Women as National and Mythological Resources

In Eavan Boland’s autobiography, Object Lessons, she mulls deeply over women’s portrayal in Irish literature, remarking that the female identity becomes more akin to an image or a fiction than anything resembling substance. My essay will ask (and try to answer) this question: was a national identity created at the cost of unique Irish mythologies that un-uniquely dilute the experience of women?

For the final paper, I plan to explore the mythologization of women in Irish literature, concentrating on Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I will draw from the passage in which Stephen stumbles upon the “bird girl” who inspires his creative epiphany at the beach. In many of the works we’ve read in class, women are powerfully placed and prioritized, such as Juno in Juno and the Paycock and Mina in Dracula. However, women, particularly in what we’ve read from Yeats and Joyce, are often drawn from a mythological source, a stand-in for a country, an artistic muse, a flowing river. I will expand this topic by placing it within deeper Irish myths of women (such as Kathleen Ni Houlihan) and the ultimate “Mother Ireland” motif. And I will explore the impact this mythmaking of women had in constructing Ireland’s identity during the late 19th/early 20th centuries amid the Irish Literary Revival and WWI, surveying how the symbolic role women played in the creation of Irish identity might have obscured their actual roles. I will concentrate on how women were often emblems of Irish nationhood and what this might reveal about Stephen’s own nationalistic turmoil during the beach scene, asking whether Joyce uses the “bird girl” to illustrate the ideological shallowness of many Irish revivalists or if he perpetuates the pushing of women deeper into a quicksand of abstractions.

Featured Image: “Portrait of Lady Lavery as Kathleen Ni Houlihan” by John Lavery.


  1. I was also contemplating doing a similar topic! The portrayal of women in the readings throughout the quarter were so strange to me and it was definitely something I wanted to explore further, but ended up going with the Irish language instead. It is interesting how contrasted history seems in regards to the strength and bravery Irish women exhibited and then how they were used mostly only as symbols in literature by men. I would’ve loved to hear more of women’s voices in classic literature. I would love to hear your findings for your paper, if you wouldn’t mind sharing! Totally understand if you wouldn’t want to though 🙂

  2. Hey Conner!
    I tried sending you a chat in class to exchange info so we can bounce ideas off of each other for the paper. I’m not sure if you saw it or not so I figured I’d try again. If you’d rather not, that’s ok haha but just in case you didn’t see the message, here’s my email: kriscoma@ucla.edu 🙂 Also, thanks for the great ideas in your comment on my post!

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