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A Big House Divided: Images of Irish Nationhood in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation

Jennifer A. Slivka


In Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation (1994), the house, a microcosm for the nation, along with its marginalized occupants, reflect the borders between North and South, past and present. By critically interrogating the ways in which O’Brien’s dilapidated Big House becomes an uncanny borderland, this essay unpacks the ways in which the Irish nation attempts to define itself by “evicting” those who disrupt the laws of state and gender.

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Ce document sera publié en ligne en texte intégral en novembre 2020.


A Divided Nation, Home, and Self
Crossing Borders into (Dis)comfort Zones

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Demands for stronger borders are often framed as preserving and unifying national culture, but in actuality, operate as a way to allay fears of invasion from an external antagonist. But as Edna O’Brien’s fiction demonstrates, the antagonist is not always foreign, nor do borders simply control who enters or leaves. Kathryn Conrad notes that borders are “way[s] to imagine the limits of power, mobility, and the body in space”; in particular, the body borders of Irish women have long been “site[s] of ideological battle”. Similar to other postcolonial nations, Irish women have a long history of being “bearers of national culture”; indeed, Elleke Boehmer observes that “woman-as-sign buttresses national imagining […] gender has been to date, habitual and apparently intrinsic to national imagining” for postcolonial nations, to the extent that “nationalism and gender have been deployed mutually to invoke and constitute one another (while at the same time being constituted […] in relation to ...

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Jennifer A. Slivka, « A Big House Divided: Images of Irish Nationhood in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation  », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 43-2 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 novembre 2020, consulté le 19 janvier 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/etudesirlandaises.5926

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Jennifer A. Slivka

Dr. Jennifer A. Slivka is Associate Professor of English and Women's & Gender Studies at Virginia Wesleyan University, where she is also Director of the Women's Resource Center. Jennifer researches the politics of identity, place, and trauma in contemporary Irish women's writing and teaches British and Post-colonial Literatures, along with Gender Theory. Her publications include "Irishness and Exile in Edna O'Brien's Wild Decembers and In the Forest" in New Hibernia Review and "History and the ‘I’ Trapped in the Middle: Negotiating the Past in Roth's The Ghost Writer and The Plot Against America" in Philip Roth Studies.

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