In response, her work remained modest, often focusing on domestic life: the sound of a kettle boiling, of a child falling asleep.But it also merged the public with the private, and sought to look at a past that was left out of history books, skipping across centuries in a single line, like a camera gliding through time. The following interview was conducted over several long correspondences by email.I was a woman in a house in the suburbs, married with two small children.
BLVR: You once described your experience of coming back to Dublin at age fourteen as follows: “I returned to find that my vocabulary of belonging was missing. I had lost not only a place but the past that goes with it, the clues from which to construct a present self.” EB: In many ways childhood gives a secret language to people, especially if you’re born somewhere and grow up there and recognize the place as your own. For the years, that is, of not being an Irish child. There were gestures, customs, ways of speech I just didn’t have, and never would. That you can build a self out of what’s missing just as much as out of what’s present. BLVR: Watching a reading you once gave at Boston College, you said: “In many ways, Irish history has been a story of heroes; it has been the casting off of oppression.
And I did think once that those missing pieces were clues that helped you build a self. But the past is a very different place.” EB: As a young writer I began to see a real difference between the past and history, and that had a strong influence on me.
It’s instructive to see them struggling at the crossroads of self-awareness and language.
You can see them pondering whether an Irish identity actually exists.
The most wrenching part of the story of the famine is how utterly defenseless people were in the face of a disaster they couldn’t control.
It’s also surprising and revealing when you look at the writing of that time to see how little of it actually turns to what was happening.
And shortly before that her eldest sister died of tuberculosis. Where the scars showed was in her indifference to the past. But I was also aware that in the Irish literary climate in which I found myself, the ordinary or domestic life was a devalued subject matter.
I began writing in the ’60s—a time when people were still defining and redefining the writers who had gone before.
EB: I often go back to nineteenth-century Irish writers.
I go back to writers like Carleton and Samuel Ferguson and Lady Morgan and Kickham.