The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable

On Tuesday, November 10th at 3:00pm EST, the NYC Irish Studies Consortium will be hosting our second reading group discussion. We will discuss a chapter from Joseph Valente and Margot Gayle Backus’s forthcoming The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable with the authors in conversation with Marjorie Howes.

To join this group discussion via Zoom register at this link by November 7th. All registrants will receive the chapter to read in advance of the discussion.

In The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature, Joseph Valente and Margot Gayle Backus examine modern cultural responses to child sex abuse in Ireland. Using descriptions of these scandals found in newspapers, historiographical analysis, and 20th- and 21st-century literature, Valente and Backus expose a public sphere ardently committed to Irish children’s souls and piously oblivious to their physical welfare. They offer historically contextualized and psychoanalytically informed readings of scandal narratives by nine notable modern Irish authors who actively, pointedly, and persistently question Ireland’s responsibilities regarding its children. Through close, critical readings, a more nuanced and troubling account emerges of how Ireland’s postcolonial heritage has served to enable such abuse. The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature refines the debates on why so many Irish children were lost by offering insight into the lived experience of both the children and those who failed them.

Joseph Valente is UB Distinguished Professor of English and Disability Studies at the University at Buffalo. He is the Treasurer of the International Yeats Society and Vice President of the Northeastern Modern Language Association. He has authored The Myth of Manliness in Irish Nationalist Culture, 1880-1922 (University of Illinois Press, 2011), Dracula’s Crypt: Bram Stoker, Irishness and the Question of Blood (University of Illinois Press, 2002, 2012), and James Joyce and the Problem of Justice: Negotiating Sexual and Colonial Difference (Cambridge UP 1995, 2009). His edited collections include Quare Joyce (University of Michigan Press, 1997), Urban Ireland (a special issue of Eire-Ireland) and, with Marjorie Howes, Yeats and Afterwords (Notre Dame University Press, 2014), and, with Seán Kennedy and Macy Todd, Ireland in Psychoanalysis (a special issue of Breac). Most recently, he co-authored, with Margot Backus, The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable (Indiana University Press, 2020). His current project is entitled “Against Type: Autism and Moral Authority in Modern Literature.”

Margot Gayle Backus is John and Rebecca Moores Professor of English at the University of Houston. Her books include Scandal Work: James Joyce, the New Journalism, and the Home Rule Newspaper Wars (University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), and The Gothic Family Romance: Heterosexuality, Child Sacrifice, and the Anglo-Irish Colonial Order (Duke University Press, Post-Contemporary Interventions, 1999). With Joseph Valente, she has co-authored The Child Sex Scandal and Modern Irish Literature: Writing the Unspeakable (Indiana University Press, 2020). She was 2014-15 Queens University Fulbright Scholar of Anglophone Irish Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry.

Marjorie Howes teaches English at Boston College.  She is the author of Yeats’s Nations: Gender, Class and Irishness and Colonial Crossings: Figures in Irish Literary History.  She is the co-editor of Semicolonial Joyce, The Cambridge Companion to W. B. Yeats, and Yeats and Afterwords.  She was a contributor to The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Volume 4.  With Claire Connolly, she is the series editor of Irish Literature in Transition (6 vols), which was published by Cambridge in 2020.