The natural world behaves in unexpected ways in twentieth-century Irish women’s fiction about girlhood. Girls are at once reduced to natural resources, ripe for exploitation, and instructed relentlessly in their social duties, which more often than not require they resist their ‘natural’ urges. The novels considered here – Holy Pictures by Clare Boylan, Down by the River by Edna O’Brien, and The Dancers Dancing by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne – feature girls moving towards the assumption of the roles of wife and mother they are expected to play as mature women. The girls walk roads of many colours through green landscapes that inspire contradictory responses of rebellion against and weary acceptance of their culture’s messages about a woman’s ‘natural’ place in post-Independence Ireland.
Maureen O’Connor lectures in the School of English at University College Cork. Author of The Female and the Species: The Animal in Irish Women’s Writing (2010), she has also edited and co-edited several essay collections and special journal issues and has published widely on Irish women writers and the environment.