The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature
Writing the Unspeakable
Published by: Indiana University Press
Even though the Irish child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have appeared steadily in the media, many children remain in peril.
In The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature, Joseph Valente and Margot Gayle Backus examine modern cultural responses to child sex abuse in Ireland. Using descriptions of these scandals found in newspapers, historiographical analysis, and 20th- and 21st-century literature, Valente and Backus expose a public sphere ardently committed to Irish children's souls and piously oblivious to their physical welfare. They offer historically contextualized and psychoanalytically informed readings of scandal narratives by nine notable modern Irish authors who actively, pointedly, and persistently question Ireland's responsibilities regarding its children. Through close, critical readings, a more nuanced and troubling account emerges of how Ireland's postcolonial heritage has served to enable such abuse.
The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature refines the debates on why so many Irish children were lost by offering insight into the lived experience of both the children and those who failed them.
Introduction: The Enigmatic History of Imperiled Innocence
1. "An Iridescence Difficult to Account for": Sexual Initiation in Joyce's Fiction of Development
2. Between (Open) Secret and Enigma: Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices, and the Stylistic Invention of Lesbian (In)visibility
3. Country Girl: Groomed, Seduced, and Abandoned
4. From the Pits and Ditches Where People Have Fallen: Sex Scandal and the Reinvention of the Irish Public Sphere in Keith Ridgway's The Long Falling
5. Retrofitting Ireland's Architecture of Containment in Tana French's In the Woods
6. "Roaring Inside Me": The Enigma of Sexual Violence in The Gathering
Epilogue: What About Brendan?
Bibliography of Images
The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable is a stunning, powerful, and moving display of a number of registers at once: a sharp and breathtaking literary criticism, a theoretically astute and rigorous psychoanalytical analysis, and a searing portrayal of the biopolitical terrains of the abusive structures of the Irish psycho-sexual imaginary. In this consequential book, the scandal(s) of widespread child abuse in Ireland, made so patently visible in the revelatory discourses of journalism of the post-90s period onward, are deftly refigured as having a long 20th century literary history of in-depth and complex representation. Engaging Laplanche's psychoanalytic theory of the enigmatic signifier, which simultaneously attests to trauma, jouissance, displacement and the inaccessibility of the unspeakable, the study accounts for how fiction viscerally and structurally attends to the scandals, devastations, and silences of child abuse, folding author and reader into the enigmatic psycho-dynamics of narratives of sexual initiation. The concluding chapters on contemporary Irish literature provide vital paradigms for the representational and political economies of the scandals of child abuse post-revelation. The magnificent final chapter and epilogue on Anne Enright's The Gathering bring this exceptional study to its most powerful and accomplished conclusion, pointing to the systemic and saturated structuring of child abuse in the Irish cultural imaginary, as well as to how scandal culture maintains occlusions and dialectic inequities in the practices of scandal revelation itself, where certain abuses get remembered while others remain buried and forgotten. For all of these reasons, not least of which is the brilliant analytic precision and wide ranging vision of its literary scholarship, the importance of The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable cannot be overstated, establishing for the field of Irish Studies a vital theoretical and representational framework for thinking of and through the ethical functions and potentialities of Irish literature to address the social and cultural exploitations of both past, present and—as the epilogue so importantly points—future.~Claire Bracken
This is a provocative, cogent, and compelling appraisal of the ways in which the history of institutional cruelty and child abuse shaped Irish literature. Through a series of subtle, detailed, sometimes dazzling re-readings of a century of fiction, it also illuminates how literature reshaped national identity in turn to insist on a reckoning with that history. A powerful work of scholarship, The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature is relevant not just to Irish Studies, but to Memory Studies, psychoanalytic criticism and to anyone interested in the relationship between cultural and social change.~Gerardine Meaney, author of Unlike Subjects: Women, Theory, Fiction
The volume is a tour de force.~Seán Kennedy
Through the generous support of the TOME Project, Indiana University Press is pleased to make this monograph freely-available as an Open Access monograph. To download, visit https://publish.iupress.indiana.edu/projects/the-child-sex-scandal-and-modern-irish-literature.