rather than physical encounter
as proof of her skills, O'Connor moves her from the
realm of boys to that of girls; and, by her fantasy about her deceased mother, he implies that
she is not strong because she really has no mother, but rather that she only imagines herself
strong when she pretends that she has no mother.
The story also takes on a trait of the little
boy stories with a vilified father--here a
" (1) with an
"imperialistic frame of mind"
and a helpful mother, who
"sketches a diversion on her flank" (10) to divert the father's
attention when he is
with the children.
In the Christmas shopping
for this version, Michael accompanies his sister not
vassal" but because he is her
" (A/33-a 5), a word which weak-
ens her again by suggesting a relationship based on preference rather than power.
shop the clerk
is no longer threatening but a more friendly
"tall chap with pince-nez, [and]
black curly hair,
"who addresses Brenda as
" At the end Brenda repeats
her prediction that Michael will grow up with a
like the rest of them, but he
thinks it is
"unkind" (12) rather than
With each succeeding version, O'Connor peels off layers of harshness.
In the second
version (A/33-b), he experiments with voice, transferring the point of view to a
friend of Brenda's older brother.
takes no part in the narrative. T
By the shift, the story loses credibility since the narrator
he story also loses intensity since it is no longer an on-the-
spot report of a little boy who conjures up the elaborate war metaphor and stands in awe of
In returning to an adult non-participating narrator as in the
O'Connor does not, however, revert to Gothic language and sympathetic landscape.
he takes on a male's competitive attitude toward his friend's father and a more complimen-
tary tone with the mother and sister.
is even more unreasonable; after the row
over the pen, he is
perfectly happy, having ruined the whole day on the family" (A/33-b 8).
The mother becomes more protective and for the first time actually speaks out in Brenda's
RrPndir henl hhrlf brnmm almnost nenntel: when she knocks on the woman s door.
that knew her" (6).
Brenda's radiance and sanctity continue to grow in the
Michael) who is now
The story is again narrated in the first person by the little brother (again
mystified" (77) by his sister, whom all the kids call "Lady Brenda
First I vaguely thought it was some sort of title that distinguished her from the rest of
us; then--even more vaguely--I thought it represented some hereditarytaint from
which the rest of us were free: only after years did I get it into proper perspective and
realize that it referred to something in her that made her slightly different from the
others that was what we called her 'grandeur.
' (J/15 77)
The concept of grandeur dominates the entire story as O'Connor creates the most sophisti-
cated and spiritual little girl in his repertoire.
She still has a no-nonsense family at war with
the father, but Brenda's role now elevates her above the others:
At intervals the nonsense [would] rise up in her; you felt the girl was moving like a
somnambulist in an environment she couldn't
deceased old grand-aunt and displaying aspirations towards higher things.
The genteel, superior Brenda is far removed from the belligerence of the swearing,
reverting to the gentility of some
When a neighborhood boy accuses her of "
78) she gives him a
look of "frosty disdain.
" When she
that the clerk will not relent on the price of the
pen, she bargains with him
father questions her, she stares at him,
"in a tone that could have softened a snowman" (81).
innocent and resolute" (82).
When her brothers and
sisters are furious, she bears
"it all with an icy stare
Compared with the Tomboys of
the early stories, this girl has the composure of a much older woman.
With all her mystery and airs, however,
" becomes O'Connor's least
autonomous little girl; she is hardly more than a child controlled by her parents when she
meets the impasse: her father's awareness that she has changed the price.
Faced with the
embarrassing failure of her grandiose gesture at Christmas, she is robbed of the chance to
work her way out by her mother, who
"levied cruel toll on her savings
and took everything
out of her housekeeping to give Brenda the money for the new pen (84).
Brenda's father also plays a stronger role in this version, and like her mother, he usurps
some of Brenda's importance. After the upheaval over the pen, Michael notes that their
in returning the pen. As her father's
is a different girl from the one
who once had
" Despite her moments of splendor, she has mellowed from the J
of the thirties.
She submits to her family's prescription of nicety and is silenced in much the
same way that Brown and Gilligan found their control group complying with their teachers
The fifth little girl story included in The Comet Player Who Betrayed Ireland,
Girls Are For,
contains none of the elements of the Tomboy stories and is included in this
study only to highlight the difference between O'Connor's Tomboys and the little girls in his
Published in 1951 in Collier's Magazine in America and John Bull in England,
"What Girls Are For
" is the story of a little boy whose life gains its importance from his
as leader of his neighborhood gang until his baby brother becomes ill and his sister
shames him in his childish pride and proves herself superior to both their mother and the
visiting nurse in her special gift for taking care of the sick infant.
Like some versions of "The Adventuress,
time the narrator
" this story is narrated by a little boy, but this
is a somewhat older brother who views his sister and her pursuits with
great disdain and who celebrates his own prowess
as a tough little fighter and the family
An early unfinished version entitled "The Chief Gang Leader" (A/87-a
that O'Connor intended for the story to be another in the little boy
all of which relate
an event in the life of the narrator as seen entirely from his point of view.
to "What Girls Are For
The change in title
makes the narrator not only an important personage (for he remains
the Chief Gang Leader) but gives him the patriarchal privilege of defining females.
The story opens with a diatribe by Michael Murphy, the
"Chief Gang Leader,
his sister, Susie, in particular and all girls in general and an apology for his weaknesses as
the result of his distinction:
For years I couldn't understand what God intended girls for at all. They struck
me as the most useless articles, and a real nightmare in any home. The way they
went on about their old frocks and their silly dolls disgusted me. There was my
sister, Susie, for instance. She was more than a year younger than I was, and she
went on as if she were five years older--all because she never wet the bed. And
nobody realized the truth; that she didn't sleep
I did because she never
had the same worries.
girls. According to her brother, Biddy tattles to their mother if Willie steals pennies and goes
screeching" to their father when Willie pulls her hair or makes
" of her dolls
When the new baby becomes ill, Biddy can nurse him better than anyone else, and
the only effort Willie can make is to promise God to give up being Chief Gang Leader if the
Briefly Willie admires Biddy:
"I was full of pride and really sorry for smash-
ing up her old dolls" (178).
Once the baby is better, the children return to squabbling and
shrieking, and Willie resumes his disdainful stance:
It was just like old times, and I saw that, Chief Gang Leader or no Chief Gang
Leader, I would be persecuted by that girl for the rest of my days.
mainly what girls are for. (179)
That, I suppose, is
Despite O'Connor's obvious delight in proffering Willie's invective against doll-drag-
ging little girls and their inexplicable behavior, he had not abandoned his first love, the
Tomboy, and in 1957 he published yet another story about his tough little hero.
Tomboy, Nan Ryan, is gifted with neither swank nor grandeur; instead she is endowed with
an ugliness which
is "almost comic" (A/79-c 1).
In a story eventually published as
" O'Connor moves his little girl for the first time out of childhood, through adoles-
cence, and into adulthood.
She grows up a beautiful woman like the swan in Andersen's
fairy tale, but she carries with her the baggage from her past; and although she has numer-
ous suitors, she finds herself unable to commit to marriage and finishes out her life in a
O'Connor first experimented with the idea of a woman who chose the convent instead of
marriage in a story entitled
"After Fourteen Years,
published in Dublin Magazine in 1929
and later collected in Guests of the Nation.
In its basic message this story echoes the
romance of the ninth century Munster poetess, Liadain, whose tale O'Connor must have
known during the days before he began writing short stories while he was translating early
Probably because he found both the poetess's name and her story
O'Connor named his first daughter Liadain.
In the poem, Liadain's choice yields her
and leaves her lover, Cuirthir, an ex-poet
'wrought to madness
" (KLC 51).
Over a period of thirty years O'Connor wrote and rewrote Liadain's story in prose, apparently
" tells the story of Nicholas Coleman who visits his former love, Marie, in the
garden of a convent where they both reveal the barren lives which her choice has left them.
At the convent, she confesses,
one doesn't think" (A/2.1 46);
so quietly that even his visit to her is too much of an adventure for him. He leaves, knowing
that she has tried "desperately, with anguish,
" to speak and that he will know nothing but
pain for days. As the train carries him back to the city, he can
voice, but the voice [says] nothing
"distinctly hear a woman's
Sometime between this first story and its final form as
"The Ugly Duckling,
apparently heard a fragment of a tale which he jotted down in his theme book and which he
would later use to enrich his convent story:
"Lila's story of ugly child who grew up beautiful
and then became a nun
" (J/35 30).
The work on which O'Connor must have begun during the
fifties suggests that he was not merely searching for the logic behind Marie's decision but
that he was also trying to actuate the
" which said nothing to Nicholas
Coleman as he rode home on the train.
In the new story O'Connor draws on his expertise in
fashioning the Tomboy, and he creates for this woman a girlhood which provides ugliness
as the basis for her later decision.
The O'Connor Collection contains four
different versions which show the author's repeated efforts at disclosing his character's
"The Ugly Duckling
tearsheets from The Saturday Evening Post entitled "That Ryan Woman
was published in 1957 as
"The Ugly Duckling
" in Domestic Relations, and in a slightly
different version under the same name in My Oedipus Complex and Other Stories (1963)
Collection Three (1981).
To convey the sound of the woman's voice, O'Connor had to develop a narrator who
saw through the
of the sensitive young man whom his heroine had rejected and who
would struggle until he could find meaning rather than madness in her decision.
Flanagan writes, O'Connor knew that "the narrator's voice was the exact center of his own
art" (M/F 160). If the story was going to reveal the young woman's logic, O'Connor had to
abandon the distanced omniscient narrator of "After Fourteen Years
brother narrator of his earlier little girl stories. In addition he had le'
" and the adoring little
earned over the years that
ho w was not .artisfiad with a foemarle nnrrrrtnor to tsll her own story as TLiadin does in the noen.
mind of a young man to whom he gave his own name, Mick (Michael), to symbolize his
relation to the earlier little brother narrator and to imply a personal attachment. Mick
Courtney could play with her as a child, grow to know and care for her like a brother, later
love her enough to ask her to marry him, and finally understand her enough to tell her story.
The title also seems to have puzzled O'Connor. Once he added the story of the ugly
child to the base tale, he abandoned "After Fourteen Years" and gave the first version the
title of "Beauty,
" which refers to the woman whom the ugly little girl became. He later
changed the title to
"which points to the transformation itself rather than the
The story was published in The Saturday Evening Post as
"That Ryan Woman,
which may to refer to Nan's peculiar behavior before she made her decision to enter a
convent: smoking, drinking, associating with strange people, and vascilating among suitors.
The last title,
"The Ugly Duckling,
" however, has a very special significance: it not only
marks a connection between the ugly child and the beautiful women but it also lends the tale
a mythic almost legendary grandeur, although one is not quite sure that O'Connor's ugly
duckling lives happily ever after as Andersen's swan does.
O'Connor also changed the Tomboy's name from Margaret in the first version to Nan,
probably an affectionate allusion to Nancy McCarthy, O'Connor's friend who was herself
something of a Tomboy.
The use of Nancy's name shows one of the ways O'Connor bor-
rowed from his own life experiences and then changed the details to make them belong to
one story alone: like Nan Ryan, Nancy refused to marry the man who really loved her
(O'Connor); but unlike Nan, Nancy did not enter a convent. As Harriet Sheehy said of
O'Connor, he believed that if he were only retelling a story from real life, he was not working
his art (Personal interview, 14 January 1987).
O'Connor also had to develop a family for his Tomboy which could deal with her
ugliness just as Brenda
's had to handle her grandeur. Each version of the story opens with a
different grotesque description of one of the family members.
youngest of the Ryan boys, who had
The first introduces Dinny, the
"a face like a butcher's block"' (A/79-c 1). The second
opens with a lengthy portrayal of the parents: Mr. Ryan is
"a tall, bald, noisy man with an
ape-like countenance of striking good-nature"; Mrs. Ryan is
. -:., 2 .
.L~ L. I, 1.,, 1 1 1 I-,,,,l.
had known Nan from the time he was fourteen or fifteen
" (CS 444). In time he
came to be
as fond of her as her father and brothers were.
" O'Connor then presents the matter
of Nan's ugliness, which becomes a problem with which each member of the family must
"She had a stocky sturdy figure and masculine features all crammed into
a feminine container till it bulged,"
"they made a group that was almost
Because of her looks, O'Connor notes that she had almost "lost her mother's affection
(A/79-c 1), and as a result she turns to her brothers for love.
When she suffers from
" Dinny takes her in his bed to soothe her, an act which breaks the
apparently a proscription against the children's sleeping with each other.
By the published
version O'Connor has developed the night episode into a scene with vaguely erotic over-
Dinny would be wakened in the middle of the night by Nan's pulling and shaking.
'Dinny, Dinny,' she would hiss fiercely. 'What are they this time?' Dinny would ask
drowsily. 'Li-i-ions!' she would reply in a blood- curdling tone, and then lie for half an
hour on his arm, contracting her toes and kicking spasmodically while he patted and
In addition to comfort, Dinny offers Nan
companionship, and his acceptance of her in the
world of play suggests O'Connor's seal of approval on her Tomboy status:
She grew up a tomboy, fierce, tough and tearless, fighting in Dinny's gang
pocket-sized Valkyrie leaping from rock to rock, chucking stones in an awk-ward but
quite effective way and screaming insults at the enemy and encour-agement to her
In version A/79-f, O'Connor
role by changing her title from
to have decided to give his little Tomboy an even bolder
to "Amazon": traditionally, the Valkyries were war
maidens who hovered over battlefields and conducted bodies of fallen male warriors to
Valhalla, but Amazons were never anything other than female warriors participating in the
As O'Connor's ugly duckling moves into adolescence, she gives up fighting for praying
and begins to distance herself from her parents and brothers by becoming
a family not remarkable for piety
"the pious one in
" (CS 445). Although part of the girl's maturing process is
Nan adopts what Denis Donoghue calls
"the quirky doggedness of people who live on the
Like Brenda, Nan selects outcasts for friends:
associates with are either
"all seventy or paralysed" (CS 446).
as Mick notices, the people she
She begins to take on
tone of a dull, older woman,
and by mid-story her ugliness has reached its peak:
Though she carefully avoided all occasion for a slight, even the hint of one was
enough to make her brooding and resentful
.. she [became] hideous and shapeless
She slunk round the house with her shoulders up about her ears, her red-
brown hair hanging loose and a cigarette glued loosely to her lower lip.
The real source of the misery which she develops as an adolescent, however, is not the
ugliness itself but her mother's reaction to it.
O'Connor seems sensitive to the power of a
girl's ugly childhood and the damage a mother's abhorrence can inflict in much the same
way that Ellen Moers describes it:
From infancy, indeed from the moment of birth, the looks of a girl are examined with
ruthless scrutiny by all around her, especially by women, crucially by her own
Probably as a result of his early writing about little girls, O'Connor found himself able to
perceive the source of the horror which was beginning to torment his little Tomboy as she
came of age:
"Though her brothers could
the pangs of childhood, adolescence threw
her on the mercy of life
" (A/79-c 2), and he later adds,
"On the mercy of her mother, that was
"I'm no blooming beauty!" (A/79-c 3) she shouts each time her mother tries to
cram her into something pretty, to which her mother cruelly responds,
"but you don't want to
Like the girls in Emily Hancock's study, Nan tries to reject anything
stereotypically feminine: she
determined that neither pretty clothes nor feminine
behavior will fit her.
Finally, in the published edition, O'Connor decides to preview the future to which Nan's
painful childhood and her lonely prayer life had been leading her:
" I don't want any of your
dirty old men .. I want to be a nun,
" she shouts (CS 445).
In dealing with her mother's
to find piety the only compensation for the lack of prettiness.
Then one day, in the manner of a fairy tale, she becomes ill and recovers thin, pale,
The "awkward lumps
" drop into
"place and proportion,
and she develops a
failed to do--a deep resentment of her mother,"
want to marry would be to distance herself from
and Nan tells Mick that one reason she might
I her mother. Beauty does not, however,
" behavior, and, when she continues to
see other young men even after
she is engaged, her
mother resents her daughter's nonconformist behavior:
[Mrs. Ryan] was sufficiently feminine to know she might have done the same herself,
and to feel that if she had, she would need correction.
No man is
feminist as a really feminine woman.
For the remainder of the story O'Connor works out his definition of "feminism
absence of femininity in his grown-up Tomboy.
" in terms of the
Nan's father, who might have helped in this
hostile situation, plays something of a male chauvinist and
nothing lacking in her
with the exception of "shaky mathematics,
reasonable men do not expect"
woman anyway (A/79-f 2).
After considerable vacillation, Nan agrees to marry Mick, then suddenly reneges and
tells him she
is scared of marriage and of herself:
"You don't even know the kind of things
I'm capable of" (CS 453).
Slowly Mick realizes that the desperation which he thought had
driven her into his arms--her need to get away from her mother--was really dissatisfaction
with herself. He begins to suspect that she might have been
"tempted too far
" Although she tells Mick that she has always loved him, she refuses to
marry him and at first plans to marry a rich man; later he learns that she has retired to a
convent. As Julian Moynahan suggests of most of O'Connor's women, when they react to the
"puritanical conditioning to which they are exposed," they end by hurting themselves. Nan
acts against the unremitting maternal push toward the feminine and loses the man she
The story might have ended here with the relationship frozen, in a Joycean paralysis,
and the characters withered like Liadain and Curithir.
of O'Connor's bleak novel, Dutch Interior, "The Ugly D
In this event,
as Flanagan suggests
" might have been one
O'Connor story Joyce would have liked (Sheehy 162), and Nan might have been a latter-day
Eveline, backing out just
as freedom and happiness seemed near.
creates a compromise in which Mick and Nan are neither as desolate
as the characters in
nrnr rnr hnnnrv
LA CII ~ UUUI aIa. -U I .. ... *S*A V I*~
as those in a fairy tale.
happens to many people who suffer
children from an inadequacy such as poverty or
ugliness: they ultimately develop an interior life which they come to prefer to the real world.
Mick also assumes, somewhat romantically, that their old love affair will go on as before in
a world "where disgust or despair would never touch it, and [will] continue to do
of them were dead" (CS 458).
so till both
For the rest of his life Mick believes he can cherish the
memory of her love in their own private realm--a compromise of dubious consolation.
Nan compromises not with love but with life. Although she tells Mick she still prays for
him and she is sorry she cannot kiss him, she claims that she chose not to marry because
"God came first.
" The life that she lives in the convent, however, provides neither the
robotish existence of Marie in
"After Fourteen Years
nor the prayerful devotion of a true
In her new life Nan seems to be living in a new sort of carnival world with a law
unto itself, not unlike the folk spectacle O'Connor creates for the early Tomboys. As she tells
Mick, the convent has a special character, a place
"which would give you the creeps
456) with its
parlour and Bavarian Sacred Hearts.
The old chaplain is a
adds with apparent pride.
"He thinks I'm the New Nun.
He's been hearing about her all his
life, but I'm the first he's run across.
" Nan has reclaimed the
" but she can only
act out the drama inside the convent walls.
Here, with no feminine mother and the non-
threatening masculine approval of the old chaplain, she can safely be O'Connor's feminist
"The Ugly Duckling,
" O'Connor ceased to create Tomboys although he occasion-
ally borrowed episodes from their adventurous lives to enhance his tales about unmarried
and married women.
With Nan living out her life in the convent, O'Connor leaves his Tom-
boy, as it were, frozen in childhood.
One might argue that he outgrew her, lost interest in her
little girl quests and quarrels, or merely found the topic had become trivial.
One might also
argue that he fell in love with her and chose to preserve her in childhood rather than to share
her with one of her many suitors.
Such a love could even help account for the many stories
he wrote about women who married the wrong man.
Whatever the reason, the Tomboy
is O'Connor's special creation.
His development of a
of stories about her life indicates that he had gained an insight into girlhood and
, ;---- -I. ....
,r.. 1.. ,1,, nlr"t~--,, ,,,,,:..,~
In the following chapters I examine stories about Tomboys who have grown into lively
young women, and I find that often, instead of presenting them as developing into successful
self-actuated women, O'Connor depicts them as silenced by lack of education and
Without some radical changes in Ireland, O'Connor knew that the free spirit of
the young Irish women, like the spirits of the Irish Tomboys themselves, would remain perma-
nently impaled in youth.
'Among the best known of O'Connor's little boy stories are
ers Bazaar, 1939),
" (The Bell, 1941),
" (The New Yorker,
" (The New Yorker. 1947),
"The Drunkard" (The New Yorker, 1948),
ist" (The New Yorker. 1950),
"My Oedipus Complex
" (Today's Woman, 1950),
(Winter's Tales, 1955).
Each of the above stories appeared in one of the following collections
compiled by O'Connor himself: The Stories of Frank O'Connor
1953) and Domestic Rela-
2 The only published stories with a female narrator are
both of which are more personal narrative reminiscences rather than actual short stories.
In the introduction to O'Connor's Collected Stories, Richard Ellmann suggests that
reading O'Connor gives one
"the pleasure of catching Ireland as it was changing, and of
enjoying and cherishing it, flyspecks and all" (xiii).
Readers can glimpse a similar momen-
tary magic if they focus their attention on O'Connor's portraits of young unmarried Irish girls
as they stand with all their flairs and frailties at their own moments of change, on the brink
When these girls move from childhood into adolescence, most of them
retain the swank and grandeur of their Tomboy days because O'Connor portrays each of
them as having already crystallized her
of self as a child. As Emily Hancock writes,
"the self-possessed child
as the touchstone for woman's identity
" (3). A woman's
future, however, hinges on a moment of decision when she must wrestle with options; later,
as a result of her choices, she must reckon with consequences.
Leaving the insularity of
home, the young unmarried women in O'Connor's stories move from the margin toward the
mainstream, where, like others from submerged populations, they will cope or collapse. In
her recently published anthology of Irish women's writing, Wildish Things, editor Ailbhe
Smyth characterizes the existence which wild Irish girls experience:
"Living and creating on
the margin makes you sharp, tough, sometimes wise, but it's still a hard, lonely, dangerous
place to be
"The margin leaves its scars on those who survive. And the
survivors are often angry.
Over the years O'Connor produced a
of stories about young female survivors
who are independent, impetuous, and often irreverent.
They are also scarred and scared.
These unmarried girls are sometimes modeled after the daughters of a pair of families
O'Connor knew, one in Sligo and the other in Cork. As a shy, only child, he was intrigued
with the intricacies of their lifestyles and their lively, secure families, and he experimented
derives from Matthews's description of O'Connor's heroine
in his first novel, The Saint and Mary Kate (80).
Mary Kate is the daughter of a prostitute
who lives in a tenement and who confronts the desolation around her with what Matthews
amusing irrelevancy and a laughing
" Like Mary Kate, the girls in the
early stories about unmarried women are
creatures of "instinct rather than intellect."
unpredictable, bright-eyed, witty
By the 1950s, O'Connor's image of the Quicksil-
ver Girls changes somewhat, and he presents them as more mature.
He continues to depict
them with their youthful verve; but after he had lived and taught in America and married an
American woman, he began to portray women who could make choices carefully
as well as
carelessly because they were self-assured, informed, and capable of communicating and
sharing worthwhile relationships with both men and women.
The stories about the Quicksilver Girls fall into two general categories: the first is a
small, disparate group of girls who remain single by choice; the second consists of a larger,
more homogeneous set of girls who are socially active, sought after by young men, and
seriously looking for husbands.
These two groupings suggest O'Connor's arbitrary choice
rather than the actual statistics, which show that in the 1950s sixty-four percent of the Irish
population was single, six percent widowed, and thirty percent married (O'Brien 29).
O'Connor's girls opt to remain single, their choices are limited, and their lives lonely: they
can withdraw to a convent, emigrate to relatives abroad, or pursue one of a limited number
If they choose to marry, they have the brighter prospect of companionship,
security, and even love; but they usually have little guidance and often make foolish choices
which O'Connor suggests will result in injury to themselves and others or in unhappy but
If, along the way, they make the risky choice of having sexual
relations before marriage, they may find themselves faced with the prospects of putting
unwanted children in foster homes and of guilty feelings and unpleasant revelations later.
Occasionally an older unmarried sister without prospects for career or husband appears in
an O'Connor story but only as a minor character who remains at home by misfortune not
Thus, as O'Connor's Irish Tomboys move away from childhood, they enter the
"lr nnnrrmmni wnxrlri
nf nd nlpercnre 1
Ar KITthcrine Dtnlimpr writes in Fpmrne Adorilacence.
enter a convent.
He seems to have been troubled by the choice, although a survey published
in 1969 indicates that eighty percent of the women leaving school had at least considered
some religious order as a way of life
The earliest of O'Connor's convent girls
appears in "After Fourteen Years
" (see Chapter II) written in 1929.
" of the title, the religious life seems to have absorbed the young nun's identity. Her
name is revealed only when she recalls that her godchild, Marie, is called after her, and she
seems changed to her former boyfriend, Nicholas Coleman, who has come to visit: "her face
had lost something, perhaps it was its intensity, both its roughness and its tenderness" (A/2.1
40). Although Nicholas thinks that Marie looks
the convent she does not want to dream or to th
"happier and stronger,
ink. She dislikes anytf
" she tells him that at
lina "that disturbs the
and she no longer has
Returning home on the train, Nicholas
hears a woman's voice in his mind, but it
Marie has changed from an
active, imaginative individual into a passive, prosaic member of a community.
In creating a
voiceless woman who lacks intensity, O'Connor implies that the choice of a convent may be
both confusing and constricting.
In rewriting the story as
"The Ugly Duckling
" (see Chapter II), O'Connor creates a new
boyfriend, Mick Courtney, who tries to explain to his former girlfriend, Nan Ryan, that in
choosing the convent she is like many other people: they build such a
"rich interior world"
that they cannot give their whole hearts to the
As Mick speaks, Nan watches
him "keenly and with amusement," but she does not take him
" (CS 458). Although
Mick tries to give voice to Nan's story, she seems privy to a secret which even the man who
loves her cannot grasp.
acceptable option. It p
Both convent stories bespeak a protest against the nun's life as an
produces unfinished lives, inexplicable feelings, and silence.
According to Harriet Sheehy, O'Connor revered the role of nuns and believed that when
a woman went into a convent, she had chosen God because she could not find a man whom
she could love as much (Personal interview, 14 January 1987).
a similar observation:
Thomas Flanagan expresses
"O'Connor adored nuns: he often called them 'perfect dotes' [an Irish
expression implying someone on whom one could 'dote' or bestow affection]" (Personal
25 February 1993).
The convent stories, however, do not seem to reflect the atti-
* 1..-i. .. __ ____ 1- -_- -__-------f - x -_ ^ L---,- -
draw conclusions about what he believed, based on the stories which he crafted.
In 1966 O'Connor rewrote the convent story one last time,
as "The Corkerys,
" in which a
young girl named May MacMahon decides to enter a convent, not out of piety but because
she is impressed by, and would like to be a part of, a large friendly family named Corkery,
almost all of whose members have entered religious orders.
Once she takes her initial
she is disappointed to discover that the members of the community are
perfectly commonplace women play-acting austerity and meditation
cism she had known and believed in was dead" (CS 554). She leave
an illness, decides to marry the Corkery's youngest son, who is sudd
merely a lot of
and that "the Catholi-
es the convent and, after
enly freed from the care
of his widowed mother, Josephine Corkery, when she decides to enter a convent. As Mrs.
Corkery tells her family, it was
symbolic illness, like Nan's in
"what she had always wanted to do anyhow" (CS 557).
"The Ugly Duckling,
" leads to her awakening, but unlike Nan,
May rediscovers the intensity of life which she had nearly abandoned and moves forward to
a new life.
Thus among O'Connor's women, the convent
as a satisfactory option only
for an old woman.
For Josephine Corkery, it represents security and dignity: she does not
have to be dependent on her son or move to the workhouse
Another option for O'Connor's young unmarrieds is emigration.
By the mid-1920s, forty-
three percent of all Irish- born women (and men) were living abroad (Brown 18).
census shows that nearly 200,000 people had left Ireland in the previous five years (Beale
There was little to hold them. As early
1911, George Russell predicted serious
as a result of Irish women's unhappiness:
Today the starved soul of womanhood is crying out.
more chance of earning a living.
. for an intellectual life and for
If Ireland will not listen to her cry, its
daughters will go on slipping silently away to other countries.
Fifty-five years later Irish writer Edna O'Brien gave voice to her near-starved soul:
of Ireland because something in me warns me that I might stop if I lived there
"I live out
Despite the large numbers who were leaving, O'Connor wrote only one story about
emigration; his real interest was in those who managed to keep on living in Ireland with
some degree of
His emigration story,
published in Dublin
Magazine in July 1928, remains one of the few which has never been collected.
It tells the
The story opens with a deceptively vivid image of an excited young woman who is
as she awakens to
"the charm of living close
" to the people around her ("The
Nature and the city befriend her.
The narrator implies that she is on the
brink of a great discovery:
It was a delicious Spring morning and the quay walls were white and shiningover
the low tide.
Where the bridge was, and where the river seemed to end a great hill
rose up with houses flung higgledy-piggledy across it like a child's box of bricks.
The mist still clung there, following the hollows of every building, but at the very top
where one old farmhouse, very tiny with its tiny barn, rose sheer against the sky the
mist had scattered and house and barn and a single bright, bright patch of emerald
fascinated her, drawing her glance upward at every moment. (31)
Her joy is short lived, however, and she comes home to sourness and gloom.
over her life, Eileen realizes that she has spent years being
" to her ailing
mother, subjecting herself to
and denying herself not only pleasure but
"The Awakening" 33).
Briefly she tries to grasp
something that [can] bind [her] to the
years that are gone past"
and flings herself at the shy, sensitive young man who has been
always somewhere in the background (37).
That, too, is
"only snatching at a straw.
will leave Ireland filled with regret for a desolate past.
In the opening section of "The Awakening,
" the narrator introduces a tone of hope
which the conclusion, with all its pathos, cannot quite offset.
O'Connor refuses to sentence
Eileen to an empty life as Joyce does with many of his lonely unmarried women or to a union
entered into merely for security as many of O'Connor's married women experience (see
Surging within Eileen
was still this uncanny sensation of awakening life, this
capacity for absorbing emotion from every trivial incident, that excited her and went to her
head like wine
"The Awakening" 35).
With that capacity, she has the potential to build a
life of her own, but she will carry with her the burdens of a silent past.
In contrast to the women of his convent and emigration stories, one of O'Connor's
career women stands out as the least burdened and the most clear headed of all his
"The Bridal Night" (1939),
Winnie Regan is
"a fine big jolly girl from town,
villagers because she has only
"Winnie delights in sitting out on the rocks to
read and write whenever she is not in the school, and she occasionally brings students with
her. Like one of the women in Emily Hancock's study, Winnie has learned to
world even if it means [being] alone
"get by in the
Her idyllic life becomes complicated when Denis Sullivan, a young man plagued with
", falls in love with her (CS 21).
At first she plays the game and tells him he is
He also knows it is a game, and his mother teases him by calling Winnie
"his intended" (21).
Eventually, Winnie begins going to another
to avoid Denis, and he
wanders about the heath looking for her.
Finally, the doctors decide that Denis must be
removed to the asylum.
The night before he
is to go, he asks for Winnie to sleep with him.
She consents despite the protests of impropriety made by his mother, and in her arms he
sleeps peacefully all night. Although the title
"The Bridal Night"
ter, the story clearly implies that no such act takes place.
suggests a sexual encoun-
as the old woman is
relating her story, she marvels at the girl's kindness and the fact that the villagers all ac-
cepted her deed:
"from that day to the day she left us did no one speak a bad word about
According to Deborah Averill the story's best qualities are its
it takes place at sunset and ends
"simplicity and lyricism
as darkness comes on; the characters are more idealized
than realistic; and the speech has the
"lyrical quality of a bird" (270-271).
It is also one of
the most widely circulated of O'Connor's stories, having been published in four literary
journals, seven major collections, and numerous paperbacks; broadcast twice on BBC; and
translated into German, Danish, Swedish, and Flemish.
More important for women's studies
is the position to which it elevates the two women.
The mad boy's mother is a
could cart a load of seaweed or dig a field with any man
" (CS 22).
overcomes years of silence to pay tribute to a brave young woman when she tells Winnie's
story to a traveler twelve years after the
Together the women risk everything
for love, and they emerge whole. Most remarkable
is the ability of both to play the word
game, a capacity which Patricia Yaeger suggests is one of the most emancipating for
The ritual pretense of calling Denis
nf 'lnnnnnnr's mnrl title
"The_ Rnrial Ninrht
annnh1 es hnth the_ wnmn nnd the_ qtnryv and the
great end, the perpetuation of the human race
" (Mercier 77). Because of her personal
integrity, Winnie is able to acknowledge and honor the humanity which she perceives in the
young man despite his illness.
"The Bridal Night"
is one of the few stories which O'Connor never revised. He claimed
to have written it just as he heard it, but he later dismissed it as too emotional and not really
his own work since he was merely the vehicle for its telling (Matthews 155).
One may argue
that O'Connor's skillful use of narrative structure, however, gave the story and the women
The convent stories and the emigration story are told by a third-person narrator
who tries to, but does not completely, reveal a woman's reasoning.
In "The Bridal Night"
O'Connor uses the guise of a traditional male Irish story teller who relates the events word
for word as the old woman told him.
He also uses this device in
V), written about the same time.
the story teller/narrator is able to reproduce
the sound of a woman's voice speaking to the extent that the reader can almost forget the
O'Connor's narrator, according to Denis Donoghue,
produces the story [and]
discloses the truth a character could not disclose himself" (232).
At this stage in his writing
O'Connor may not have felt confident to speak for a young woman, but because of his close
relationship with his mother and her cronies, he could hear clearly every nuance an old
woman might utter.
It is part of his genius that he knew instinctively how to create that effect,
part of his humility that he did not always recognize his
in achieving it.
At the end of his career O'Connor again explored the subject of the independent career
"A Life of Your Own,
published first in The Saturday Evening Post in 1965 and
later in two collections and a paperback of O'Connor's stories about women, A Life of Your
Own and Other Stories. The story focuses on Jane Harty, a chemist who lives in her own
bungalow in a small town. Several times while she is away from home, a mentally de-
ranged man breaks in and rummages through her possessions.
Later he steals her under-
wear and writes,
"I love you
" in lipstick on the wall (Set 158).
The threat of his invasion
makes her feel desolate and insecure, but she later discovers that in the perverted intruder
she has come up against "
a loneliness deeper than her own
In her marginal exist-
ence she is inevitably connected with the other marginal people of the world.
- -r .~ *. F F. DI In 11
rrrr r r r '1
woman's encounter with a mentally disturbed man.
Winnie marks her independence by
walking out to the rocks to read and write; Jane claims hers by driving a
and running off weekends without telling anyone (Set 153).
"battered old car
Just as the villagers never say a
word about Winnie's
the townspeople respect Jane because she
tramping down the dirty lanes
" with a prescription from her pharmacy late at night
The stories differ, however, in that O'Connor presents Winnie and Jane as two different
kinds of women.
From the start Denis' mother implies that Winnie has no interest in mar-
"Well I knew it from the first day I laid
on her that her hand would never rock the
She appears both complacent and self-fulfilled.
By contrast, Jane
ently very much interested in marrying but has not found the right man; she is treated "as a
bit of a freak by the swanky people because she [won't] play the game and [falls] in love
with unsuitable men" (Set 154).
Winnie's complacency and Jane's eccentricity result in different responses to the spe-
cific needs of the mentally ill men.
is called at night, comes willingly, and quickly
consents to comfort Denis.
Writing with the naivete of a less experienced man, O'Connor
never allows her any doubt or reluctance to nurture and empathize with the demented young
O'Connor pictures Jane more realistically as she wrestles with her personal repug-
nance for the intruder until she can arrive at a state of acceptance.
Jane's first reaction gives
her "a sick and desolate feeling, like the touch of something dirty" (Set 154).
filled with anger and remorse.
edges her own loneliness. Wh
Later she is
She comes to terms with the problem only after she acknowl-
lile she is talking it over with Ned Sullivan, the husband of her
friend, she bursts into tears, and he takes her in his arms.
She realizes that, like the intruder,
she is in love with the wrong person.
Like Jane Harty, O'Connor's friend Nancy McCarthy was a chemist who lived in Cork
and tried to live an independent life. Although the encounter with the madman was the
experience of another woman, the personality of Nancy permeates the character of Jane, and
Nancy liked to claim O'Connor wrote this story about her (Personal interview with Harriet
Sheehy, 14 January 1987). Like Jane, Nancy was in love with a man she would not marry.
he did eventually marry, but after she was widowed and for
as long a she was
--n cqh lik-ed to
she. lived very much ar life of her own in her little hunnaeilow in
both the villagers and the swanky people of Cork.
The only apparently successful career woman in O'Connor's stories is Dr. O'Brien, a
physician and something of a Connorean
She appears in two stories as a
wealthy, and therefore much sought after, woman but apparently not interested in marriage
and not of much interest to O'Connor, who never gave her a first name.
She is described in
"The House That Johnny Built"
as "a handsome woman in a white coat"
, "a bit bosomy,
a shy sort of girl"
who would only give you
"a hasty glance
" that would "blister you" (S 247).
She is also known as
"a bitch for her beer.
" When she turns down the proposal of a crusty
old bachelor, Johnny Desmond, he tells her to ask her father, and she quickly informs him
that "haggling between fathers is over and done with these fifty years.
You wouldn't get a
girl in the whole country that would let her father put a halter round her neck like that" (250
In "Lady of the Sagas,
" Dr. O'Brien reappears as a person of"
thousand" (pounds) per year, but according to Deirdre, the heroine, it would take
five thousand" to make Dr. O'Brien a beauty (CS 255).
Although Dr. O'Brien
is unique in
O'Connor's stories as an accomplished professional woman, she is perhaps too secure and
certain of herself to interest the spokesman for the marginal people.
One group on the margin--the girls in trouble--needed a spokesman more than any
other although even at this writing many of the pleas which these girls voice remain unan-
swered in Ireland.
In Jane Harty's story, O'Connor sympathizes with a woman's need to
control her life by making choices about where and how she will live, work, and play. He
also points to ways society tries to limit her choices. In another group of stories he deplores
the sanctions and silence which surround a woman's right to control her sexual life. In these
stories O'Connor lashes out--sometimes with humor, more often with horror--at the paucity of
education and the
of legislation which hobbled young Irish women and led them to
He decries the Victorian prudery which prohibited women from
sex and left adolescent girls to satisfy their natural curiosity through gossip and
In addition he castigates the narrow-minded government and church
which, despite their pious stands against extramarital sexual encounters, refused to teach a
church-sanctioned attitude in support of marital sexual participation.
*1 I -. .1 1 1.I .. *.
and uninformed sexual activity: the unwanted children and their guilt-ridden mothers.
In his portrait of modern Ireland in Holiday magazine, O'Connor comments with bitter
irony on what he calls
"The Religious Rift," the gap between the reality of the natural sexual
drive and the misconception of traditional spiritual directors.
Some of his short stories treat
the problem with an affectionate laugh at the inevitable difficulty of being Irish, but in his
nonfiction he penetrated the gloss and exposed the pain engendered by the Irish inevitabil-
Infanticide in Ireland is appallingly common, though almost from the moment
a girl starts walking out with a boy she is kept under observation by the police;
if she leaves the neighborhood she is shadowed and if she has a baby in another
area, the police return and spread the news throughout her own town.
seems to have occurred to anybody that there is any other way of stop
Yet it never
Another aspect of the
"rift," O'Connor asserted, was Irish censorship which proscribed
any favorable reference to birth control.
In his address to the College Historical Society on
February 14, 1962, at Trinity College Dublin, O'Connor took a stand against the practice of
classifying birth control information as
That is not censorship of indecent literature, that is a censorship of opinion and
a censorship exercised on behalf of one creed.
It is class legislation because it
militates against the working class while the well-to-do Catholics and the pale
primrose Protestants make their own arrangements.
The pathos of the stories which O'Connor creates around the lives of these victims of law is
that not any female character--either unwed mother or illegitimate daughter--emerges as a
Nothing in his art would allow O'Connor to rewrite the tragedies he would like
to have prevented.
"News for the Church" (1945) is the earliest story in which O'Connor explores the sub-
ject. It is the account of a lighthearted young convent teacher who has her first sexual
experience with one of her sister's former beaux because she is curious to find out what
"whisper, whisper, whisper" about (S 114).
When she makes her confession
to Father Cassidy and he realizes that she has sought him out as a confidant rather than a
confessor, he determines to rip the veil of romance off her glowing tale by drilling her with
her a good sketch of her family background and her personal life. As with many of the
Tomboys and Quicksilver Girls, her pious mother died when she was a child, and she has
been brought up carelessly by her father and older sister.
sources, she proudly admits the liberties she has enjoyed.
Forced to rely on her own re-
She has lied, been tipsy, and
used the Holy Name in vain, but when the priest points out the social consequences--they
coarsen the character
grow on you"--she gladly agrees to refrain (S 110).
the same childish boastfulness, she then tells Father Cassidy that she had
course with a man" because she was tired of being treated "like a blooming kid"
Once she has found out for herself what "it" is all about, she is willing to
drop it along with her minor sins:
"It's all over and done with now. It'
s something I used to
dream about, and it was grand, but you can't do a thing like that a second time
The story unfolds as a lively dialogue between the excited girl and the irate priest and
has become one of O'Connor's most popular stories.
His first story accepted by The New
"News For the Church"
was later dramatized and translated into several languages
and is often collected and anthologized. Beneath the drama, however, the story intones a
criticism of the clergy: although the priest informs the girl that there
no vice you
could think of that gets a grip on you quicker and degrades you worse
it is her
". he advises her that
"bounden duty to marry the man"--not for the sake of her soul but because no one
will hire her if she has a baby and she may have to leave the country (S 114).
more concerned with the social aspect than the spiritual.
O'Connor's message, like Father Cassidy's, is also mixed: he depicts a girl who is
resourceful and independent, but he fails to acknowledge that she forfeited some of her self-
worth by succumbing to the patriarchal prescription that sexual relations confirm woman-
hood--like an initiation into the club of womanship
Not until ten years later in
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice
would O'Connor alter his stand and create a female character
who could recognize that a sexual relationship is only one of many self-determining choices
for a mature woman.
The response of the reading public was likewise mixed.
Almost immediately after the
New Yorker responded that it stood behind its contributors and continued publishing
O'Connor's stories for twenty years.
O'Connor himself received a response of quite another
kind. A woman who had read the story while on a plane wrote that, although she had left the
church twenty years before, she was
so moved by the avuncular manner and kindness of the
priest, that she found the nearest Catholic church, went to confession, and was continuing
regular attendance. As a result, O'Connor liked to call "News For the Church" his conversion
story (Personal interview with Harriet Sheehy, 14 January 1987).
In one of O'Connor's last stories,
"A Mother's Warning
" (1967), another of his unmarried
girls also seeks priestly aid after she has made some wrong choices.
The story begins when
Sheila Moriarty calls at Father Fogarty's house, introduces herself, and, over a cup of coffee,
tells him that she has been blackmailed into stealing a brooch from the shop where she
works and thus lured into a relationship with her boss, a married man.
The story ends after
Father Fogarty reprimands the boss and, in the process of defending Sheila, discovers that
he, too, has been tempted by her beauty. During their first conversation Sheila tells the
priest that her saintly mother warned her to be careful in the world because not every man
as good as her father, a warning which O'Connor implies concerns both priest and
Sheila's good father and saintly mother are unusually idealistic parents for one of
O'Connor's girls, and,
as a consequence, Sheila comes across as a weak, overly sheltered
The nameless girl in
"News for the Church"
astray because she
is unwarned but
curious and only realizes her wrong when she comes to share her tidings with Father
is given wise warnings and set good examples, she ignores them
and has to come to a priest for help when she
is in trouble and scared.
In the expanded
world away from the protection of home, Sheila cannot rely on her own resources; like a
helpless naughty child, she needs a strong man to defend her and return the stolen goods.
If O'Connor had lived longer, he might have reworked the image of Sheila by giving
her a childhood in which she could cultivate self-confidence through successful encounters
Thus endowed, she might be expected to bounce back after her affair and
incorporate what she has learned into her later life. As she
Sheila makes little progress in
hrPrrlcinr with h nm rrnrnd nrnv hAralf Inrruinrr in cQlf-rplinrcp.
London with her English husband, Joe, and their first baby, Nancy. Brigid is
a vivacious temperament, who loved outings and parties (Set 74).
a wild girl with
The only drawback to her
life is that she believes herself
"trapped by a morsel of humanity
" whom she
everything and giving nothing.
The "morsel of humanity
" turns out to be not the new baby
but an illegitimate child she has left in a foster home near Cork. Brigid is terrified by the
chaos she might heap on her new life by bringing the child to England, but her apparently
more humane husband, when he learns that the child
is in a foster home, argues that they
"can't do that to a child" (81). She travels with him to Dublin, but once there she is unable to
face friends and family in Cork: "I tell you, Joe, I don't give a damn what happens to the
child, I'm not going down,
" she declares (82).
Determined to carry out his duty, Joe
alone to Cork and finds an acquaintance to accompany him to get the child.
leads them to a rough looking cottage where a widow stands in a bleak kitchen with five
barelegged foster children, among them Brigid's two-year-old Marie.
When Joe takes Marie
away, he knows he will never forget the glimpse of the remaining four children, who are
not as real children weep, with abandonment and delight, but hopelessly as old
people weep whom the world has passed by
At first reading, the story appears to be an indictment of Brigid and her heartless
attitude toward Marie. As O'Connor writes in
Chpter II), the real mothers
of foster children rob their unwanted children:
'you want pride to get the best out of yourself,
and they, poor nubs [?], have no one to give them pride
" (J/8 49).
Despite Brigid's apparent
callousness, one must remember that villainous or even genuinely unkind characters are so
uncharacteristic of O'Connor that one can only believe he intended for Brigid, like her child
Marie, to be viewed as a victim.
In speaking about O'Connor's benevolent nature, William
"Michael was an angel.
He trusted everyone, and he never suspected
anyone. He never understood why people hurt him, and he never intended to hurt anyone
(Personal interview, 7 March 1993).
Girls like Brigid, O'Connor implies, develop a heartless-
ness when they get caught between Irish legislation and prudish society.
Fear of exposure
and guilt erode their native goodness.
Two rejected titles for early versions of "The Weeping Children
support such a read-
- A i-% i -% t *1 I1 I
abandoned when she submitted to the social stigma surrounding unwed motherhood.
title of the second version (A/86-b),
may also have dual significance.
barred from a normal life through no fault of her own and is thus in a social limbo.
although presumably a consenting adult when she got pregnant, was also probably an
ignorant one; in addition, she had no responsibility for the limbo which society might impose
on her in the form of slight or disdain if the disgrace of her situation became known.
Several changes from the early text to the published one add further credence to the
theory that O'Connor sought sympathy for Brigid.
version describes Brigid as
"cold, chaste, [and] almost ruthless
" (A/86-b 1),
but the later version softens it to
chaste, innocent" ( CS 525).
In the text of "Limbo,
" Brigid is
" (A/86-b 2) while she
is wrestling with her confession to Joe,
and he has
no idea what's happened to her." In
" she is
is more sympathetic towards a problem
because he suspects she
"is sick in her mind" (CS 527).
is another issue.
" she declares,
"It was all a miserable bloody mistake, and I don't want to have to
live with the mistake for the rest of my life
" (A/86-b 6).
In the later version O'Connor revises
Brigid's remark to show her developing concern for Joe:
"I don't want you to have to live with
" (CS 529).
O'Connor also shows Joe becoming more protective of Brigid.
" Joe explains to the old foster mother in Cork that his wife did not come to get Marie
because she got sick in Dublin; in the later version he discreetly tells the old woman that his
wife is ill without suggesting that she got
as far as Dublin and backed out.
Even before he revised "The Weeping Children,
" O'Connor had addressed Brigid's
inability to speak for herself: he created for her a husband who, like Mick Courtney in
as messenger and intermediary.
Unlike Nan Ryan, however,
Brigid has no sanctuary where she can retrieve
"the girl within
and act out a new life.
we hear a woman's voice speaking in Brigid's unfortunate story,
we suspect that
she has lived in fear too long and is too scarred and scared to face the world as a whole
On the opposite side of the coin would seem to be a girl who married young before she
got in trouble and lived happily ever after, but O'Connor's stories, like real life, do not
'vanSSl tn thA nrnmiqarcl Irmr" (H-Trmnrl 79.i
Thp nmhlpm in
nrp)pn ~ th rrt m nrrinnp
losses humorous, but he weeps for them when they stand to lose all they have in a single
Most young Irish girls in O'Connor's stories, like the nameless girl in
"News for the
" lack the information and guidance to make intelligent choices about mates, and
they often wind up acting in their own worst interests.
Over the years O'Connor experi-
mented with the idea of the woman who married the wrong man or failed to marry the right
one. As this study will show, a female character who could think about and discuss with
other women what she wanted in a man did not appear in O'Connor's writing or in his life
until the mid-1950s.
Rita Lomasney in
"The Mad Lomasneys
represents O'Connor's earliest experiment
with the story of a woman's self-inflicted wounding on the way to the altar.
The story was
originally published as
"The Wild Lomasneys
" in 1942 in The Bell. Although no early ver-
sions are extant, the story was collected several times as
"The Mad Lomasneys,
in a slightly different form. According to Matthews, the plot of the story comes from a song in
Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe about a boy who loves a girl who loves a boy who loves
another girl, and
in angry rebound" the first girl marries the first man who comes her way
In O'Connor's story, Rita is the wildest of three boisterous daughters of a middle class
Catholic family with a feckless father and a pious mother, neither of whom offers much
Kitty, the eldest, daughter, has
"been expelled from school for writing indecent
letters to a boy,
and Nellie, the third daughter, is only a little bit
" (CS 102).
Rita falls in love with a seminarian, his mother has Rita fired from her job as a convent
teacher, and her mother arranges to send Rita to a new job in England.
To offset her
mother's decree, Rita decides to marry the first boy who proposes to her and only later
realizes that by her foolish move she has missed the chance to marry the man she has loved
The personality of Rita derives from that of the Tomboy, which O'Connor was in the
midst of crafting and polishing at the time.
Like the young Nan Ryan, Rita Lomasney is
and withdrawn; like Brenda Regan she is
; and like Josie Mangan she is
shocking and outspoken (CS 111
To create the boy whom Rita really loved before she
gesture, O'Connor adds to Schumann's original plot a childhood incident
U --- -s ~ i:.... .L L~ "PU -,,-.t T,:,, 1.,,,, T :L,4 .- L -anna
The story has a light, frivolous tone, and neither Rita nor either of the other girls gives
the impression of being capable of sustaining a serious relationship.
According to Harriet
Sheehy, most of the young girls of Cork embraced courtship with no more concern than they
would a parlor game, and the typical expression among them was,
"I'll trade you my fella for
your new umbrella
" (Personal interview, 14 January 1987).
Even adults in some of
O'Connor's stories harbor some rather flippant ideas about marriage: in
" when the Dwyer family decides that their daughter Susie would make the
best wife for Jack Cantillon,
"Annie, the youngest, whom [Jack] was supposed to favor, was
compensated with a blue frock" (CS 382).
Because of the unfortunate outcome of Rita's hasty decision, however, one suspects that
O'Connor intended to portray the story as more disastrous than whimsical.
Rita is a charac-
and vivacity O'Connor created and recreated; when she makes her destruc-
tive move, he must have felt a great need to
her pain. He finds the answer in fashion-
ing a closing
in which the two lovers can be bonded like a modem Romeo and Juliet
by revealing the enduring quality of a love which neither can bear to admit or abandon.
change in title from
"The Wild Lomasneys
to "The Mad Lomasneys
seems to confirm the
idea that the story was more serious than comic: madness was not a topic O'Connor treated
lightly. Although he probably found the story amusing when he first heard it, he may well
have developed a real sympathy for Rita as a frustrated woman who is being manipulated
by her beau's mother and her own, and driven to a state of near madness.
straws, like Eileen in
" Rita suddenly intuits that marriage may be the only
way she herself can define her future.
The revisions in text as they appear first in Crab Apple Jelly in 1944, later in More
Stories in 1954, and finally in Collection Two in 1964 show O'Connor carefully selecting
words and phrases to
his Quicksilver Girl by giving her a love which will sustain her
through a lifetime of marriage to the wrong man, and,
as in the
of Nan Ryan and Brigid
Saunders, he creates a narrator who can speak for her.
Near the end of the story, Rita
pregnant with her new husband's baby, and Ned has begun walking out with another girl.
When Ned calls in to
see Rita's parents, he finds Rita there with her sister Nellie.
rmniirc nf rnrmnvcrCrqntirn lirrt rnrfcoo $1-rrtn if Nrd lerrl rnrn ftirct nn thi n ririt inv nntorl fnr
" (CAJ 232).
In the 1954 version, O'Connor intensifies Rita's emotional
distress with a more caustic inquiry:
"And how's little Miss Bitch?" (MS 205).
In the early
version Nellie metaphorically suggests that Rita has
the later version Nellie blurts out the painful truth: "I
"backed the wrong horse" (CAJ 234);
"in the form of slight or disdain
'twas then you found out you married the wrong man
" (MS 207). In all versions the narrator
steps in to say that it was evident that Rita wanted Nellie present to keep from admitting
what Rita did not want to say--that she loved Ned.
story, he found a way to release Rita from guilt:
Finally, the last time O'Connor revised the
It was plain enough now why she needed Nellie as audience.
It kept her fromscying
more than she had to say, from saying things that once said, might make her life
unbearable. We all do it. Once let her say 'Ned I love you,' which was all she
was saying, and he would have to do something about it, and then everything would
fall in ruin about them.
The tragedy of Rita Lomasney is that, like everyone at sometime in life, she needs protection
The beauty of her story is that it is everyone's story: the steps we take seeking
freedom may lead to our captivity.
The universality of her story moves woman's voice a little
further along from the margin toward the mainstream.
Women are not the only ones who
make mad decisions.
By contrast, Deirdre Costello in
"Lady of the Sagas
" (1946) seems to relish life on the
margin, and O'Connor paints a delightful portrait of her at leisure and enjoying her search
for the right man, neither coerced by family nor burdened with baggage from her childhood.
Although Deirdre, like Rita, is a teacher at the local convent, she knows the limits of her
surroundings, and to make it bearable she creates for herself an imaginary mythic exist-
Thus, while yet living in a real world where she has to hike up the neckline of her dress
to avoid showing too much bosom in front of the nuns, in her personal life she tries to sus-
pend the rules (J/14 59).
Most of all, she finds it
heroine and have no saga hero
" (MS 3).
"a terrible thing to have the name of a saga
To solve her dilemma she begins to fantasize that
Tommy Dodd, a young solicitor who lives in the same rooming house, has a glamorous
Tommy at first resents her fantasy, but later he relents and pretends to have had
a dashing love affair with a lady in Dublin. Afterward, when he confesses that he lied to live
While the story is a clear spoof on the Quicksilver Girl and her irrationality
pared to male stability, it also suggests that O'Connor, like many scholars of Ireland's past,
believed that society needs myth to make reality bearable.
According to David Greene,
"Myth is the cement which holds society together; when society decays, myth disappears
Deirdre is a mythmaker much like Pegeen Mike in The Playboy of the Western
World when she projects onto Christy Mahan the mythic qualities she herself would like to
have (Finney 109).
John Hildebidle suggests that "Deirdre's failure [to find a saga hero
be a sign that there is something unreformable about the complacent bourgeois Ireland of
Tommy Dodd" (190).
O'Connor, like Synge, endows women with the creative spirit; for both
" of Ireland lies not in women but in the mundane men who have lost sight
of their heritage.
A variety of changes in text both reinforce and contradict the idea of woman's role in
restoring myth and suggest that this might be one of the stories which O'Connor never quite
finished revisiting. The earliest version, published in Today's Woman in 1946 under the title
of "The Lady in Dublin," places the emphasis on Tommy's imaginary lover; the shift in title to
"Lady of the Sagas
suggests that O'Connor later wanted to spotlight Deirdre and her
mythmaking rather than Tommy's imaginary girl friend.
The first collected version, pub-
lished in Traveller's Samples (1946), introduces an episode which appears nowhere else: at
a Christmas concert at the convent, Deirdre wears an
ancient costume with brooch and
cloak and a band of gold round her forehead, and looked like something out of another
world" (TS 184).
Although O'Connor may have felt later that fancy dress was out of charac-
ter for his heroine, it nevertheless links her even more closely with the imaginative world of
the Tomboys and their carnival atmosphere.
In an uncollected manuscript version in an
unpublished collection entitled The Little Town (J-14), O'Connor adds a final
Deirdre which suggests the power and verve of her saga sisters:
But she couldn't tie herself for life to a man
as innocent as that.
It would be like
not living at all.
She had a feeling if she was
with him he'd cry on her. And
damn the bit of him would she marry, not if he died for her.
concludes, however, with the narrator's postscript and a jab at woman's logic:
InvPlv rirl hut tnn miirh in th+e rnmamntir lin,.
Nn nclrht sch'11 ranrvt it
On mirrnht nrrnii
"The Mad Lomasneys,
" the mythmaking often takes the form of wildishh"
"The Masculine Principle,
" when the Quicksilver Girl gets tired of waiting for
her dull, practical beau to save enough money to build them a house before he will marry,
she runs off with his savings to London and has an affair.
When she returns, he forgives her.
They start walking out again, but even after she gives birth to his baby, he refuses to marry
her until he has the money.
This story of a spirited girl outsmarted but loved by a wise, practical man was written in
1949 when O'Connor's first wife, Evelyn, was suing for legal separation and alimony, and
O'Connor was beset with debt. Viewed as a reflection of O'Connor's personal situation, the
story sends out a set of mixed messages. Jim, the boyfriend, conjurs up an image of the
prudent man O'Connor would like to have been. Evelyn, the wild, unwise girl, even bears the
name of O'Connor's estranged wife. Evelyn's widowed father, a small-time contractor who
has a weakness for drink and envies Jim's fortitude, bears the name of Myles, O'Connor and
Evelyn's real life first son, who was only eleven at the time.
The baby born before the couple
is married is curiously named after O'Connor and Evelyn's second son, Owen, who was not
born out of wedlock.
No early versions are extant, and only minor changes appear in the
collections, but one may surmise that O'Connor was writing to air his pain and anger and
that he added his family's names to a quirky story to give himself a good laugh and lighten
Other aspects of the story mark a change in O'Connor's attitude toward women and
Evelyn is very close in behavior to Rita Lomasney and Nan Ryan:
slouched, she swore, she drank .. and her matey air inspired fierce passions in cripples,
out-of-works, and middle-aged widowers
" (MS 224), but she is the only one of these girls to
admit to having an illegitimate child and the only one whom O'Connor allows to be bested
by a man.
The plight of their son Owen, who
is put in a foster home and ignored until Jim
has the money to marry, represents an inexplicable shift from O'Connor's usual sympathetic
attitude toward illegitimate children.
Even the man of "masculine principle,
"Jim, receives a
sharp blow when the sometimes brutal narrator notes that "he [Jim] was a worm, but at any
rate he was her worm
" (CS 236).
.~WI V.1~ fl l Ia n .:1l .: .-.- n- --
Materialistic but loyal, Jim-the-worm marries a wounded
Jnl ,nhf a..*I..,: n J-t .4 n n -4 a Wy.V *.L n L. a1 *- 1- IA--.---^ JMn n-W 1a.
Despite the putdowns and no doubt because of the humorous swagger, the story was
accepted for publication in The New Yorker in 1950. According to Harriet Sheehy, it was
O'Connor's version of The Taming of the Shrew, and both she and O'Connor thought it would
have made a successful play or movie (Personal interview,
14 January 1987).
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice
" is also a comic tale, but in contrast to
" it is told from the point of view of a woman who learns how to make her own
choices in the world and even has the last line in the story
It was turned down by The New
Yorker but published in Harper's Bazaar and later collected several times and translated
The published version which I use in this study
is contained in Collection Two
is the last revision O'Connor made, and in it he adds to the leaner early versions
rich ideas on sexuality and on communication among women and between women and men.
Written in 1954, the year O'Connor married Harriet Rich (Sheehy), the base story reflects a
newly found peace of mind and a new attitude toward women.
It is the story of thirty-year-
old Una MacDermott (the same age as Harriet at the time of their marriage) who is about to
become an old maid because she cannot make up her mind to marry the stiff and proper
man she has been seeing for five years.
When she finally meets a much older man who is
separated but not yet divorced from his first wife (as O'Connor also was when he first met
Harriet) he teaches her the meaning of love.
The story was originally entitled "Don Juan's
one of O'Connor's
of "Don Juan" stories.
2 According to Harriet Sheehy,
O'Connor particularly admired the title character of Mozart's Don Giovanni because he was
willing to take the consequences for his actions (Personal interview, 14 January 1987). Re-
gardless of what her lover is called, Una enlists herself
as his apprentice and learns how to
play his game and how to enjoy it.
The story differs from the early ones about unmarried girls in that Una is older and
takes time to consider marriage carefully
as she puts it, she will not have to
in ten years
" (C2 221).
She is also the first of O'Connor's Quicksilver Girls to have a close
female friend who can advise her that she will never find the perfect man.
thing wrong with every man if you look at him long enough,
" her friend Joan counsels (218).
is rare in that she shows concern for a man's feelings instead of taking the frivolous
nttituirlc nf anmo rf the nthor (flir-lclhror a irlc*" ab r rntionn TTin nnt tn hurt 1lninc
Among Women, Bernikow writes that men do not write about friendships between women
because most men do not know women have friends (120).
It was late in his writing career
before O'Connor began to explore what went on
and how women could be
sensitive to the needs of men.
Another change in this story from the early ones about unmarried girls is in the setting.
In "The Sorcerer's Apprentice
" O'Connor shifts the locale from the family home in which most
of the Quicksilver Girls live and where parents and siblings can interfere to a casual young
couple's home where Una can have support from her friend and learn about being around a
man other than a father or brother.
depicts wandering around with "hi
The man is Joan's husband Mick, whom O'Connor
s pajamas dangling about his crotch" (C2 217) and
nestles himself in bed between Una and Joan with his hand possessively on his wife's
The casual physical compatibility of Joan and Mick
as a prelude to Una
s comfortable sexual encounter with Denis.
is also the first of the Quicksilver Girls to outgrow her steady beau and find in-
stead a mature relationship which appears headed for a successful marriage.
most of the unmarried girls' beaux wait--sometimes disastrously--too long to show their
concern and feelings, Denis, the
" takes the initiative to tutor Una in some of the
wisdom he has accumulated about life and lead the way for a gentle bonding between the
two of them.
"There is no such thing as security in marriage,
" he tells her (C2 221).
have to take a chance." Later he tells her that she talks
"too much about
and that she
"in the head instead of where it belongs
Shortly afterwards, she finds herself
in bed with him, and once she gets over her shock at feeling like his
adulteress, she decides she is in no danger of becoming an old maid. In the end she real-
that she will leave her old beau because
every man and woman is a trade in himself,
and however bad a bargain she might have in Denis [because he a married man], Denis
was the only trade she knew
She has found a man with whom she is at ease, and she
is willing to risk a relationship.
In "A Bachelor's Story
" (1955) O'Connor creates another lady whose
's, is the legend: Madge Hale lives a real life by a set of mythic principles.
1.ir *1 I *1 .* Ii r. Itr '
later consents to cycle across Ireland with him.
He promptly asks her to marry him, and,
although she hesitates at first, she finally consents. After a long courtship, however, when
Boland discovers that Madge
is already engaged to two other men, he cuts off the relation-
ship in a rage.
is a humorous version of Gretta Conroy's and even takes place in Gretta's
West Country: when Madge was young, she turned down a suitor, and he committed suicide.
Thereafter she could never bring herself to refuse a proposal.
his friend, the narrator, about Madge
Years later when Archie tells
's bizarre tale, the narrator defends Madge's irrational-
ity as part of her charm and thereby loses his friendship with the bachelor.
Like the Sor-
cerer, the narrator realizes that it was unimaginable to marry a woman unless there was a
"danger" there (DR 110).
"Every nice girl behaves
as though there was a suicide in her past,
to defend it rationally,
"the narrator pleads with the bachelor.
he continues, "I think yot
"A Bachelor's Story
his disdain for men who spurn them.
1 made a fool of yourself."
suggests O'Connor's unqualified admiration for quirky women and
The story was published in The New Yorker in 1955,
and later in several collections, and translated into German and Dutch, but no alternative
versions exist. O'Connor was at the height of his career and apparently con
try with his character and his narrator, a comfort which he did not often find.
ifortable at first
so much of the earlier Tomboys and Quicksilver Girls in Madge that O'Connor felt he
knew her from the day he heard her story.
The irony of her tale is that the narrator never
meets her; he falls in love from the sound of her voice.
In two other unmarried stories written during the same time period, O'Connor adopts a
less sympathetic pose and creates a brother who resembles a grown up version of the little
boy narrator like Willie Jackson in
"What Girls Are For,
" who declares that his sister Biddy
and all other little girls are whining doll-dragging goody-goodies who exist only to annoy
their brothers. In
"The Pariah" (1956) and "Sue
" (1958), Jack, the first-person narrator and a
young bachelor, resents his sister Sue's beaux because they interfere with his peaceful home
life after work.
He also berates Sue and her female friends for what he considers their
irrational attitude toward life and towards men in particular.
Both stories were published in
The NeTw Ynrrlrr rnrl rhnth rcr filled wrih 1-rirnht writ+fr drlirnlrnnio rarnl Aoicrr n rrrntirn ,r+ the
which he declares his dislike for his sister Sue's fellows and describes her condescendingly
" (DR 113).
He finds her
so far as girl can be
who has never read anything but what she found in the john.
" When Sue eventually meets a
boy whom Jack likes, neither she nor her friends will have anything to do with him.
night the girls reveal to Jack an idea O'Connor had explored in
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice
"you don't want a man to want you as a wife...you want him to want you as a mistress
The story concludes when Terry Connolly, the suitor in question and the
title, goes to Dublin and brings home a beautiful girl whom he marries. Jack is delighted for
his friend, but the girls are all sentimental about their old beau's marriage. The narrator
weakly dismisses the girls' attitude as part of the irrationality of women: "seeing that women
of Sue's kind must wear a broken heart for someone, I dare say it may as well be for one of
the men they have given such a very bad time to
The story was originally entitled "Among Girls,
sion which O'Connor himself often made: "I have al
" and that version begins with a confes-
ways been fascinated by girls" (A/61-a
The narrator's fascination, however, is frequently overshadowed by intense language
and derogatory expressions: Jack "loathed"
every one of his sister's suitors, and each
"despicable than the last"
This version concludes with Jack's
scornful comment, later omitted, that "though she was a fine girl she was still a girl" (A/61-a
The important aspect of this story for women's studies is O'Connor's portrayal of the
girls as friends, a side of women's life which he begins to explore in the one-on-one female
"The Sorcerer's Apprentice.
" As Louise Bemikow notes,
"the world of women
"unknown territory, banked by silence
" (15); only well into his career did
O'Connor discover it.
To give voice to the group, he allows his narrator to sit in on the girls'
discussions in the parlor and in the kitchen
so that he knows first hand what goes on
The same characters appear in another story published as
"Sue" but originally called
" The narrator/brother is even more disdainful
" "My sister, Sue,
" he begins in
was in some ways the
biggest idiot I ever met" (A/61-a 1).
In the published version he remains intolerant but comes
why she will not marry Harry Ridgeway when she
quite clearly was in love with him
After its abrasive start, the story takes on a tender bent when Jack realizes that despite her
love for Harry, Sue encourages him to marry the girl she
" he loves, and
he commends her magnanimity (139). As in other stories, a Quicksilver Girl finishes without
the man she loves. In the end Jack resembles other admiring Connorean narrators and
spokesmen when he tries to
pain and justify her choice:
"Perhaps a lot of other
women confuse love and admiration in the same way, and never realize that a man may love
them as much for their faults
as their virtues.
O'Connor experimented one other time with a group of women talking in
Soft Voices Die,
published in The New Yorker, 11 January 1958.
The title derives from a
poem by Shelley which begins,
"Music, when soft
die/ vibrates in the memory--
so thy thoughts, when thou art gone/ Love itself shall slumber on
94). The story, like the poem, portrays a man recalling the sound and power of a woman's
voice speaking. According to Harriet Sheehy, the piece is not really a short story but instead
"just a bit of music, a perfect delicate little thing based on my description of a group of
secretaries in Annapolis [where she was living]" (Personal interview, 14 January 1987).
as an example of O'Connor's careful selection of subject matter and his skillful
depiction of women's thoughts, this story seems to mark the high point of O'Connor's career
as the self-acclaimed "feminist"
"friend of women.
" In no other story does he honor
more clearly the right of women to decide for themselves matters concerning sexual relation-
ships, nor does he anywhere else value communication among women
so highly. As a
result, I would argue, this story is his most thoughtful and realistic reproduction of the
of a woman's voice speaking.
The story itself consists of a frank dialogue among three young women as they explore
the alternatives and consequences which a woman would have to consider if she got preg-
nant before marriage or if after marriage she discovered her husband was having an affair.
The earliest version in the O'Connor Papers suggests that from his first writing O'Connor had
a clear grasp both on the topics which the girls would discuss and on the three different
personalities which he would give the speakers.
His changes in title and narrative effect,
however, reveal more than his usual efforts to
"get it right"
; they also imply his sensitivity to
Larry, a cocky young clerk and something of a comic, who recalls years before when he
would sit during lunch-break absorbed in his western novels while
"the three girl clerks
Joan, Nora, and Marie--would talk
"thirteen to the dozen
" about things which he claims he
did not understand or that bored him to tears (1).
Despite his condescending remarks, Larry
"they were unusually nice girls"
and describes each of them carefully as if his know-
ing them well would validate the account of their talk.
masterful and warm-
"all in italics
"; Nora was sometimes
and sometimes aloof;
and Marie was
"thin, tall and nunlike
" with a
" that he always
" He continues with an equally particularized evaluation of the men with whom
they are walking out as an entree to the subject of the male-female relationships which the
girls discuss in the body of the story. About himself, the narrator admits that he can no
longer remember a word of the western novel he was reading, but he
can hear the girls as
though they were in the room with [him], still ignoring [his] presence as that o
who wouldn't understand anyhow" (2).
a mere kid
Because the narrator recalls the girls' conversations
with such clarity, one suspects that he was in reality fascinated and not at all "bored to
and that, like other Connorean narrators before him (such as Jack in
he may have pretended disinterest because he was afraid to show an unmasculine
interest in the trivial subject of women.
The first topic opens when Joan expresses her admiration for a friend who supports her
illegitimate son in a foster home but has not seen him for twelve years.
The girls respect
Joan's friend for fulfilling her responsibility, but they pity the child and wonder what they
would do in similar circumstances. According to Marie, there
" with any
girl who gets pregnant, but Nora responds that "there's something wrong with every girl or
else she'd be a man" (A/52-a 2).
Women, O'Connor seems to say here and elsewhere, are
the ones who bear the responsibility for the consequences of sexual relationships, and if
there were a way to
"be a man
and thus evade responsibility, every woman would do it.
Marie continues, saying that it is up to women to
expect men to do
"set the standard" because they cannot
They briefly discuss the grim alternative of forcing a man to marry a
girl and the frivolous possibility of keeping a man on the string just in case a girl gets in
11I1 r 11 1 1 rI I 11 ii 1 rl. .. I. I!
The second conversation is among the same girls on another day and uses the same
device: Joan has a friend in trouble, this time a husband who
is "knocking round"
another woman (A/52-a 6). As before O'Connor focuses on woman's responsibility to act.
There must be something wrong with the wife, Marie
and she argues that women need
to keep themselves attractive.
Joan, however, suggests more aggressive action and claims
she would have words with the other woman or run off with another man.
In the end they
make a joke of it by deciding that "Nora would tell her husband to go to blazes and go off to
the other woman's house with a box of chocolates to console her" (9).
This version ends
when, years later, Marie asks the narrator Larry if he will not be glad when he gets a girl.
"Begod, I will not," he replies.
"I'd sooner a horse
Despite the narrator's buffoonery, O'Connor is clearly sympathetic to the problems
women face and very much aware of the failure of many men in living up to their commit-
In the second version O'Connor eliminates the listening narrator at the beginning
and ending of the story and, by changing the title to
" he places the emphasis
on the girls' act of speaking rather than on the passive effect of their being overheard.
O'Connor also introduces a metaphor which unifies the story: he equates their voices to an
instrumental trio in which
"Joan is the first violin,
Marie, with her deep, beautiful voice is the
viola, and Nora, for all that her voice sounds thin and squeaky, is the cello
To "Girls Talking
" (A/52-b 2).
" O'Connor also adds a third topic of discussion which he later elimi-
nates. As before, Joan initiates the dialogue: this time she has a friend who has been mar-
ried for three years and has had three miscarriages.
Immediately the girls begin exploring
a solution to the childless marriage.
They turn down adoption as
"not the same
and opt to
consider surrogate motherhood (A/52-b 11). As with the previous discussions, this one
proceeds with a variety of alternatives: some practical, some angry, and some laughable.
The argument is based on the premise that, if a woman loves her husband, she wants to
have children by him.
Although this portion of the story is omitted in the published version, it
is worthy of examination because it shows O'Connor's sensitivity to women's feelings and his
awareness of the extent of anguish involved in many of their decisions.
The girls' solutions to a couple's infertility vary depending on which partner might be
unable to have children. Joan suggests asking a friend to have the baby and "facing it like a
Marie mentions that she might find the situation easier to face if a complete stranger were
having the baby.
Joan notes that "doing it"
friend a baby would be like
with a friend's husband in order to give one's
"doing something you loathe for a good purpose,
and, she adds,
"a lot of women have to do it" (13).
Nora, as before, terminates the discussion with the remark
that she would go along with it up to the last minute and then walk out. Here, the importance
for women's studies is not
information and opinions.
so much the solutions as the women's act of coming out with the
These were not women who would "whisper, whisper, whisper"
about sexual matters that puzzled and confused them.
They were talking freely and learning
what others thought and what they themselves thought. And they were being heard.
In the final version O'Connor omits the surrogate parenting episode, but he retains the
instrumental trio metaphor.
He also reinstates the narrator, probably because he saw that he
had done what he wanted for that group of girls talking and that a male narrator did nothing
to diminish their voices.
The words and thoughts of their soft voices would not die but would
remain as an expression of sensible, thinking women who face a wide range of sexually
related problems about which most men (and the patriarchal government and church, as
well) are either unaware or uncooperative.
In the conclusion to the final version, O'Connor drops the pose of the boy who prefers a
horse and allows him to state that as long as the
[the girls] will never be old" (A/
music of those voices lingers in my mind .
For unmarried women no issue demands voicing
clearly as their need for sexual information; few male writers were willing to explore and
admit such an interest.
The study of O'Connor's stories about unmarried women shows his increasing awareness
of women's issues and of women's capacity to talk about them.
The Quicksilver Girl must be
more than just a grown-up Tomboy; at this stage of her life she must make important and often
irrevocable choices. In this
she is highly vulnerable. In the early stories, the
Quicksilver Girls may run away rather than face difficulties, or they may make foolish choices
which they live to regret. In the late stories, however, O'Connor developed a more mature young
is able to enter the decision-making process more responsibly and to learn from
communicating with others along the way.
One may argue that ultimately, O'Connor came to
realize that a woman can be accountable for her own choices.
Thus the Quicksilver Girls come
I "Dangerous world"
comes from Blake's
" which is quoted on the title
page of a collection of short stories entitled Dangerous Worlds and written by Joan
Joan O'Donovan is the pseudonym of an English woman whose first name was
Joan and whose real surname O'Connor chose never to reveal publicly.
her from time to time between 1942
O'Connor lived with
and 1954, and she was the mother of his son Oliver
2 Other Don Juan stories include two published works,
"Don Juan Retired"
and three unpublished works all of which were working drafts of a story
"School for Wives
"Don Juan Trapped," "Don Juan Married,
"The Punishment of Don Juan.
" two Irishmen working in England during World War II
discuss the difficulties of married life and conclude that it is at best a problematic status:
"You must admit that in marriage there are hard
" MacNamara argues.
nothing else only hard
" Kenefick replies.
"There's no such thing as a happy marriage
any more than there's such a thing as a happy family. All you can do is to make the best of
what you have
" (CP 151).
O'Connor wrote repeatedly about marriage, and most of his stories reflect what
"there's nothing else only hard
" In order to focus on the nature of
" I have chosen stories which feature married women as protagonists
caught in the difficult pursuit of selfhood within a relationship.
I have avoided the analysis
of longer stories with women in marital situations that evolve over an extended period of
time and stories with a large number of primary characters involved in a series of subplots.
The hard-case marriages, when arranged chronologically, fall loosely into three
categories, each of which reflects a period in O'Connor's life or a concept to which he kept
returning; all of them demonstrate the way that voice operates in the lives of Irish married
The first group consists of three of O'Connor's very early stories about abused,
emotionally crippled, and unrealized women.
Pathetic, voiceless peasants, they live narrow
lives with neither friends nor family to advise or assist them and little hope of improving their
They enter into marriage to escape harsh realities and afterwards find them-
selves caught in brutal unions from which exit may prove a worse option.
These stories were
written before O'Connor was married and are reminiscent of certain unfortunate incidents in
the marriage of his mother, Minnie O'Donovan.
In his autobiographical volume An Only
Child, O'Connor writes that his mother, who had been an orphan, refused to leave his father
despite his bouts of drunkenness and brutality because
so she would have to take a
women, would not leave her husband because, she claimed,
where the world threw me
"he raised me from the gutter
" (39). As Katie Donovan writes about Somerville and Ross's The
Real Charlotte, for women at the turn of the century, there was
no socially sanctioned,
straightforward method for a woman to improve her lot, unless through marriage
The second group of O'Connor's stories about married women consists of a set of
sketches of dark, painful liaisons in which women, although more educated and cultured
than those in the first group, nevertheless find themselves irrevocably bound to the wrong
men, hopelessly burdened by in-laws, or inadvertently destroying their marriages by acting
in their own feminine self-interests.
These difficult marriages reflect O'Connor's continuing
dispute with Irish social, religious, and legal traditions and, in addition, his personal diffi-
culties in marriage and divorce.
They also reflect his belief that women need a voice and an
audience--something to say and someone with whom to share it.
The third group is a collection of light, often witty stories which represent O'Connor's
image of the liberated woman and recall the Quicksilver Girl now beyond adolescence and
wrestling to maintain her Tomboy spirit as a married woman.
They also relate two other
important women in O'Connor's life: the artistic, avant-garde writer Joan O'Donovan (see
Chapter III, n. 1), with whom O'Connor lived in England during the second world war while
he was still married to his first wife, Evelyn, and the lively, intellectually independent Harriet
O'Donovan (now Sheehy), his young American wife. All three groups of stories raise the
question which Margaret Higonnet poses in her study, "Fictions of Feminine Voice: An-
tiphony and Silence in Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles": "Can a man implicated in patriar-
chy speak for a woman constrained by it?" (Claridge and Langland 197
One of the
purposes of this study is to show how, over a period of time, an affirmative answer to
Higonnet's question becomes increasingly apparent in O'Connor's stories about women.
O'Connor's first attempt to speak for a married woman appears in
published in 1928 in The Irish Statesman, but at this date never printed in a collection. It is
the story of a nameless woman who has been locked out of her house by her drunken hus-
band and is assisted in reentering by a young
man about town
named Philip, who
returning home at two A.M. and has taken a shortcut through
a nest of cutthroat lanes
('"h 1 finn
"" 40n9. At first nirsinnr t mhi
rrt msetinrn h+ wrmnnn ann amrnhrTrrrmanrl
silver-headed cane, climbs through the opening, and lets the woman back into her own
The concept of the gallant rescuer suggests the rich imaginary world which
O'Connor as a boy created for himself from the books he read: as he calls it,
of a world complete and glorified" (OC 161).
a child's vision
The incident in reality derives from a night
when his father flung the infant O'Connor and his mother out on Blarney Lane where they
most of the night until neighbors took them in to lie in blankets before the fire (OC
As the gallant rescue begins, Philip issues an abrupt remark which suggests a limited
attempt at both kindness and courtesy:
"Been locked out?"
" the woman begins to speak slowly.
Gradually her voice starts to flow as she holds
the young man's attention by her pathetic tale of love for a
" who was unwilling
to marry her, followed by her marriage to a brute to escape working in a factory and her
subsequent years of conjugal misery.
As in many of his later stories, O'Connor devises a
childhood incident which the woman can recall and relate to her rescuer and which helps to
explain her choices in later life.
Left an orphan, she was sent as a child to live with cousins
and was always afraid of them because they had no children of their own and used to lock
the door on her when they went out to work.
" along with other stories about
orphaned children, reflects O'Connor's painful awareness of his own mother's loneliness and
what he considered her foolish decision to marry his father merely for security.
The "ring" of
the title is a
"big gold ring
"jewels and all sorts on it," by which, according to the
woman, she was lured to marry her brutish husband. Although she was once attracted to the
ring by its beauty, over the years it has come to represent a recurring circle of entrapment
which has ruled her life ever since she first accepted it.
O'Connor was apparently dissatisfied with the aristocratic male as a narrative point of
view because he never repeated the character type.
Philip, the man of class, is
so superior to
the woman of the lanes that communication
at first impossible.
He also seems out of
place among the marginalized characters who populate O'Connor's work in general.
theless, the device offers a structural advantage: the time which elapses while Philip over-
comes his snobbish attitude toward his unpleasant task allows the woman a chance to
- -.., 1.. -, ,i, 1.: .- CL..:.
,I,, :, ,, rt,, ,r,,,r,
she can commence her tale.
Ironically, neither the voice which O'Connor gives her nor the audience which he
provides for her in the
long as she
"knight-errant" lends her any lasting freedom ("The Ring
is locked out of the house in which her husband
is accustomed to dominate and
batter her, she remains in a free world--even if she
is only sitting on a
In this free realm, however, she is unaware of the chance to escape and remains
Ironically, only after Philip breaks the window and leads her back into her
prison, does she feel at
As her voice
is the only valuable she
she repays Philip with her story.
the duration of the night, she can speak, earn respect, and own dignity.
When day comes,
she will take her silent place in the ring of existence in which her husband will awake and
When Philip leaves, he looks back into the house and
wrapped "in the cowl of the black shawl" ("The Ring
With the los
only her face
;s of audience goes
the loss of
Two years later in his first collection, Guests of the Nation (1931), O'Connor presented
another brutalized woman, known only as
" Set during the Troubles of the
1920s, it is the story of an illiterate woman who unknowingly reveals to her husband's en-
emies his activity as an informer.
"decent poor wife
not only lacks an essential
aspect of language in that she
is illiterate, but she also misuses the aspect of language
which she has mastered: her oral communication (GN 30).
Like the medieval poetess
Chapter II) and many of O'Connor's
married women, the fate of Jumbo
gain without gladness
" (KLC 51).
When the story opens, Jumbo has left "without a word" (GN 29), and Jumbo's wife has
crawled back in bed to review the shame of the previous night's bout when, in a
" Jumbo had split her lip and shattered the little delft tea set she had bought.
worked as a day laborer picking fruit to earn the four shillings and sixpence which she had
spent for the set; Jumbo would have spent three times as much on a drunk.
"had she seen
so clearly what a wreck he had made of her life
O'Connor knew, however, the women of the lanes were
so disempowered by their ignorance
that their dreams of freedom were always shortlived. At the first obstacle, they would crawl
cides to withhold it until he gives her his week's wages,
even if he kills her
" for it (GN 31).
Accustomed to abuse, Jumbo's wife is herself a harsh woman, and when her little boy Johnny
tries to light the fire with the newly arrived letter, she snatches it
'wildly" from him and gives
" Even though she cannot read, she is filled with
"all sorts of pleasurable
" by the mere possession of a letter, and she
that it has power.
later realizes that this is the wrong week for the pension, she takes the letter to Pa Kenefick,
who rescued her the night before when she ran screaming into the street. Because Pa
Kenefick's younger brother had been taken out and killed by the police for his political
activities, she believes Pa
is important and can help her.
Once Kenefink and his group of Volunteers read the letter, they assure Jumbo's wife
that she has done right.
While she tries nervously to justify her act as the result of Jumbo's
violence, they interrupt her with a warning: "If himself ask you anything, say there did ne'er a
" (GN 33
Eager to act on her information, they push her out the door as they
assure her she has
squared her account with Jumbo.
Her encounter with Volunteers gives her a feeling of self-worth, and, despite moments of
dread over Jumbo's retaliation, after two days of quietude she dreams of pulling her little
Then one evening she becomes aware of signs which she can understand
better than words: the sound of a motor car stopping at the end of her lane and the sight of a
pair of masked men.
Instinctively, she bolts the door, tells Jumbo about the letter, and she
boosts him up the wall to escape as he screams,
"I'll have your sacred life.
vaguely aware that Jumbo has done something wrong, she
" Although only
danger. A pathetic
loyalty rises in her as she runs like a madwoman throughout the lanes trying to subvert
Volunteers who are now after her
"lovely Jumbo" (38).
Shortly after the evening of the chase, Jumbo becomes ill and is confined to a govern-
ment hospital in part of town she considers
"unfamiliar country" (43)--not unlike the unfamil-
iar territory in which Jumbo
s wife finds herself: she
is alert to his danger, but she is uneasy
about her responsibility for it and her need to protect him from it.
When the Volunteers
finally find Jumbo, they shoot him.
To the front of his
"cheap flannelette nightshirt,
a note on which is neatly typed one word:
"They had squared her account with
Tumbo at last."
This time Tumbo'
s wife asks no one to read the message:
"In the Train
is yet another story of "
gain without gladness.
" First published in Lovat
Dickson's Magazine in 1935, this was one of O'Connor's most successful early stories and
was dramatized for the Abbey Theatre and the BBC and published repeatedly in O'Connor's
collections and other anthologies.
Helena Maguire, the protagonist, is the first of this trio of
unfortunate wives to whom O'Connor gives a name and likewise the first to take steps to
defend herself from the abuse of her husband.
The story also shows how a closed society,
dominated by a patriarchal philosophy, would try to override a woman's attempt at self-
Taken from an actual murder account,
"In the Train
" is the story of a woman who has
poisoned her husband because he was
"old and dirty and cantankerous and a miser
The members of the local police force and the villagers have gone from their west
country town of Farrenschreet to Dublin to attend the trial.
They all know that Helena mur-
dered her husband, but they have lied for her and won her an acquittal
so that they can
inflict their own punishment on her. As they travel home on the train, her motive and theirs
She murdered her husband to be free from his abuse and also for the love
of a man whom her family had forbidden her to
The villagers would have condoned
murder for land or money but not for liberty or love.
They also lied for her because to testify against a neighbor would be equivalent to
It is a village loyalty reminiscent of Lady Gregory's
"The Girl at the Gaol Gate" in
which a woman prefers that her son be hanged rather than be branded as an informer.
Helena's real penalty, however, will be isolation:
"Sure no one could ever darken her door
one woman notes (S 172).
The people have used their words in false testimony to
obtain the right to force Helena to a living death of shame and silence which they seem to
hope will be more painful than execution.
is also a cruel testimony to the village logic and small-mindedness
which kept women impaled in misery. "Did any of ye e
woman in our parish would do the like of that?" one of
head considering the way times have changed (S 173).
ver think the day would come when a
the old men says as he shakes his
It is most objectionable to them that
rr wnmrnn wnnld nrrt tn nreasrvia her intrrrit-v
III Il Uir ~ J%
nf the wnrld nponn1 mnrs naldinn
women may lead the way in breaking barriers, but they will endure much misery in the effort.
Helena brings other criticism on women as well.
When O'Connor first presents her, she
is alone in a cold carriage, and "the night outside [is] black and cheerless" (174).
man enters her carriage, leans down and kisses her, and tells her he can see the
" The narrator also notes that she is wearing
"a bright blue blouse.
ever comes of the kiss, but when a young woman admires the bright blue blouse and Helena
admits that she bought it the night of the trial from a shop in the quays, one of the policemen
"Honour of God!" he admonishes her (177).
"You should have been on your
knees before the altar.
" "Women!" he exclaims as he moves into the next compartment.
indignation is short-lived, however, and the narrator notes that he winks at the young woman
accompanying him as if to imply that he had done his responsibility by reprimanding
Helena for her petty vanity.
By including the blouse episode in the story, O'Connor demon-
states his empathy with women and their need for touches of beauty in their lives just as he
"The Goldfish" (see below) when his female narrator wonders if her lover realizes
how much she would like to have a new blouse when he wants to spend his spare money on
Unlike O'Connor, the narrow-minded police officer belittles Helena for her indul-
gence, and his scorn shows the pain that women bear in a society in which their needs are
misunderstood and thus misinterpreted.
In the concluding lines of the story, O'Connor reveals another pathetic consequence of
Helena Maguire's actions. As they near the village, one of the policemen jeers at Helena
that there will be one happy man in the village that night. Like most of the villagers, he
believes she will have a reunion with the man she once loved.
that in reality she killed not
Her reply, however, implies
so much to have the pleasure of a new relationship as to be
relieved of the pain of the old one:
"He's no more to me now than the salt
sea" (S 178).
Despite the apparent finality of the village verdict, the story ends with more diffusion
and duality than conclusion.
Helena has made her voice heard in the community and in
court, and both men and women have spoken in her behalf; but her future will be voiceless.
She is pronounced innocent, but she is actually guilty of murder.
The not-guilty verdict is
doubly unjust because the townspeople have perjured themselves to achieve it.
people are also twice wrong because they have lied and stolen the right to inflict their own
best interest and be confident of the outcome.
The women in the next two stories belong somewhere between the first two categories
of O'Connor's married women.
Neither concerns a woman who is mistreated by her hus-
band, but both involve women who turn to silence as a defense against difficult situations.
Although the two women face different types of challenges, neither is able to speak for
herself at the impasse.
The woman's behavior in the first story remains an enigma.
second story, however, O'Connor creates a female narrator who, although silenced as a
young woman, reclaims her voice at a later date when she states her reasons for silence and
claims satisfaction with her decision.
was published in Lovat Dickson's Magazine in 1935 and in The Best
British Short Stories that same year.
It is the story of an Irish-born woman who has emi-
grated to America with her Irish husband and returns to Ireland to visit her husband's par-
Although she stays for a long visit, she never tells them, nor does the narrator actually
state, that her husband had died before she left America.
It was a true story, told to
O'Connor in a pub by an old man, the girl's father-in-law, who even many years later could
not understand the girl's refusal to share her sorrow with him and his wife (MFS 42). Like
other stories about women, this one apparently attracted O'Connor's sympathy and curiosity.
It also marks a turning point in his work as the first story in which a married woman takes
steps which she does not ultimately regret in the process of protecting herself.
When Annie Shea first arrives off the boat train, she has
and hair" (BC
7), reminiscent of the Tomboys, but she also has "the fc
illness, like the rest of her story, is shrouded in silence.
ice of a very sick woman
Michael's mother is shocked but will
not ask when she
"the length of your arm
across Annie's stomach.
the scar implies that Annie has had a miscarriage by Caesarean section, all her husband's
parents know for sure is that she has come to Ireland for a recuperation.
reaction expresses more feeling and previews a bonding which ultimately links him with his
After Annie goes to bed, he creeps upstairs at night to make a sketchy
as to whether she will be able to have children:
"'Twon't come against you? .
great life in a house, a child is" (11).
She assures him that she will be all right, but, as in
in thin qtnnr. neither ch0 nnr the nrTrrntrir ta'to the nrnblem nutrinht
a nature refined to the point of hardness
" (BC 4) and though she accepts Annie
with dignity, she is never quite able to
"bridge the gap
" between them (19).
father, who takes
"colour from everything about him,
" is warmed immediately by Annie's first
embarrassed embrace, and he repeatedly offers opportunities for Annie to release her
Curious that Michael has not written lately, he tells her that his wife would like to
hear from him more.
"Don't blame Michael,
"Annie replies cryptically.
"It isn't his fault" (13).
'very much drawn
"towards Michael's Aunt Kate and her sister, and she
often walks to their home to share meals and listen to tales about Michael's youth (see
Chapter V). Annie actually makes her confession about Michael's
death to the aunts al-
though she veils it in such ambiguity that they fail to perceive the message.
months together--only seven months,
means seven months before coming back to Ireland.
"We had seven
" she tells Aunt Kate, but the old woman thinks Annie
Later Annie admits to Aunt Kate
"bitterly" that she wishes she would never
again, but again the aunt misun-
Although Annie does not communicate much during the day, she repeatedly talks in her
The old man awakens at night to hear her expressing
in low tones
Then one night she screams in
"three anguished mounting
breaths, 'Michael! Michael! Michael!'" (25).
embodiment of his son summoned by Annie
As the old man listens, he thinks he
The old man also has inexpressible longings which he finally tries to communicate as
Annie is preparing to leave:
When he stood before the carriage door he looked at her appealingly.
not frame the question that he looked; it was a folly he felt must pass from him
so he asked it only with his
and with her
she answered; a
look of ecstatic fulfillment.
O'Connor honors her choice of silence and creates for her instead a visual communication.
She departs free from explanation and censure.
Like the old man who wondered over his daughter-in-law's reticence, O'Connor, even as
a young man, puzzled about women's reasoning and their reluctance to communicate.
Because he was a story teller, he liked to work out his problems in words.
In the thirties after
death in 1988.
"I need hardly say that I thought him the finest person I ever had the good
fortune to meet,
she wrote in 1986 (Letter to the author,
23 November 1986).
In 1934, when
she refused his repeated proposals and instead married another man, O'Connor suffered a
long period of depression.
When he began to recover, he wrote a short work,
in which he attempted to show Nancy that he understood her reasoning. When Nancy died
in 1988, a columnist for the Cork Examiner summed up the relationship which "The Goldfish"
"I suspect that for Frank O'Connor who began as a poet she began
" ("Death" 2).
"The Goldfish" is unique among O'Connor's stories because it is the only published
work in which he takes the persona of an adult woman.
The story takes the form of a mono-
logue spoken by an unidentified married woman to an unnamed man with whom she was
once in love. As she tells it, the story is written some years after the young man has left the
area to pursue his career. At the beginning the narrator/beloved makes it clear that she
understood the lover better than she thinks he understood her:
You were young, then.
Young and very poor.
I knew, of course, just how much
that occasional half-crown for the pictures meant to you. For a shilling you could
have got one of the books you coveted in the second-hand shop ... I wondered if you
guessed how much a new blouse meant to me. (81)
The story continues as she reminiscences about their courtship when they would walk
around what Nancy would later call "Michael's Cork, the city which fed his creativity" (Letter
to the author, 11 November 1986).
"their city" (81) she reminds him that it was
Although the female narrator never mentions the name of
"the most musical in the United Kingdom
that Thackeray had
"said the university was worthy of ancient Athens.
" Savoring memories
of bridges, trams, and terraces, she recalls their strolls through Italian-named sections of
Cork such as
of old St. Mary's.
and watch the "li
by silly revolving fans,
" At times, in
"cafes [which] were few and unsatisfactory
.ght and things that moved in the light"
and their view of life was
as though they
so unlimited that they
ry," they would sit
were being blended
"felt like goldfish
in a bowl"
see 360 degrees around themselves (106).
Once the city no longer fed the young man's creativity, his beloved knew better than he
that, like their friend Willie, her lover needed to move out into the world.
drink," to loose his
and to become
" At this point, she takes
control of their relationship with woman's traditional ploy: silence.
considers openly discussing her realization of his plight. Instead
She apparently never
she confesses that she
"began to avoid [him]"
so that he would never have to compare her with a more
sophisticated woman in a more cultured world.
Her life would always be bounded by the
"chapel and the kitchen,
and one day he would
see through" her as he had already
through everything else
" in the city.
She remembers that the night he left was the first time
she "knew what loneliness could be,
and she recalls listening for
"the shriek of the train
which would take him away and reciting his
With a look at the future for both of them, O'Connor tactfully rescues the story just as it
is about to turn sentimental.
He portrays her as married and the mother of an
In order to depict her as reconciled to her decision but not without regret,
O'Connor has his narrator confess that she
sometimes (but not often) lies awake
"what it all meant,
wondering if the magic of the city is still going on for other young
couples, and trying to avoid encounters with too many
" He portrays himself as a
famous, somewhat eccentric author: her husband, the narrator notes, reads [O'Connor's]
novels and finds him
a queer fish.
" In reality neither character turned out as O'Connor
predicts: Nancy never had children, and after her husband died, she spent the remainder of
her life as a chemist, living on the outskirts of Cork (see
"A Life of Your Own,
" Chapter III).
O'Connor never realized his career as a novelist, although he achieved world-wide recogni-
tion as a short story writer.
Although O'Connor never seems to have wanted to polish
and rework it
from a monologue into a real short story, it remains, from a narrative point of view, a clear
example of a woman's voice speaking.
One reason for the successful narrative effect is that
O'Connor knew Nancy better than he knew any other woman at the time except his mother,
and in many ways he and Nancy were alike.
addition, as William Maxwell says, "Nancy I
colorful words, whimsical expressions, and tall tales
They both loved the city and the arts. In
herself was a story teller who delighted in
" (Personal interview, 7 March 1993).
A nv~~a a y..L a ny.r.:r awr nfl.rr .1~ A r ,. r,. ,A"k1nAb
"looked at herself in a mirror,
I am growing a little uncertain of this conjuring box we call a body.
of a girl of eighteen began suddenly to beat
think of what might happen.
If the heart
as it used to do, I should not care to
Undoubtedly O'Connor considered that Nancy understood him better than anyone else at the
The story may also be considered a portrait of the artist as a young man, presented
of his beloved.
She would thus be the ideal choice to narrate a story about
his burgeoning artistic nature, his love for Cork, and his yearning for literary
" in addition, represents another example of O'Connor's fascination with
the idea of the woman who marries the wrong man.
In the concluding lines the narrator
confesses that her husband
or that she
is "a bit queer" like the author himself (106).
" that she lies awake wondering about the author
The author has remained at the
center of her past and continues to hold a place in her present: like classical star crossed
lovers, their lives are bound by what might have been.
On another level,
is a paean to both Cork and Nancy. Although the
story was published in Harpers
Bazaar in 1939 and never republished, it became over the
years a symbol for both the city and the woman. As the muse for one of the city's favorite
artists, Nancy often read the story in public.
Her last performance was on Radio Eirann at
the twentieth anniversary commemoration of the death of O'Connor in March 1986.
As Nancy hoped, O'Connor left Cork and married a woman in the world of the arts:
Evelyn Bowen, an actress.
Their marriage, however, failed, and throughout the remainder of
O'Connor's life--even after his successful second marriage--scars of bitterness would occa-
sionally break through in his writing to darken his portrayal of women in marriage. The
women in the next group of stories differ from those in the early stories in that they are the
victims of mental rather than physical anguish and they are very much aware of their diffi-
culties although, like the earlier women, they are powerless to effect a change.
In each of
these stories the married woman
is also implicated
as the partner responsible for the failure
of the marriage.
-~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Ti..- -t fl V r 1 .2 tIt -t -< l-i
IlrF1 R.. rr
of his good friend are in love with each other and that her husband would rather be a priest
than married. Although the story suggests one man's unsuitability for marriage and
another's for celibacy, it also points to a woman's need for more than the security of a home
and children in marriage.
"The Frying Pan
is one of the few stories in which O'Connor
allows a married woman to voice her desire for emotional and sexual fulfilment.
as O'Connor first published it in a collection entitled The Common Chord in 1948, is one
among several which makes a bold statement about women's rights and needs.
it a few years afterwards to be even more sympathetic to women.
Still later he appears to
have lost confidence in his first revision; in a second revision he withdrew portions of the
more daring portrayal.
Like women themselves, O'Connor wrestled with a way to voice their
The story begins with warmth and humor through the point of view of Father Foley,
whose friend Tom Whitton had first gone to seminary and then, when it came time to make
the vow of celibacy, had
contracted scruples of conscience and married the principal one
Tom and his wife Una (the principal scruple) are Foley's only close friends in a
small Irish town, and the plot revolves around two evenings when the three have dinner
together, one night at the priest's, the other at the Whittons'.
In their first meeting O'Connor makes it apparent that while Father Foley enjoys Tom's
company, he is also attracted to Una--and very lonely.
Foley blushes when Una compliments
his home movies, and when the evening
is over, he wonders what life would have been
a girl like that" (CC 182).
While O'Connor portrays Tom as an angry and unpleasant man
who alternates between criticizing and ignoring his wife, he creates for Una a boyish person-
ality and appearance reminiscent of his Tomboys:
"she was at the door, all in furs, her
shoulders about her ears, her big, bony face blue with cold but screwed up into an amiable
monkey grin" (177).
In his revisions O'Connor changes the wording to
as if to emphasize her Tomboy nature (A/24-a 1).
about the room
"her big, bony mascu-
Like a little boy, she wanders
and "sits by the fire with legs crossed" (CC 178).
While most of O'Connor's little girls like Josie Mangan
Chapter II) are capable of fluent
verbal manipulations, his boy/woman Una is the first of his females with a speech impedi-
out of a frying pan into the fire. Later in the story when Una and Father Foley begin talking
about their lives, it becomes apparent that her speech is indicative of her marriage and that
Foley's love is the emotional alternative she would like to adopt.
Since she is married and
he is a priest, that alternative represents the fatal fire as opposed to the merely unhappy
frying pan existence they now have. Una's speech defect also suggests the inadequacy of
all women in voicing their wishes in a man's world. Nancy McCarthy also had a tendency to
stammer (although apparently on the stage she was not bothered), and O'Connor once hurt
her feelings by his reference to the weakness (Personal interview, 4 July 1988).
balance between Una and Nancy also suggests O'Connor's continuing concern with the
concept of a woman married to the wrong man.
On the way home when Una holds Foley's
hand and compliments him on the evening, her husband becomes
"frostier and more un-
ever" (CC 182).
A few nights later, when Foley comes to the Whittons' to dinner, he notes the
, womanly appearance of the house and Tom self-consciously wearing a new tie
over which they
probably quarrelled" (CC 183).
After dinner Tom disagrees with Una over a
meeting he wants to attend, and Foley thinks him an
'uncouth bastard" for insulting his wife
before a guest (185).
herself to go upstairs for a cry, Foley follows her,
and the encounter which follows reveals a delicate expression of love rare in O'Connor's
Although the scene contains the potential for scandal, O'Connor elevates it beyond
reproach with honesty and good taste. As he enters the room, Father Foley sits down on the
bed beside Una, who
With the light on and the door safely ajar, they speak softly
since the children, like a pair of sleeping chaperones, are in the next room.
explains to Foley that Tom
is jealous, Foley at first thinks she has perceived and told Tom of
Foley's love for her.
Tom despises her as
Instead, she informs Foley that Tom
is jealous because Foley
is a priest;
"the temptation" that led him away from seminary and into marriage
As the conversation continues, O'Connor suddenly permits the two lonely people a
moment of tenderness and draws them together in a brief expression of physical love.
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but adultery" (189). Although Foley remarks that Tom must be
is like many Irish men:
'unnatural," Una asserts that
"I'm beginning to think there are more spoiled priests than ever
went to seminary
" (188). As Maura Laverty writes in
most Irish men
are so conditioned by the priests and their mothers that they are
completely indifferent to
sex in any shape or form" (O'Brien 59).
Above all, Una wants to feel like a respectable married woman.
Ironically she tells
"I feel quite respectable with you though I suppose I shouldn't" (CC 190).
aware that they are veering into dangerous territory, she rises to leave but then turns
of joyous emotion
"her arms about him.
" He kisses her, and she
"her body close to him
until his head swims. Afterwards as he goes down stairs
a state of idiotic happiness
" to open the door for Tom, the words
In the first revision, both men appear somewhat different.
O'Connor expresses Foley's
increased interest in Una by saying at the opening that "she formed the real centre of what
little social life he had" (A/24-a 1).
O'Connor also adds to Tom's disdain for Una when the
narrator notes that "he refused to enter into an argument with his wife about subjects she
knew nothing of" (4) in the same manner that Una McDermot'
s boyfriend in
" belittles his girlfriend's attempts to have an opinion (see Chapter III).
In the revised love scene O'Connor adds both words and gestures which indicate that
the author approved of the delicate relationship between the married woman and the priest.
Once they are alone, Foley perceives an aura about Una that
"beside him, willing him to make love to her, offering herself to his kiss" (9).
"I want someone to make me feel respectable,
" she says,
"I want a man" (11).
Before she turns to him for their embrace, she thrusts
"out her lips to him
and kisses him a
second time. Afterwards as Foley goes down stairs, he no longer thinks of "Sin
nor is he in a state of "idiotic happiness"; instead he is
realizes that Tom is
a man at war with his animal nature.
" The agonizing, unfulfilled
passion in all their lives leads him to the sober and pathetic conclusion that "the three of
them, Tom, Una, and himself, would die as they had lived, their desires unsatisfied."
mi .1 -- 1 L f __11_ _- FyI __ fl lf AJ
When Harriet Sheehy compiled Collected Stories in 1981, however, she used the more
suggestive first revision.
Whatever O'Connor's reasoning for his later omission, the freedom
of expression which he gives Una in the first revision marks a turning point in his mission to
create a woman's voice speaking: Una Whitton is allowed to admit her love for a man other
than her husband, and although she must acquiesce to the marital gridlock, she can find in
their brief encounter as much self-expression as a woman in Ireland of the forties could
expect. Almost fifty years after the story was first published, Irish women are still denied
For a moment, however, O'Connor gives Una the courage to verbalize her desire for
a better existence--and she never stammers in the love
Although O'Connor recognized the limitations in a woman's life
also discovered a fearful power attached to
as in Una Whitton's, he
the mythos of Irish womanhood, and he found
himself personally in legal difficulty when he tried to obtain a divorce from his first wife.
Looking back on the situation, he claimed to his second wife that no man in all Ireland had a
chance when he came up against a judge who had, like most Irish men, a mother fixation: a
man would always lose (Personal interview with Harriet Sheehy, 14 January 1987).
dealing with his divorce with the kind of somber inconclusiveness which
reflects, he chose a comic mode.
"The Frying Pan
The result is a rich comedy entitled "Brief for Oedipus
"Counsel for Oedipus").
Underneath the mirth however, lies a painful picture of the
sort of narrow, uninformed vision of the women who lived a generation prior to that of the
young secretaries in
"Music When Soft Voices Die
: unrealized women who droned through
so terrified of
so saturated with sanctity that they drowned any hope of
marital fulfillment for themselves and their partners.
In "Marriage-shy Irishmen,
Francis Keating echoes O'Connor's awareness:
In marriage, if it occurs, the woman has to be the driving force, the seeker out of
ways and means, the home finder.
One knows that the worm turns, and
being the slighted and bullied one she becomes the bully.
"A Brief for Oedipus" is
the story of woman who is suing her husband for legal separa-
tion on the grounds of adultery and cruelty, and, as the narrator states,
the man has no chance
" (C2 253). Although in a revised version entitled "Counsel for Oedi-
"the woman and her husband are named Nellie and Tom Lvnam. in the early account
j -,l hJ
Irish countrymen who are deceptively gentle, who are
so generous that they will give you the
shirt off their back, and will then knock you unconscious over some trifling remark.
" His wife
is "a trim, mousy little woman of about half his height and a quarter his weight, with an
anxious face and a gentle, bedraggled, air.
" The story is narrated by one of O'Connor's
expansive all-knowing male narrators, who asserts from the start that adultery has already
been proven because it is known that Lynam had a child by
a woman of notorious bad
" but that cruelty might be hard to prove in
"the present day decline of manliness.
Before the day is out, the prediction holds true.
proceeds, Kenefick, Mrs. Lynam's counsel, gradually proves that Lynam
has kicked and beaten his wife and that Mrs. Lynam is
a saint as well as a martyr" (C2
Then to the surprise of the narrator and the observers, the case takes a turn for the
defense because Mickey Joe
Spillane, Lynam's counsel, proves to be
a woman hater
thus the only man who can stand up to a judge
"with a mother fixation
persuades the jury that the
'gentle, insinuating little woman" is really a
grim, discontented monster
" who went to Mass without getting her husband's breakfast and
made him sleep alone four years in the spare room (262
As court adjourns, Mrs. Lynam,
realizing that she is beaten, grabs her handbag and
out. To the horror of his
counsel, Lynam comes to the defense of his wife and opts to settle out of court.
closes with a frustrated Mickey Joe predicting that in forty-eight hours, the mousy Mrs. Lynam
will be making Lynam's life hell again.
Despite the humorous dialogue, O'Connor manages to create a beastly figure in Mrs.
She is a miserable woman, whose life offers neither joys nor accomplishments and
whose role in the marriage is destructive to both partners.
gests, no Irishman can stand to
Nevertheless as O'Connor sug-
see his wife's name dragged through the mud even if the
testimony is true.
as old as Oedipus, O'Connor makes the pious but pitiful voice of
Mrs. Lynam reign over her
She wins her
but her victory
does little for the image of women.
Jests and jibes abound in O'Connor's verbal art, but accusations and incriminations
against women were not a tolerable
part of his philosophy. As he writes in An Only Child,
* I. .fl* I *W ~ I I
The counsel for the defense shifts the
by proving that Mrs. Lynam has made
Lynam's life miserable and has denied him not only basic comforts of a warm meal and
happy home but also sexual relations.
Her own voice works against her as the woman hater
her testimony to sway the jury in favor of his client.
Lynam, however, comes to his wife's defense and goes against his own.
Unlike some stories where O'Connor provides strong women, in
"Brief for Oedipus" he
actually belittles Mrs. Lynam both by the path that Mickey Joe takes and by Lynam's rescue.
Her counsel is unwilling to have her claim her rights as a human being by saying that Lynam
beat her, drank too much, and had another woman.
Instead, he bases her
physical weakness and helplessness.
Lynam is the real winner because he is
mous that he cannot bear to
see her lose.
Like other generous deeds based on emotion,
Lynam's reconciliation bodes ill.
The Lynams will die as they have lived: in the frying pan.
O'Connor returned repeatedly to the concept of magnanimity,
as if reworking it would
make it pay off.
"The Unapproved Route
is a story of a magnanimous Irishman living in
England who volunteers to marry a pregnant Englishwoman who has been deserted by
Originally entitled "Magnanimity,
" the unpublished manuscript version
begins with the kind of abstract statement which O'Connor often
to define the
direction a story will take.
In this story of magnanimity, the marriage will not work because
no woman can really understand a man's virtuous act:
There is one masculine virtue that is wasted on women: that is magnanimity.
only wasted, it's misplaced.
It's as if women had no use for it and suspected there
must be something wrong with a man who indulges it. Maybe there is.
In rewriting this story, as with others, O'Connor develops a new sensitivity to the situation,
to absolve the wife and to implicate the husband.
The early version focuses on Frankie Daly, whom O'Connor makes a privileged person
by giving him his own name and by describing him as
"the best friend a man can have
Rosalind, a woman with no surname (until she becomes Mrs. Daly) is
whom Frankie used to knock around with" (A/80-a 1).
just one of the crowd
When Jim Hourigan comes over from
Dublin on a job, he finds furnished lodgings with a pair of teachers; Rosalind being
nrincinal niece of furniture.
" The chauvinistic stab of ownership like the
and never writes to her although she was
an excellent correspondent"
and "liked something
In addition to unanswered letters, Rosalind has other problems with words.
It is her
roommate Kate, not Rosalind herself, who tells the crowd Rosalind is pregnant, and it is the
"best friend" Frankie who rescues her from ignominy by offering her a face-saving proposal
While Frankie glibly remarks that the proposal is
"better late than never
Rosalind promises to make it up to him, the remainder of the story is shrouded with unful-
filled good intentions (A/80-a 2). As in
"The Mad Lomasneys,
" O'Connor suggests that this
marriage was spoiled from the start because Frankie was reluctant to ask Rosalind to marry
him long before Jim came along. As Rosalind says, she would have married him
"in a shot"
if he had asked her sooner.
Once the couple is married, they appear happy; however, O'Connor makes it clear that
Frankie is oblivious to the
" which Rosalind is suffering as a result of Jim's scorn:
He didn't realize that in circumstances like those no woman can be entirely happy, even
with the best man in the world, even with a man she loves. It's her nature. (A/80-a 3)
Rosalind, like her namesake in As You Like It,
to be in disguise: she acts out the role
of Frankie's wife while at heart she belongs to Jim as the mother of his child.
Just before the
is born, Rosalind writes Jim a letter telling him she is having the baby and that they will
all be happier if it does not live.
This time Jim responds and comes to England. Although
Rosalind protests that she did not mean to hurt Frankie and Frankie insists that Rosalind
must find out what she herself did mean, she seems unaware of her motivation.
Rita Lomasney, she can only denigrate herself: "God, what sort of fool am I?" (A/80-a 5). As
Rosalind is more adept with the written word than the spoken, she never discusses her final
decision with her husband; Jim comes to Frankie
baby will come back to Ireland with him. With a
"ashamed" (6) to say that Rosalind and the
strong implication of Rosalind's ingratitude,
O'Connor ends the story in a brief, pathetic glimpse at the magnanimous Frankie, who
the cottage and returned to furnished lodgings.
In a later version, A/80-c, O'Connor changes and extends the story in what appears to
be an attempt to place the responsibility on Frankie and to excuse or at least explain
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