Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Morris Dickstein

Committee Members

Neal Tolchin

John Brenkman

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Irish-Catholic-American writers, women writers, feminist literary tradition


There is a distinct literary canon in the United States, composed of Irish-Catholic-American writers, which requires different modes of criticism or evaluation than other U.S. literatures, particularly the dominant, largely Protestant or Protestant-influenced, American literary canon. In addition, as a recently recognized literary tradition, many women writers have either been ignored or unnoticed because their works do not immediately fit into the evolving criteria of evaluation for the Irish-American literary tradition. My purpose in this study is not to survey the Irish-American literary canon, but to examine two women writers who have not always been admitted to an innately misogynistic Irish-Catholic tradition. Ironically, the dominant feminist literary tradition also does not know how to place Mary McCarthy and Mary Gordon (and perhaps other Irish-American women writers); feminists often are disturbed by a lurking conservativism in their works. Thus, both writers are doubly displaced. Through a cultural-religious-feminist analysis of their writings, I would like to reestablish McCarthy and Gordon within both the Irish-American literary tradition and the feminist literary tradition. In doing so, I will be addressing the following questions in an attempt to create new ways of evaluating Irish-American women’s fiction: First, what is the Irish-American literary tradition and what are its criteria for inclusion? How is an Irish heritage reflected in the writings of both male and female Irish- American writers? How is the writer’s moral perspective shaped by an Irish-Catholic religious heritage? How does a woman writer navigate among often competing identities as an orthodox Catholic, culturally Irish, intellectual, feminist, woman writer to create a space for herself and her heroines? Does Gordon’s feminism allow her heroines to transcend—to a degree—their fates? The dissertation makes use of current historical (Kirby Miller, Hasia Diner, William Shannon), cultural (Werner Sollors, Charles Fanning), religious (Paul Giles) and feminist literary criticism (including Carol Gilligan).


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.