Gerald O’Donovan’s novel Vocations (1921) is set in a small town in late Victorian Ireland, and is a searing indictment of the traffic in young women, in the marriage market and the market in nuns.
‘If we don’t sit here where have we to go?’
‘Well, there’s our walk every day. And we are allowed out twice if it is fine, and our boating in summer, and our little visits to the church and to the convents.’
‘And you’re twenty-one and I’m nineteen and a half,’ Kitty said hysterically. ‘My God, what a life! Never allowed to speak to anyone but blind Lanty and a few beggars. Everyone we pass on the street is either someone we’re not allowed to speak to or someone who won’t speak to us. We’re either “the stuck-up Miss Curtins”, or “those dolls, Tom Curtin the publican’s daughters”.’
Winnie and Kitty Curtin, the two daughters of the wealthy grocer, are being firmly driven towards the Sisters of Mercy by their determined mother. Winnie is in love with Father Burke, and Kitty is uselessly in love with Dr Thornton, but their mother is determined that the convent will have them both. Kitty’s furious resistance to becoming a nun is thwarted by a most unattractive suitor, and Winnie’s glad embrace of the veil is driven by her secret passion. But the convent does not control the girls completely, and they take charge of their futures.
Chrissie Van Mierlo’s introduction sets out the cultural and religious background to Vocations, and connects its themes to O’Donovan’s life as a former priest.
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Published on 12 February 2018.
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