miércoles, 9 de mayo de 2012

Girl With Green Eyes by Edna O'Brien

It is fifty years since Edna O’Brien published Girl With Green Eyes. It is conventional nowadays to regard the late 1950s and early 1960s as an era when sexual liberation was beginning. This may be accurate. Certainly the men in Edna O’Brien’s novel seem to bear no little responsibility for any of their sexual activity, whilst the women, who are usually willing partners, take all the risks and bear all the responsibilities. The girl with green eyes uses several versions of her name. They appear to be applied randomly. She is whoever circumstance demands. She is Cait, Caithleen, or even Kate, depending on who is speaking, or where and when the action happens. Cait was previously one of the girls who were Country Girls and the Girl With Green Eyes forms the second part of a trilogy following these young women’s progress from rural assumptions to urban freedom, of sorts. In Girl With Green Eyes the young women have moved to Dublin. Events take Cait, just twenty-one, and a mere student in today’s paradigm, back home to the country and then back to town again. She has taken up with Eugene. He is older than her and, God forbid, married – even with a child. The wife lives in America – where else for the separated? – but she always seems close at hand and something of a threat. Cait has completely fallen for her male elect and news gets out. A rescue party from the country arrives to whisk her off back to the protection of home in the west, where alcoholism and threats of violence keep the peace. Her father drinks all day, but then he’s a provincial sort. He may be excused, since he rules his fiefdom. He will hit anyone to protect what needs protecting and daughters are usually top of the list. Cait describes most of her experiences in the first person. Her friend gets pregnant and has to deal with the consequences. Despite all such practices being utterly illegal at the time, everyone seems to know where to go, how to secure the service and what it costs. In general, the women involved seem utterly dependent on securing a man to provide for them, and seem to live at least half in fear of the urges that propel them. There is this ambivalence within all the relationships. The men are keen to go where they want, but generally do not negotiate on the destinations. The women seem keen to explore, but never journey on their own terms, apparently preferring to be taken along with the ride. By the end of the book, there have been changes in Cait’s life. It seems that these changes anticipate the changes that will begin for women in wider society, but in Girl With Green Eyes such progress has achieved only limited changes in women’s expectations of life. The novel thus subtly mirrors what we must assume prevailed in wider society at the time. It thus presents a contemporary reader with a historical perspective that its author perhaps did not consciously consider at the time. It is surely a richer experience for this added dimension.

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