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Ruslan Chernov
Ruslan Chernov

DANDY-287 Only Woman Who Does Not Know

As well as the changes to women's roles thatindustrialization brought to Ireland during the latter part of the nineteenthcentury, a devotional revolution occurred in the Irish Church that resultedin more rigid gender roles and a glorification of asexual maternity in thestyle of the Virgin (Gibbons 1996: 85). "The cult of the Virgin Mary,which flourished from the late nineteenth century--asserted in part inopposition to the Protestantism of the colonial rulers--strengthened theconstruction of asexual, maternal and domestic femininity upon whichhyper-masculinity and socio- economic and sexual regulation depended"(Nash 1997: 115). Not only sexual regulation but self-sacrifice was requiredof women: "The cult of the Virgin endorsed not merely chastity andmotherhood as womanly ideals, but also humility, obedience and passivesuffering" (Innes 1993: 40). Jenny Beale (1986: 52) contends that evennon-religious Irish mothers from the second half of the twentieth centuryfelt guilty about their inability to reach the ideal of motherhood that theVirgin personifies. Yet Home Rule and Holy Pictures contain disturbing(though at times humorous) portrayals of mothers mistreating their daughterswithout feeling guilty.

DANDY-287 Only woman who does not know

According to Masse, a woman's "abuse may even be used tojustify her own abusing of others" (1992: 48). Elinore suffers due toWeenie's negligence that resulted in her beloved son's death.However, Elinore does not take into account that Weenie was a little girlbeing asked to do an adult's job of watching a toddler. Instead, Elinoretorments Weenie for decades. Another reason why Elinore feels victimized isthat she is a mother of numerous children in a working-class household:"Until Lena was old enough to take over, she [Elinore] felt like someoneset upon by a mob" (Boylan, HR 36). Elinore reveals her lastingresentment when she advises her daughter Janey to abandon her paternalgrandmother to starvation, refusing to aid the old woman herself."'I have been there,' she [Elinore] said in a piteous littlevoice. 'Now you can find out what it's like to have your youth gosour as mine did while you expend yourself on people who cannot possiblyappreciate it'" (109). Elinore here implies that she wants herdaughters to suffer for using up her youth.

Elinore's mistreatment of her daughters occurred during aperiod when few options were open to women for working outside of the home.The predicament of the unmarried daughter worsened after the Famine of the1840s; as Ireland became increasingly male- dominated, the percentage ofwomen working outside the home decreased from 29 percent in 1861 to 19.5percent in 1911 (MacCurtain 1985: 48). Besides having limited opportunitiesto work outside the home, women's options to marry were reduced by anincreasingly troubled economy. In 1861, 43.3 percent of women in Ireland weresingle, but in 1911, 48.26 percent of women in Ireland were single (Innes1993: 39). In forcing her daughters to serve her as unpaid servants, Elinoreis upheld by the gender ideology of her time. For example, The Victorian Girland the Feminine Ideal argues that "the good daughter was gentle,loving, self-sacrificing and innocent" (Gorham 1982: 37). Boylaninterrogates not only Elinore's behavior as an individual, but theeconomic forces and gender, religious, and class ideologies that compel herto act as she does.

"Mothers, and the women within them, have been trapped in therole of she who satisfies need but has no access to desire" (Irigaray1993: 51). Maybe it is in reaction to her lack of access to desire thatElinore habitually hides in her drawing-room playing with her dolls, whileignoring her children. The dolls enable Elinore to enjoy playing atmothering, but her real children require work. Elinore's regression intogirlish play is an escape from her children's demands and her ownfrustrated desires. When young Elinore had acted on her desire to follow theplot of Wuthering Heights through eloping with handsome, working-class DannyDevlin, it resulted in what she considers a disaster; Elinore curses EmilyBronte as she faces her tenth pregnancy. The other desire Elinore now pursuesis more socially acceptable than was her passion for young Danny. Elinorewants to bear sons, since even her disapproving mother might then considerher a success: "A woman was nothing unless she had a son" (HR 34).Elinore here mirrors the sexism of her era. Raising her sons as Protestantsand her daughters as Catholics like their father, Elinore puts herdaughters' meagre earnings into educating their brother, Will. Withpatience and determination, Elinore makes Will into a British officer wholeads a genteel, happy life until he is killed, at 37, during World War I.After his death, Elinore gradually declines into the madness in which sheends her life. Boylan shows the sad outcome for Elinore of caring only abouther sons, not her daughters. Ironically, Elinore's neglected Catholicdaughters survive, while her cherished Protestant son is sacrificed to theBritish empire that she bred him to love.

Home Rule and Holy Pictures mix comedy with tragedy to critiquethe damaging relationships of Elinore and Daisy with their daughters andhusbands. Michael Patrick Gillespie describes "the particularly Irishliterary inclination to integrate comedy (especially when tinged withridicule) into the most tragic of topics" (1996: 121). Boylan may havelearned that technique from Swift, Joyce, Beckett, Molly Keane, and FlannO'Brien. Comedy does not detract from Boylan's fiction'sdepth, however. Mikhail Bakhtin writes that through laughter, "the worldis seen anew, no less (and perhaps more) profoundly than when seen from theserious standpoint" (1968: 66). That may be particularly true for themarginalized woman writer questioning disparities of gender. "From Behn... there exists a tradition of women's comedy informed by and speakingto the experience of being female in a world where that experience isdevalued" (Barreca 1994: 28); in other words, "women's writingof comedy is characterized by its thinly disguised rage" (Barreca 1994:21). In line with this, anger erupts through Boylan's narrator, andespecially during Elinore's speeches. For example, Elinore mixes humorwith resentment when she explains that Danny misunderstood her youthfulallusions to Wuthering Heights: "'Whatever our souls are made of,yours and mine are the same,' I [Elinore] told him. She gave a sourlaugh. 'Do you know what he said?' 'Are you a Catholictoo?'" (HR 30).

After her father's fatal accident, Daisy blames herself,because she had wished him dead. As another result of being molested, Daisybecomes unusually modest; this is seen when she goes swimming wearing adress. As a teenager, she refuses to wear attractive clothes, insteaddressing like a child. Elinore cannot understand why Daisy refuses to grow upand make the most of her unusual beauty: "To see the prettiest of herdaughters in this gauche state of denial was almost as diasappointing asseeing another flaunting her body in vulgar entertainments" (HR 115).Elinore does not know that Daisy has good reasons to fear being attractive.The consequences of Daisy's dread of adulthood haunt her own children;like Elinore's daughters, Nan and Mary must tend their mother as thoughthey were the parents and she was the child. Little Nan thinks of Daisy:"Already, she seemed to know that she was there for her mother, ratherthan her mother being there for her" (Holy Pictures 216). Nan copes withher disappointment in Daisy by becoming the mother to Daisy that Nan wishesshe had for herself. Boylan portrays Daisy's unconscious reproduction ofthe family structure that victimized her, and now hurts Nan.

Like her mother before her, Daisy sees love as determined byGothic conventions. Masse writes of heterosexual relationships that,"Every girl, and every Gothic heroine, learns that it is only in themirror of his [the beloved's] regard that she exists, only in theplenitude of his subjectivity that she is whole" (1992: 90). Beforemarriage, Daisy is the insecure one. Daisy undergoes periods of anxiety whenCecil does not write to her: "She would do anything to recover themoment when he asked her to marry him, to recapture that confidence" (HR164). Daisy recalls his phrase about being set on fire by her beauty:"By such a careless phrase could a man waste a woman's youth"(HR 185). To rekindle Cecil's interest, Daisy has Janey write himpassionate letters; Daisy signs the letters without reading them. Cecilbegins to write her daily, to Daisy's relief. Here the underside ofromance comically appears in Janey's letters that border on soft porn.Ironically, while Cecil fantasizes about their potential physical love,Daisy, like a heroine in a fairy tale, waits for her handsome prince to saveher from becoming an old maid. Similarly, as a child Daisy had waited for hergood-looking father to rescue her from her mother's rejection, thenfound his abuse instead.7 After waiting for Cecil for five years,Daisy's beauty dims. When he finally arrives, he is just as good-lookingas he was five years ago. The narrator explains: "Passing women admiredhim and then appraised his mousy partner [Daisy]. Her heart was sore withworship. She felt speechless and despairing" (189). As Masse comments,"women's devaluation enables and maintains men'sovervaluation. . ." (1992: 90). Daisy's abject relation to Cecilsomewhat comically echoes her brief spell as a potential bride of Christ.

Notwithstanding brief spells of joy, Mags and Cecil'smarriage has problems that recall those of Elinore and Danny. In bothgenerations, Dublin neighbors admire the husband for hisaltruism--Danny's of the physically heroic type, and Cecil's of thephilanthropic. Cecil, as a successful businessman, can afford to bephilanthropic, whereas Danny as a poor man could only act heroically. The twomen's contrasting styles of charity coincide with Bourke'sobservation that women in Ireland were better fed in 1914 than in 1890 (262).This is reflected in the improved adult economic status of Mags (and hersisters Beth, Janey and, ultimately, Lena) compared with Elinore.Nevertheless, Mags, like Elinore before her, resents what she regards as herhusband's dangerous hobby of charity. Cecil brings homeless people hometo stay in their house overnight, and they are routinely robbed as a result.A snob like her mother, Mags hates entertaining the poor, feeling that theycontaminate her drawing-room. Some of Cecil's charity cases are women,whom Nellie, the maid, suspects that Cecil seduces. Instead of molesting hisdaughter as Danny does, Cecil compensates for his wife's disinterest insex by quietly pursuing other women, including Mags's sister, Ba. Inboth Danny and Elinore's and Daisy and Cecil's marriage, a youngfemale relative becomes the lonely husband's victim--first Daisy ofDanny, then Ba of Cecil.


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