When politics meets sex: Trauma in Edna O'Brien’s house of splendid isolation

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The signing of the controversial Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 was a traumatic experience for many Irish people, not only because of the subsequent Irish Civil War but because of the mental adjustments necessary to life amid the partitioned Ireland(s). Since its emergence during the Anglo-Irish War, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) has managed to terminate British government in Ireland and establish an authentically independent and unified IrishRepublic by means of arms struggle. The traumatic history embedded with the conflicts and compromises of such struggles became a defining subject in Irish writings, and it went on shaping literary and cultural production in succeeding generations as the ideal of a free and unified Ireland continued to be remembered, re-imagined, and re-figured. Such traumatic markings become much more sophisticated in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation (1994) in which the IRA fugitive McGreevy hides out, coexists, and eventually bonds with an aged widow Josie in the dilapidated house. Political turmoil aside, sufferings from love and marriage converge to entangle the trauma. With a series of stories unfolding—the indictment of Josie’s aborted child, the terrorist McGreevy on the run, Josie’s unhappy marriage with an abusive and alcoholic husband, Josie’s illicit love with a priest, the gardi cracking a case, the country caught in a civil war—Edna O’Brien represents the traumatic experiences prevalent in modern Irish society. However, in House of Splendid Isolation these experiences find consolation and transcendence in the mutual understanding of the main characters. In this paper, I plan to discuss how, shifting among the multifarious narrative points of view, the text stitches the interwoven personal, interpersonal, and national traumas. In addition, I am interested in figuring out the role women play in facilitating the sympathetic understanding and reconciliation amid the always already violent and traumatic Ireland.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2011


Chang, T. C. (2011, November). When politics meets sex: Trauma in Edna O'Brien’s house of splendid isolation. Paper presented at the 19th Annual English and American Literature Association Conference: Trauma and literature, National Dong Hwa University, Hualien County, Taiwan.


  • Trauma
  • Edna O’Brien
  • House of splendid isolation


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