A Female Odyssey of Romantic Illusion: Abject Women in Edna O’Brien’s Five Love Stories

Ann Wan-lih Chang


The essay proposes to study a recurring theme of love and loss in Edna O’Brien’s love stories in which women in a state of abjection become obsessive and hysterical in pursuit of a love which is ultimately unattainable within the sexually colonised cultural environment in which the stories are set. The study analyses the factors underlying the apparent emotional desolation of the heroines in five stories by Edna O’Brien – “The Love Object” (1967), “Paradise” (1968), “Number 10” (1976), “Mrs. Reinhardt” (1978) and “The Doll” (1979). Women’s despair in these stories is manifested symptomatically through hysterical responses such as vomiting, insomnia, or sleepwalking and the ultimately self-destructive consequences of these symptoms. O’Brien tends to intertwine religious symbolism and metaphors with issues of sensuality and sexuality which have traditionally been taboo within a conservative traditional Irish context, in the process creating dark and twisted tales appearing to parody the biblical “paradise lost”. O’Brien’s heroines are often tragically attracted to a doomed love or gain a kind of gratification from the obsessive reliving of their personal afflictions. Rarely presenting any rosy fairy-tale prospect for women in her love stories as outcome of romantic encounters, Edna O’Brien seeks to demonstrate how women’s ongoing struggle and difficulties are manifested through physical neurosis and unrest within a culture in which women are colonised.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13128/SIJIS-2239-3978-25525

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