Paige Reynolds, "Modernism in Irish Women's Contemporary Writing: The Stubborn Mode" (Oxford UP, 2023)


Paige Reynolds's book Modernism in Irish Women's Contemporary Writing: The Stubborn Mode (Oxford UP, 2023) examines the tangled relationship between contemporary Irish women writers and literary modernism. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, Irish women's fiction has drawn widespread critical acclaim and commercial success, with a surprising number of these works being commended for their innovative redeployment of literary tactics drawn from early twentieth-century literary modernism. But this strategy is not a new one. Across more than a century, writers from Kate O'Brien to Sally Rooney have manipulated and remade modernism to draw attention to the vexed nature of female privacy, exploring what unfolds when the amorphous nature of private consciousness bumps up against external ordering structures in the public world. 

Living amid the tenaciously conservative imperatives of church and state in Ireland, their female characters are seen to embrace, reject, and rework the ritual of prayer, the fixity of material objects, the networks of the digital world, and the ordered narrative of the book. Such structures provide a stability that is valuable and even necessary for such characters to flourish, as well as an instrument of containment or repression that threatens to, and in some cases does, destroy them. The writers studied here, among them Elizabeth Bowen, Edna O'Brien, Anne Enright, Anna Burns, Claire-Louise Bennett, and Eimear McBride, employ the modernist mode in part to urge readers to recognize that female interiority, the prompt for many of the movement's illustrious formal experiments, continues to provide a crucial but often overlooked mechanism to imagine ways around and through seemingly intransigent social problems, such as class inequity, political violence, and sexual abuse.

Disclaimer/apology: Slightly stormy conditions during the recording of the interview led to slightly reduced sound quality.

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Helen Penet

Helen Penet is a lecturer in English and Irish Studies at Université de Lille (France).
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