ACIS Logo The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable

Even though the Irish child sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have appeared steadily in the media, many children remain in peril.

In The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature, Joseph Valente and Margot Gayle Backus examine modern cultural responses to child sex abuse in Ireland. Using descriptions of these scandals found in newspapers, historiographical analysis, and 20th- and 21st-century literature, Valente and Backus expose a public sphere ardently committed to Irish children’s souls and piously oblivious to their physical welfare. They offer historically contextualized and psychoanalytically informed readings of scandal narratives by nine notable modern Irish authors who actively, pointedly, and persistently question Ireland’s responsibilities regarding its children. Through close, critical readings, a more nuanced and troubling account emerges of how Ireland’s postcolonial heritage has served to enable such abuse.

The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature refines the debates on why so many Irish children were lost by offering insight into the lived experience of both the children and those who failed them.

“This is a provocative, cogent, and compelling appraisal of the ways in which the history of institutional cruelty and child  abuse shaped Irish literature. Through a series of subtle, detailed, sometimes dazzling re-readings of a century of fiction, it also illuminates how literature reshaped national identity in turn to insist on a reckoning with that history. A powerful work of scholarship, The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature is relevant  not just to Irish Studies, but to Memory Studies, psychoanalytic criticism and to anyone interested in the relationship between cultural and social change.”

~Gerardine Meaney]]>

“The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable is a stunning, powerful, and moving display of a number of registers at once: a sharp and breathtaking literary criticism, a theoretically astute and rigorous psychoanalytical analysis, and a searing portrayal of the biopolitical terrains of the abusive structures of the Irish psycho-sexual imaginary. In this consequential book, the scandal(s) of widespread child abuse in Ireland, made so patently visible in the revelatory discourses of journalism of the post-90s period onward, are deftly refigured as having a long 20th century literary history of in-depth and complex representation.”

Claire Bracken, Irish Feminist Futures, Union College

“The volume is a tour de force.”

~Seán Kennedy

Published on: November 30, 2020