‘Targets of Shame’: Negotiating the Irish Female Migrant Experience in Kathleen Nevin’s You’ll Never Go Back (1946) and Kate O’Brien’s Mary Lavelle (1936)

  • Sinéad Wall
Part of the New Directions in Irish and Irish American Literature book series (NDIIAL)


Departure from Ireland has long occupied a contradictory position in the Irish cultural imaginary, restrictively viewed as exile or betrayal of the nationalist push for independence.2 Women’s departures receive even more conflicting treatment because for so long women, constructed as symbols in particular national frameworks, have had their bodies marked by religious and family discourses in terms that bind them to the national territory.3 Moving beyond this territory, whether voluntarily or not, was often seen as an act of transgression with women’s mobility perceived as a threat to national and religious identity.4 This chapter examines how the departures of unmarried Irish women in particular are constructed in Irish cultural and nationalist discourses. It will suggest that two novels written in the early decades of the newly-formed state, Kate O’Brien’s Mary Lavelle (1936) and Kathleen Nevin’s You’ll Never Go Back (1946), both fictionalised memories of travel beyond the borders of Irish national territory, challenge these very discourses and attempt to draw out, with varying degrees of success, the more complex motivations of the unmarried migrant woman as signalled in the epigraph from Breda Gray’s account of diasporic women.


Sexual Desire Sexual Identity Irish Woman Irish Society Cultural Script 
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Articles, Books, Pamphlets, Television Programmes and Websites

  1. Nevin, Kathleen, You’ll Never Go Back (Boston: Bruce Humphries Press, 1946).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sinéad Wall
    • 1
  1. 1.LondonUK

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