A Scandalous Woman

by Edna O’Brien
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564

A grown woman recalls her friendship with Eily Hogan, and from the opening paragraph, the reader is alerted by her remark that she has been “connected” with Eily’s life. At first, that connection takes the form of romantic admiration. The narrator sees Eily as a high-spirited person who brings excitement into their dull lives. Their childhood bond, based on play, soon becomes a bond of collusion when Eily begins a sexual relationship with a bank clerk. The narrator helps Eily to cover her tracks when she goes out into the woods to meet Jack, whom they call Romeo, and their shared sense of the danger and sinfulness of what they are doing colors the romantic glow with foreboding. Images of violence and guilt have been prominent from the beginning, even in their childhood games of hospital. This first phase ends in a triumphant scene in which the girls meet in a meadow and Eily produces a bottle of perfume. The narrator’s most intense pleasure in their friendship is focused on this moment.

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When the bank clerk ends the liaison rather brutally, the girls enter a new phase of their collusion. The narrator tries to calm Eily’s suicidal thoughts, and together they visit a fortune-teller. This unpleasant and witchlike character encourages Eily to believe that the dream of Jack’s return will come true. Overlooking the sinister note in the witch’s words, “You’ll end your days with him,” they return home in joyful anticipation of a reunion with Jack. The joy is short-lived, for Eily’s father comes on the lovers one evening. This insanely violent man imprisons Eily in a room, and the narrator’s loyalty is tested as she must deny all knowledge of Eily’s earlier meetings.

The bond between the girls is broken when it becomes apparent that Eily is pregnant, and the Hogan and Brady parents begin to coerce Jack to marry her. They succeed, but in the process, the narrator observes the destruction of Eily’s joyous spirit. It appears that Jack is marrying Eily in hatred and frustration, and the narrator realizes that Eily and other women also are trapped victims of a crude male power structure.

In later years, the narrator’s memories of her affection for Eily return, prompted by glimpses of her. Broken in spirit, she has become the mother of three children in four years, and as her husband prospers in business, she slides into a breakdown. Many years later, the narrator finds her functioning competently in her husband’s business but without feeling or affection except for the narrator’s child. Worse still, she has lost all memory of their joy together as girls. The story ends with an expression of the narrator’s grief and anger at the destruction of women by her native countryside.

The “connection” of the narrator’s life to this image of youthful vitality so brutally destroyed is not made clear, but it is implied that the narrator’s sense of life has been overshadowed by these memories. The “spark” of joyous pleasure of which she became aware was extinguished for her also, and it is hinted that no later experience has given her the same intensity of pleasure or of love. She appears to have married a man who is indifferent to her feelings and lavishes his affections on his vintage car.

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