The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue Summary

Edna O’Brien


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Country Girls. Caithleen “Kate” Brady has an adolescent worldview. Her mother is beautiful but depressed, while Kate’s father is a vicious drunk who oppresses and abuses his wife and child. The Bradys own a farm with a beautiful house that they cannot afford. Kate is an only child.

Kate has a schoolgirl crush on Jacques de Maurier, a solicitor in their village who the townspeople have nicknamed Mr. Gentleman for his foreign and gallant ways.

Bridget “Baba” Brennan is Kate’s age but is spiteful, unintelligent, and beautiful. Baba frequently bullies and humiliates Kate, but Kate feels helpless to stop it. Somehow, the girls are drawn to one another. Kate envies Baba her kind father while Baba envies Kate her intelligence and quiet demeanor.

Kate earns a scholarship to a convent school, the same day she learns that her house is mortgaged and that Baba is going to the same convent in the fall. While at Baba’s house, Kate soon discovers that her mother has drowned while out with another man. Her childhood is over. She remains with the Brennan family over the summer and feels conflicted: She is happy to be safe from the fists of her father, but she is devastated by the loss of her mother.

Mr. Gentleman sees Kate waiting for the bus to Limerick and gives her a lift. At lunch, he flirts with her, and on the way home in the car, he holds her hand. This day becomes a precious memory for Kate.

The convent is a cold, loveless place where the girls band together against the grim atmosphere. Both girls despise it here and eventually are expelled for writing a vulgarity on a holy card. Reveling in their newfound freedom, Kate and Baba are unrepentant when chastised by their respective families over the incident. Caithleen has a distant and uncomfortable relationship with her father but finds a new friend in Mr. Brennan, Baba’s father, who protects her from the wrath of her own father. He is kind to her as well.

Baba goes to Dublin for technical school, and Caithleen goes with her because there is nothing left for her at home. She works in a grocery store, and both girls room with a German couple, Joanna and Gustav, in Dublin. Kate becomes more outspoken and does not let Baba bully her. They become close friends, and Baba frequently finds double dates with dull but rich older men. Neither girl is looking for a life partner at this point. Mr. Gentleman finds Kate in Dublin and begins an illicit, albeit chaste, affair with her.

Baba becomes ill with tuberculosis and goes to a sanatorium for six months. Meanwhile, Kate continues her affair with Mr. Gentleman, and they plan a vacation to Vienna to consummate their relationship. Kate waits for Mr. Gentleman to show up, but she receives only a telegram that ends their affair.

The Lonely Girl. Kate has been in Dublin for two years and is still working at the grocery store and living with Baba at Joanna and Gustav’s house. The girls date indiscriminately, typically rich older men, and happily remain unattached until Kate meets Eugene Gaillard at a party. Eugene, an older documentary-film director, treats the girls and another man to dinner, and Kate is smitten. She runs into Eugene the next week and is treated to tea. After weeks apart, Kate invites him to tea. They commence a relationship, even though he has reservations.

Eugene starts seeing Kate regularly and buys her a new coat. One evening he comes to tea at Kate’s lodging house, where he flirts all evening with Baba. Kate soon learns that Eugene is married, but she still agrees to go with him to his country house. At the country house, Eugene tells Kate the story of his marriage to a woman named Laura. Still, they continue dating. Kate spends Christmas with Eugene, who attempts to seduce her several times over the next few days; Kate is still a virgin and very afraid, so she does not have sex with him. She returns to her old life in Dublin, fearing...

(The entire section is 1625 words.)

The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

With The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue, Edna O’Brien served notice that there was a new voice on the literary scene. From the detailed, evocative first page, with its shock to the senses of the cold linoleum on bare feet (her bedroom slippers are, on her mother’s orders, to be saved for visits to uncles and aunts), the preteen Caithleen Brady arises to the smell of frying bacon. She is anxious; her father has not come home after his night out. Shy and sensitive, she tells her first-person story, and she shares the action with her friend and alter ego, the volatile and sometimes malicious Bridget Brennan (Baba). O’Brien quickly establishes what will be recurrent themes in her fiction: the dysfunctional family, with the drunken, brutal father and the martyred, overprotective mother, the search of her protagonist for a personal identity with which she can be happy, against the splendidly realized world of Ireland in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

It is a world divided into warring camps, male and female, church and laity, and country and town, where Caithleen’s aspirations toward romantic love are doomed to failure. Her mother having drowned, Caithleen spends her mid-teen years boarding in a strict convent school, with its lingering smell of boiled cabbage, from which she and Baba contrive eventually to be expelled for writing a “dirty” note. In their late teens, joyously, they come to Dublin, Baba to take a business course, Caithleen to work as a grocer’s assistant until she can take the civil service examinations. Loneliness, however, follows them: Baba contracts tuberculosis; Caithleen’s man-friend, Mr. Gentleman (Jacques de Maurier), disappoints her. He is the first in a long line of rotters whom O’Brien’s heroines encounter, such as the ugly father, Eugene Gaillard, Herod, and Dr. Flagger. In O’Brien’s fictions, such unsavory types far outnumber the few good men with decent inclinations, such as Hickey the servant-man, and, in Casualties of Peace, the black man, Auro.

The Lonely Girl continues the girls’ saga; Baba is healthy again. It is, however, largely Caithleen’s story, and she is the narrator. The repressive effects of Caithleen’s family, her village community, and her convent education are again graphically shown. Caithleen becomes romantically involved with Eugene Gaillard, whose face reminds her of a saint and who is about the same height as her father; he is a cultivated snob and is often cold in bed and in the salon....

(The entire section is 1025 words.)