The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue Essay - Critical Essays

Edna O’Brien

Critical Evaluation

Revolutionary for their honest discussions of sexual situations and Irish societal taboos, Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, The Lonely Girl, and Girls in Their Married Bliss constitute a body of literature—the Country Girls trilogy—that challenged and changed the landscape of Irish and, arguably, modern fiction. O’Brien was born in Tuamgraney, County Clare, Ireland, in 1930, and did not begin writing until just before she published her first novel in 1960. She has a vast body of work that includes novels, short stories, poetry, drama, translations, and biography.

O’Brien was long deprived of inclusion in the canon for her refusal to follow conformist principles of writing in regard to typical plot contrivances, character portrayals (especially of male characters), and subject matter. She is now embraced with respect and acknowledgment from academia. Indeed, until about the year 2000, a reader may have been hard-pressed to find but few of her short stories anthologized, whereas a few years later, entire academic conferences, as well as academic journal articles and scholarly books, began their studies of her work. Praised as well as panned by critics over the years, O’Brien is a literary luminary who broke the bounds of the expectations set upon women writers in general and Irish women writers specifically.

The Country Girls trilogy was banned in Ireland because of its frank sexual matter and disavowal of cherished Irish societal customs. The novels refuse to lionize the institutions of marriage, marital fidelity, and motherhood, and instead bring to the fore a questioning of those traditions. Kate Brady, a young woman who searches doggedly for romantic love, only to be disappointed time and again, demonstrates the impossibility of a love that denies the self in favor of obsession with the love object. Baba Brennan, the beautiful but abrasive counter to Kate, fares no better when she chooses material security over emotional fulfillment. While some may argue that the stories of Kate and Baba are reminders that progress comes in stages, others argues that their stories serve only as painful reminders that realistic stories of women often end unhappily. O’Brien presents fully developed women who are heavily flawed but always realistic, and they serve to mirror the problems with the prescribed roles allotted to women in Irish society at this time.

O’Brien centers her attention on female characters, some say to the detriment of her male characters. Critics have accused O’Brien of developing only villainous male characters, a contrivance, they argue, that ends up detracting from the verisimilitude of her texts. In terms of The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue, it is important to note that the points of view are female, and while many of the males fare...

(The entire section is 1160 words.)