The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature
Writing the Unspeakable
Published by: Indiana University Press
300 Pages, 3 color illus., 17 b&w illus.
- Published: December 2020
$28.00Add to Cart
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
"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, School of English, Drama and Film, UCD Dublin, author of Unlike Subjects: Women, Theory, Fiction
"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, author of Irish Feminist Futures, Union College, author of Irish Feminist Futures, Union College
"The volume is a tour de force."~Seán Kennedy, Saint Mary's University, Saint Mary's University
"Joseph Valente and Margot Gayle Backus's The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable digs fearlessly into a centurylong literary canon of abused Irish children, unmasking and unmaking the psychological operations that have allowed such abuse, as Fintan O'Toole writes in the book's preface, to long be Ireland's shameful "unknown known" (xiii)."~Renee Fox, University of California, Santa Cruz, Irish Literary Supplement
"The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature is a beautifully written and intellectually stimulating book that casts much needed light on the representation of the child sexual scandal in modern Irish literature. For anyone with the slightest interest in the intersection between literature, psychology, cultural theory and sociology and the light they can cast on Irish society, this book is a must read, provided that one understands that it is a highly academic study not intended for a general audience. It shows how in many respects the trauma associated with child abuse in Ireland is still at an early stage, and that healing will only come slowly."~Eamon Maher, Criminal Law & Criminal Justice Review
"Through intricate and rigorous close readings of literature, ranging from James Joyce to Anne Enright, and nuanced applications of psychoanalytic theory, Valente and Backus outline the way that Irish literature engages modern social and cultural discourse, as well as silence and abstraction, to identify sexual trauma in Ireland since the late nineteenth century. Just as they consistently suggest that intracommunity recognition of child sex scandal in Ireland is essential to recovering the social repression of trauma, they also offer academics a reminder of how we might save the Humanities from dissolution and despair: write, think, and witness together. . . . Put simply: we need more books like this in Irish Studies."~Ellen Scheible, New Hibernia Review
"The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature should be required reading for students of Irish literature and history. . . . I would also recommend that The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable, be recommended reading for psychiatrists, therapists and counselors working with victims of child sex abuse and institutional abuse. As is often the case, writers can illuminate the path forward in understanding."~Adrienne Leavy, Reading Ireland
"In their individual works of the past, Valente and Backus have made meaningful contributions to Irish and Joycean Studies. Working together, however, appears to have allowed them to write a landmark work on how the unspeakable becomes the written across a century of the Irish literary canon."~Mary M. Burke, University of Connecticut, James Joyce Quarterly
"From the very first pages of their book, The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable, Joseph Valente and Margot Gayle Backus, renowned professors and experts investigating the topic of sexuality in Irish literature, do not shy away from touching on controversial issues and raising challenging questions. . . . The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable is a daring and unapologetic book. Moreover, it is also a much-needed addition to the research corpus. Despite the fact that the topic is of vital importance to both Irish literature and culture, the portrayal of pedophilia in Irish novels has not been scrutinized so thoroughly before. Therefore, this book is a must-read for all scholars working within the area of Irish studies."~Aleksandra Sadowska, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (Giessen), Kult Online
"The authors' analysis of literature will be of great use to scholars of modern and contemporary Irish literature and Freudian theory, but the explication of "hidden history" that forms its hinterland will make this volume of interest to anyone seeking to understand the dark energies that fueled independent Ireland's treatment of its most vulnerable citizens. That issue is, quite simply, one with which Ireland is only beginning to come to terms. As such, this is an important book on an important issue."~Mary M. Burke - University of Connecticut, James Joyce Quarterly
"The overarching accomplishment of The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature is its true collaborative form. This text offers a standout example of the opportunities for rich discovery to be had through collaborative scholarship, which I hope to see more of in the field in the future."~Mollie Kervick - United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, Twentieth Century Literature
"The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable is a daring and unapologetic book. Moreover, it is also a much-needed addition to the research corpus. Despite the fact that the topic is of vital importance to both Irish literature and culture, the portrayal of pedophilia in Irish novels has not been scrutinized so thoroughly before. Therefore, this book is a must-read for all scholars working within the area of Irish studies."~Aleksandra Sadowska – International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture, KULT online
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.
A link to download a PDF of this title may be found here: https://publish.iupress.indiana.edu/projects/the-child-sex-scandal-and-modern-irish-literature
New Books Network interview: New Books in Irish Studies
"The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature" Launch Event
Watch the Book Launch Event for "The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature" hosted by Boston College Ireland.
Book Launch: The Child Sex Scandal & Modern Irish Literature by Joseph Valente & Margot Gayle Backus
Watch Maynooth University's launch even for "The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature."
Moore Institute Virtual Event, The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable
Watch the Moore Institute's Irish Studies Seminar Series, featuring Dr. Joseph Valentine and Dr. Margot Gayle Backus in a discussion of "The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature."