Green fields and blue roads: The melancholy of the girl walker in Irish women’s fiction

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O'Connor, Maureen
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Lawrence Buell has observed that ‘Ecology as green … perpetuates the implication of binary nature-culture separation … and understates the potential for self-intoxicated fetishization of greenery’. The fetishization of greenery has unique connotations for cultural production in Ireland, a country inevitably identified with the colour and with romanticized landscapes. This essay will examine the establishment and maintenance of the myth of ‘natural’ and pure womanhood, a fetishized commodity central to constructions of twentieth-century Irishness, as represented in novels by three contemporary writers, Clare Boylan, Edna O’Brien, and Éilís Ní Dhuinhne. The discussion will focus on the figure of the girl walking through the Irish landscape, a setting against which the girl appears both as a ‘natural’ reproductive resource to be cultivated for exploitation and as an embodiment of the contradictions subtending her position caught between ideas of the cultural and the natural. These Irish women’s texts, to borrow Joe Kennedy’s phrase, ‘puncture the pastoral’, often by complicating notions of the countryside as retreat and haven, a challenge with implications for women’s place in imagining Irish national identity. The girls’ relationship to the landscape through which they travel is a traumatised one. At once captured and troubled by their own reduction to the ‘natural’, their valuation as reproductive resource, they are drawn to the ‘green’ world, even as they recognise the dangers it represents.
Ecocriticism , Ecofeminism , Ecotheory , Environmental humanities , Environmentalism , Irish fiction , Irish women’s writing , Material ecocriticism
O'Connor, M. (2017) 'Green Fields and Blue Roads: The Melancholy of the Girl Walker in Irish Women’s Fiction', Critical Survey, 29(1), pp. 90-104. doi:10.3167/cs.2017.290106
This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedited version of an article published in Critical Survey. The definitive publisher-authenticated version is available online at: