Impure Thoughts: sexuality, Catholicism and literature in twentieth-century Ireland


New book by IASIL member

Impure Thoughts: sexuality, Catholicism and literature in twentieth-century Ireland

Michael G Cronin  (Lecturer in English, NUIM)

Manchester University Press, 2012

ISBN: 9780719086137


Impure Thoughts offers an innovative history of the twentieth-century Irish Catholic bildungsroman. It explains how in the hands of diverse writers, from James Joyce to Edna O’Brien, this popular genre provided an imaginative space where Irish culture thought about, worried over, and negotiated the connection between sexuality and modernity.

This comparative examination of six Irish novelists tracks the historical evolution of a literary genre and its significant role in Irish culture. With chapters on James Joyce and Kate O’Brien, along with studies of Maura Laverty, Patrick Kavanagh, Edna O’Brien and John McGahern, this book offers a fresh new approach to the study of twentieth-century Irish writing and of the twentieth-century novel.

 But these author’s novels were not the only stories of youth circulating in Irish culture during these decades. Impure Thoughts includes an original assessment of varied archival material, most notably Catholic advice pamphlets for teenagers. It maps out the distinctive forms of sexual discourse – from Catholic moral theology to Freudian psychoanalysis – used in various combinations by the novelists and by the proponents of Catholic sexual morality. The result is a nuanced and provocative reappraisal of how sexuality was regulated and controlled in twentieth-century Ireland.