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Too Smart to Be Sentimental

Contemporary Irish American Women Writers

Edited by Sally Barr Ebest and Kathleen McInerney

Publication Year: 2008

In a series of critical and biographical essays, Too Smart to Be Sentimental offers a feminist literary history of twentieth-century Irish America. This collection introduces the reader to the works of twelve contemporary Irish American women writers, some of whom are well known, such as Joyce Carol Oates, Alice McDermott, and Tess Gallagher, and some of whom are equally deserving of recognition. Each chapter focuses on a particular writer, describes and discusses that writer's most important works, contextualizes the discussion with relevant biographical material, and highlights why the writer is representative of the Irish American literary tradition. Too Smart to Be Sentimental —the first critical study of contemporary Irish American women authors—will be invaluable to students and scholars of Irish studies and Irish American literature.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. viii-xiv

A brief glance at the index, introduction, or any of the articles in this collection quickly reveals the person who laid the groundwork for this study: Charles Fanning. Charlie’s 1990 edition of The Irish Voice in America was the first to recognize and pay scholarly attention to a wide range of Irish...

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Introduction Writing Green Thoughts

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pp. 1-24

When the first wave of Irish immigrants arrived on our shores 250 years ago, they brought with them the Irish literary tradition. With this, they created Irish American literature—“one of the oldest and largest bodies of ethnic writing produced by members and descendants of a single...


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pp. 25

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CHAPTER 1 Mary McCarthy Too Smart to Be Sentimental

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pp. 27-51

It is only fitting that we begin this volume with Mary McCarthy, for she single-handedly reformulated the Irish American literary tradition characterizing her female predecessors. Charles Fanning describes the nineteenthand twentieth-century Irish American literary tradition in the following...

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CHAPTER 2 Maureen Howard’s “Landscapes of Memory”

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pp. 52-80

As I walked up the steps of the New York Public Library to meet Maureen Howard, the sky was slowly darkening, even though it was only 11:00 in the morning. Hurricane Isabel was on the way, so the darkness seemed oddly appropriate. Already I imagined I saw Howard’s characters around...

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CHAPTER 3 Moments of Kindness,Moments of Recognition The Achievement of Maeve Brennan

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pp. 81-94

Maeve Brennan was born in Ireland in 1917 and spent her formative years in Ranelagh, a residential neighborhood in Dublin. In 1934, at age seventeen, she left Ireland and moved with her family to Washington, D.C., where her father Robert Brennan took a diplomatic post in the service


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pp. 95

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CHAPTER 4 “Forget about Being Irish” Family, Transgression, and Identity in the Fiction of Elizabeth Cullinan

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pp. 97-115

Louise Gallagher, a young woman having lunch with her married lover, fusses over her omelet—it is meatless Friday—in a Manhattan restaurant. Speaking of the menu, Louise says, “Fish will always mean Catholic to me, and . . . Catholic meant Irish and Irish meant lower class.” Her lover admonishes

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CHAPTER 5 Alice McDermott’s Narrators

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pp. 116-136

The novels of Alice McDermott share common themes and concerns developed with a richness of language and narrative skill located, usually, in a female persona who serves as both character and narrator. This figure, whose ironic, witty, intuitive, and ultimately wise voice guides the reader...


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pp. 137

CHAPTER 6 Tess Gallagher A Network of Sympathies and Distant Connections

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pp. 139-156

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CHAPTER 7 “I’m Your Man” Irish American Masculinity in the Fiction of Joyce Carol Oates

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pp. 157-168

Joyce Carol Oates was born in Lockport, in upstate New York, but her family’s background epitomizes the ethnic diversity of America’s immigrant history. Oates’s maternal grandparents, Stephen and Elizabeth Bush, were born in Hungary and arrived in America in 1902, settling in Buffalo


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pp. 169

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CHAPTER 8 Hardly SentimentalThe “Bad Girls” and Lonely Men of Mary McGarry Morris’s Fiction

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pp. 171-188

Sometimes compared to William Faulkner and Charles Dickens (Gilbert) and echoing the regionalism of Flannery O’Connor and Carson McCullers, Irish American novelist Mary McGarry Morris provides readers with a wide array of variations on quintessential Irish and Irish American traits and

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CHAPTER 9 Blurring Boundaries Eileen Myles and the Irish American Identity

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pp. 189-198

Charles Fanning’s inclusion of Eileen Myles in his seminal The Irish Voice in America indicates his recognition of the evolution not only of Irish American realism but also Irish American identity. Much of twentieth-century Irish American writing reflects the dominance of realism and explains...


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pp. 199

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CHAPTER 10The World of Mary Gordon Writing from the “Other Side”

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pp. 201-219

Among Irish and Irish Americans the “other side” denotes America, the land of plenty on the other side of the Atlantic. It is a place many imbue with dreams and desires, while others associate it with an escape from the persecutions and suffering of their forebears. For those who crossed to...

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CHAPTER 11 Jean McGarry Sojourners Between Dreams and Realities

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pp. 220-232

Jean McGarry is a professor of fiction in the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University. To date she has published six volumes: four collections of short stories and two novels. Brought up in an Irish Catholic community in Providence, Rhode Island (she was born on June 18, 1952)...

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CHAPTER 12 Erin McGraw Expanding the Tradition of Irish American Women Writers

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pp. 233-247

An armless, legless sixteen-year-old girl elopes with a love-sick farm boy. A middle-aged professor graduates from picking her students’ pockets to kidnapping a baby. An elderly woman takes voice lessons so she will speak clearly when she calls the man of her dreams—a talk-radio host. Such...

About the Contributors

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pp. 248-250


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pp. 251-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780268078621
E-ISBN-10: 0268078629
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268027735
Print-ISBN-10: 0268027730

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2008

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Irish Americans -- Ethnic identity.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Irish Americans in literature.
  • American literature -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- Irish American authors -- History and criticism.
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