Reimagining Women's History in the Fiction of Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Anne Enright, and Kate O'Riordan

Caitriona Moloney


Reimagining Women's History in the Fiction of Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Anne Enright, and Kate O'Riordan

New Irish women writers' historical fiction uses history to represent what history has omitted; much like postcolonial history, women's fiction shows how memories and records of women are constituted by denial, hostility and neglect. This article looks at how the historical fiction of Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Anne Enright, and Kate O'Riordan represents absent women through narrative strategies that demonstrate the pitfalls and suggest remedies to the challenges of postcolonial women's history. This historical fiction manages to represent the absence of the colonized woman, without committing Spivak's error, the allegedly inevitable usurpation of the subaltern's voice.
Ni Dhuibhne's short fiction uses ancient Irish legend to show how women's participation in history could be denied and suggests some consequences. Ni Dhuibhne's narrative technique of intertextualizing old Irish myth in her fiction emphasizes the consequences of silencing women in history. Her postmodern method exceeds direct parallels to myth, but rather re-imagines the motifs of ancient Irish myth in a contemporary context, suggesting new modes of interpretation for both. Ni Dhuibhne's use of myth suggests the enormity of the exclusion of women from history; she creates a voice for that absent presence, without speaking for her.
In short stories from The Portable Virgin, as well as in her latest novel, The Pleasure of Eliza, Anne Enright illustrates the possible effects of misogyny on history. Enright's narrative technique employs metaphor and symbols to situate Eliza in a long tradition of colonizing adventurers. Enright revises the alledgedly historical biographies of Eliza, which she characterizes as "sneering excess," but unlike Eliza's biographers, Enright gives Eliza a voice that suggests both her disempowered subject position--herself a victim of imperialism and gender discrimination both in Ireland and Paraguay--and her power as an icon of sexuality, beauty, and nationalism. The title of the novel, The Pleasure of Eliza, indicates the ambivalence of Eliza as subject and agent.
Kate O'Riordan's historical fiction focuses on the process of recovering lost historical records of women's past. Her The Boy in the Moon emphasizes the scarcity of records and artifacts in both the history of women and in the history of a colony. O'Riordan's protagonist acts like a contemporary scholar or researcher who recovers lost texts and learns how to read them. She finds, reads, and interprets an extremely sparse journal that reveals the history of her mother in law, a barely literate farm woman in the West of Ireland. O'Riordan's fiction gives a voice to this previously silenced women.
All three of these writers demonstrate how art presents the unrepresentable, while avoiding the postcolonial error, usurpation of the subaltern's voice.


women, fiction, history

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