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This review is taken from PN Review 222, Volume 41 Number 4, March - April 2015.

Giving Women a Voice jody allen randolph, Eavan Boland (Contemporary Irish Writers) (Cork University Press) €49

In Eavan Boland Jody Allen Randolph conveys passion for her subject by means of sensitive analysis of primary texts and lucid, jargon-free prose. She takes us through Boland’s early frustrations – ‘A woman’s life was not honoured. At least no one I knew suggested that it was exemplary in the way a poet’s was’ (Object Lessons, Carcanet, 1995, p. x) – on to her development of a feminist aesthetic that narrows the ‘gap between the constructed narrative of history and the silences and disappearances buried beneath it’ (p. 2). Art (particularly pictorial art) is a strong reinforcer of such narratives. For the most part, Allen Randolph allows Boland to tell her own story via biography, poetry and critical prose (Object Lessons and A Journey with Two Maps (Carcanet, 2011)), which Allen Randolph then supplements with well-balanced surveys of the key criticism and an account of Ireland’s troubled history set against its dramatic economic transformation. The McAleese Report (2013) and subsequent state apology to the inmates of the Magdalene Laundries is presented as the watershed moment in escaping some of this dark past.

In spite of Boland’s own privileged background as a diplomat’s daughter, the excluded outsider experience is central to her poetic development both through growing up abroad and her own connections with that dark past. Knowing that her grandfather ran a workhouse and that ‘her father’s security and status was built on the colonial quicksand of the nineteenth century’ (p. 13), she could not remain distant from the plight of any destitute ...

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