“I have great admiration for the work of Mary Lavin…”: Diarmaid Ferriter
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I have great admiration for the work of Mary Lavin, who published her first collection of short stories, Tales from Bective Bridge, in 1942, because she did so much that decade and subsequently to skilfully map what she described as the “vagaries and contrarieties” of the human heart, especially the female heart.
She tackled social taboos, the dark forces of family life and the private battles to maintain a spirited defiance in the face of class prejudices and cruelties; a social reality far removed from the official image of nationalist Ireland.
The Long Ago (1944) deals with a girl who elopes, is rejected by her family, but refuses to bend. The Becker Wives (1946) gives us an insight into middle-class tensions and snobberies, the constant pressures to conform and the way in which those who did not were cast aside.
She also drew heavily on her own experiences and her complex psychology to delineate the conflicts of the mind; the delusions, the desires and how they are managed, but her craft was not just about depicting bleakness, as seen in The Middle of the Fields (1967), about the independence of widows, who do no wallow in grief but adapt, confront and liberate themselves.
Diarmaid Ferriter is Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD.