Social phenomena found in the work Tara Road

Sexuality in Tara Road

One of the most conflicting and interesting social phenomena found in the work Tara Road by Mauve Binchy is female sexuality. Sexuality is this undercurrent of social concern, with traditional old values stressing the need to remain virtuous to win a good mate, and even keep him. Yet, the trick is on the main character as Ria looses her good husband, purportedly because she is no comparison to the other woman, when it comes to desire. Though the work is not that simple in its expression of the sexuality of women the culture itself still dictates decorum, secrecy and intrigue, when it comes to how women express their sexuality.

The interplay of repressed but somehow ever present sexuality is a theme that pervades Mauve Binchy’s Tara Road, from the very beginning. As with most young women the idea was to have a double goal, i.e. present and appearance of innocence while at the same time getting away with as much sexual behavior as you dared, barring making yourself unmarriageable. As Hillary (the 18-year-old older sister) and Ria the 16-year-old main character interact and discuss the need to balance appearances with a certain sense of sensual attraction, the message of their mother Nora Johnson pervades the work.

Nora Johnson thought that men might regard travel as fast. Men preferred to marry safer, calmer women. Women who didn’t go gallivanting too much. It was only sensible to have advance information about men, Nora Johnson told her daughters. This way you could go armed into the struggle. There was a hint that she may not have been adequately informed herself. The late Mr. Johnson, though he had a bright smile and wore his hat at a rakish angle, was not a good provider. (Binchy 4)

This following a conversation between the sisters about the goal of female attractiveness and secret sexual experience, that to some degree divides the public from the private persona for girls in a conservative culture. The girls know deeply that is they are seen as to cold, frigid or “boring” (1) that the boys will pay them little attention and they will not be popular, but then they balance a tightrope, as they also attempt to give an air o innocence and personal control going “armed in to the struggle” as Ria puts it (4). Hilasry, in the mean time enlists Ria, as her co-conspirator to place her handbag in the hall, the signal to her mother that she is safely home, after a night out, even when she is still out on the town, gaining “experience with fellows.” (2)

This theme of the woman as the protector of virtue, though to some degree jaded and sarcastic, is harshly challenged by Ria’s husband’s betrayal of her with an “easy” woman who was obviously willing to have sex not only out of wedlock but with a married man. The proof of her husband’s infidelity comes across as Ria’s shame, as she conceals the separation and the pregnancy of her husband’s mistress. Irish history, in literature and elsewhere has since the beginning of the end of the Celtic period, created sexuality as a dangerous social and physical act, for women that is:

On the physical acts of sex, Irish texts were consistent with the vaguely Galenic and stoic approach of Continental scholars. Early Irish writers agreed with these medical theorists on two main principles of physiology: first, men and women had the same bodies, except that women’s were deficient and less valuable; second, excessive sexual activity — like too much food or exercise — was dangerous to health (Bitel 184)

Irish history in context, and according to knew feminist theories of suppressed culture and the suppressed historically Irish sexuality of women is influential in the work, not directly but as an ideal of the colonial history of Irish cultural and religious suppression and oppression.

It is yet one more short step into the heart of darkness that makes good doctoral theses. Ireland’s pre-Celtic past contains enough menacing female figures to darken any man’s nightmare: the women of the Side – horse-riding goddesses who lured mortals to their death; the erotic stone-carved Sheela-na-gig with open crotch; these are symbols of a powerful sexuality buried by priests promoting celibacy. (Maddox 21)

Binchy herself, even in the modern context stresses the residual conservatism o the Irish with regard to sexuality, and especially the sexuality of women, when she supports the idea that a movie adaptation of her work, Tara Road, be free of serious sexual content.

Maeve Binchy has given the go-ahead for her most successful novel to be turned into a Hollywood movie, providing there are no steamy sex scenes. The & #8230;writer has slapped the amazing ban on the Los Angeles scriptwriter who is adapting Tara Road for the big screen. No-nonsense Maeve, now poised to vet the finished script for any rude bits before casting is allowed to take place. Her agent Christine Green said: “This is not going to be turned into a steaming sex movie. The scriptwriter was chosen with that in was not just given out to anybody. “Tara Road is not a romantic novel, as such. In fact the major character is going through a divorce and the secondary character is suffering from bereavement. “It is true to say there are relationships in it, but the sex is implied, rather than explicit. “But it is not a book about bonking and the film won’t be about bonking either.” (“NO SEX PLEASE WE’RE IRISH” 11)

There is a clear sense that even in the modern novel sex in Ireland is meant to be implicit, rather than explicit, for the sake of storytelling. Sex is an undercurrent but overt sexuality is forbidden by social taboos and mores as much in real life as it is in fiction.

Again near the beginning of the novel the ideal of the girls’ mother to make sure they fulfilled her greatest desire, that of security for her girls.

Their mother had warned them many times that she was not going to stand for any cheap behaviors in the family. A widow woman left with two daughters has enough to worry her without thinking that her girls were tramps and would never get a husband. She would die happy if Hilary and Ria had nice respectable men and homes of their own, Nice homes, in a classier part of Dublin…And the way to find a good man was not by flaunting yourself at every man that came along. (2)

The work is demonstrative of the idea that sexuality and its suspected exisitance is one that develops nto romors and misconceptions, everyone knows it is there so any time a man and woman close a door behind them or spend time together happily they are obviously having sex, …the pregnancy of young Kitty Sullivan, They spoke of Carlotta wanting a fourth husband…When they spoke of Colm Barry, Ria asked whether Marilyn had been having a thing with him. “That was what I heard from a probably ill-informed source, Ria apologized. “Totally wrong. I think he was more interested in waiting until you came home,” Marilyn said. “And on the subject, can I ask whether you had anything going with my brother-in-law?” “No, your husband is quite wrong about that too,” Ria giggled. (630)

The world is an undercurrent of who is having sex with whom, and yet the reality is rarely what is assumed:

People thought she had a much more adventurous and colorful sex life than she had. And Rosemary allowed this view to be widely held. (132)

Ria supported this view of Rosemary, as she and Rosemary simply never discussed the issue, even though it was likely on each one’s mind when they spent time together.

It was like the way they didn’t talk about sex these days. Once they talked of nothing else. That was way back, before Ria had slept with Danny but now they never mentioned the subject at all. Ria never said how Danny still had the power to thrill her just like the early days. And Rosemary didn’t tell of her numerous conquests. Ria knew that she was on the Pill and she had a lot of lovers. She had seen the plans for the large bedroom in Rosemary’s apartment with its luxurious bathroom, Jacuzzi, and twin handbasins. This wasn’t the bathroom of a woman who went to bed to often on her own. (134-135)

Ria and Danny (her estranged husband) talk of the betrayal that has ended their marriage and Ria asks Danny to tell her about Bernadette and what the two of them have that is lacking in her and his relationship. Rightfully so she asks him to refrain from telling her about the possible glorious sex they have. “I don’t mean glorious sex, of course. Calm I may be, but not quite calm enough to hear about that.” “I beg you, don’t bring bitter accusing words into it.” (244) The conversation continues in this one sided way, until Ria explores the fact that she regrets ever brining sex into the conversation, albeit that there must be some sex between the two (Benadette and Danny) as Bernadette is pregnant.

Ria’s son, Brian has a similar take on the subject, believing that achieving the ideal male sexual relationship has been what drove his father out of the house and into the arms of a waiting woman. Though he clearly resents the situation, he is also clear that it makes perfectly good sense.

Then Brian decided that his father had left on account of sex. “That’s what Myles and Dekko say. They say that he went off to her because she’s interested in having sex night and day…(269)

This theme of leaving the sex as an indecent, though accepted aspect of female lives is a theme among many Irish writers. Though this may be changing, given the fact that some of the newer women writers are seeking to stop portraying Irish women as social prudes.

Given the multinational nostalgia market open to popular Irish writers, it is surprising that female authors aiming for the mass market eschew the historical romance, the gothic thrillers, the family sagas and the bonk-buster and instead concentrate over-whelmingly on contemporary narratives. Exponents of the Irish women’s best-seller following Maeve Binchy’s success, writers such as Scanlan, Mary Ryan, Marion Keyes, Cathy Kelly or Sheila Flanagan interrogate the familial and social relations of Irish women in a style that aims to be self-consciously modern. (Cremin 60)

The article itself notes that Irish female authors have been only belatedly recognized, as even Binchy had to seek out U.S. publishers for her first novel, because it was not in the traditional “female” genres. The newer authors are trying to bring women into the 20th century by allowing them to have and involve themselves in cosmopolitan and modern relationships, exclusive of the heterosexual ideal.

Amongst these writers Scanlan’s emphasis on the contemporary is the most marked; ‘immediacy’ is the linchpin of her narrative organisation…The extraordinary popularity of Scanlan’s writing raises important questions, not least concerning its appeal to Irish women and their relationship to their revised allegedly modernised representation therein. & #8230; particular aspects of Patricia Scanlan’s writing, when considered in relation to Ireland’s social and literary history, yield surprising insights. Close examination reveals a significant, and perhaps unexpected fact. Rather than an exclusive drama about conflicted heterosexual love, Scanlan’s readers very often encounter a competing and at times more dominant narrative centered on families and mothers in particular. Scanlan claims her appeal is writing: … about modern Irish women. I wanted to portray their lives, their ambitions. I wanted to show how Irish women are vibrant, glamorous and sexy and as cosmopolitan as American, French, English and other women […] I think I struck a chord! & #8230; (Cremin 60)

Though times and themes are changing, relationships becoming more complex, overt sexuality is still completely lacking from many of even contemporary female writers from Ireland, writing about Ireland. Female sexuality is this secretive, profound but highly controversial social dynamic, where in one case its suspect allow distance producing separation and admiration (such as with Rosemary in the novel) sexual desire is to be expected to be a purely masculine trait. Brian, for instance stresses that he can see why his dad might have left his marriage bed, as he assumes, as most sons do that his mother is all but celibate, while his father’s new mistress is a sexual deviant, that all men might covet but only rarely marry.

Works Cited

Binchy, Mauve. Tara Road. New York: Random House, 1998.

Bitel, Lisa M. “Conceived in Sins, Born in Delights: Stories of Procreation from Early Ireland.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 3.2 (1992): 181-202.

Bitel, Lisa M. Land of Women: Tales of Sex and Gender from Early Ireland. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996.

Bradley, Anthony, and Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, eds. Gender and Sexuality in Modern Ireland. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997.

“Brenda: ‘I’d Love to Have Been a Mum’.” The Daily Mail (London, England) 12 Nov. 2007: 31.

Cassidy, John. “Tara Road Maeve Is Oprah’s Rave; Book Sales Soar after TV Plug.” Sunday Mirror (London, England) 17 Oct. 1999: 28.

Cremin, Kathy. “The Dispersed and Dismissed: (1) the World of Irish Women’s Best-Sellers.” Critical Survey 15.1 (2003): 60.

Gonzalez, Alexander G., ed. Modern Irish Writers: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.

Maddox, Brenda. “A Fine Old Irish Stew.” New Statesman 29 Nov. 1996: 21.

Morris, Sally. “People Power: Interview – Maeve Binchy – Roses Are Read; Best-Selling Author Maeve Binchy Has Turned over A New Leaf with Her Latest Creation. Sally Morris Finds out Why.” Sunday Mirror (London, England) 2 May 1999: 15.

“NO SEX PLEASE WE’RE IRISH; Maeve Slaps Love Ban on Movie of Her Book.” Sunday Mirror (London, England) 14 Jan. 2001: 11.

“A Novel Wake-Up Call for Maeve; Open House: Maeve Binchy, Left, with Ryan Tubridy and Cecelia Ahern at Her Home Yesterday.” The Daily Mail (London, England) 8 May 2008: 23.

Russell, Richard Rankin. “Mullin, Katherine. James Joyce Sexuality and Social Purity.” Studies in the Novel 37.4 (2005): 491.

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