The Irish New Woman by Tina O’Toole (auth.)

By Tina O’Toole (auth.)

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18 However, there are some passages in The Beth Book that appear to betray a deeper understanding of the workings of the imperial machine, which may perhaps be attributed to Grand’s examination of hegemonic structures from a feminist perspective. For instance, quite early in the novel we are given an illustration of the indigenous situation, in which the narrator seems to demonstrate some understanding of the economic basis of colonial oppression: ‘Both men and women were usually in a torpid state, the result, doubtless, of breathing a poisoned atmosphere, and of insufficient food ...

Given Grand’s origins within the colonial classes, it is perhaps to expect too much to expect a re-examination of these basic tenets of her social construction. While Grand’s rejection of patriarchal structures may have challenged the gender imbalance of her society, she was a liberal feminist, that is, she argued for equality for women within a social order she otherwise agreed with, as Mangum has demonstrated. This is reflected in the way she describes the Irish in the Tooley interview, where they are categorized as either servants or peasants, with no mention of an Irish landed gentry or middle classes.

36 During the coach trip, they pass a ‘gentlemen carrying a gun, and attended by a party of armed policemen’. According to her father, this man, Mr Burke, is ‘unpopular just now, and daren’t move without an escort. His life’s not worth a moment’s purchase a hundred yards from his own gate, and I expect he’ll be shot like a dog some day, with all his precautions’ (p. 35). 37 The Boycott case became a signifier in the British media of the ongoing agrarian struggle in Ireland, and thus Grand was able to draw on the awareness of her readership to contextualize the level of threat directed at the colonizing class and, by extension, at her protagonists.

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