The Books: “Girls In Their Married Bliss” (Edna O’Brien)

country%20girls.jpgDaily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

Girls In Their Married Bliss, by Edna O’Brien. Girls In Their Married Bliss, with its obviously sarcastic title, is the final book in Edna O’Brien’s famous “Country Girls Trilogy”.

Here’s my post about The Country Girls Trilogy as a whole, and Edna O’Brien as a writer. And here’s my post about The Lonely Girl, the second book in the trilogy. Things get pretty damn bleak in Girls In Their Married Bliss – marriage is obviously seen as no great shakes. As a matter of fact, it’s a nightmare in some ways. BUT we do get a bit of relief – because the narrators have switched. The other two books were narrated by Kate who is a bit more earnest and naive. Baba is her best friend, and Baba is a bit wild, and she knows about things like sexy underwear, and how to order a fancy cocktail, and she has a bit of irreverence for things that Kate holds sacred. She’s a wonderful character – and her no-nonsense voice is totally different from Kate’s voice … which is kind of a relief. My favorite of all of the trilogy is the first one, when they are teenagers, and just starting out. Girls In Their Married Bliss is just depressing! It was published in 1964 – which, in terms of Ireland – but also in terms of the world in general – was a much more conservative time, much more like the 50s than the late 60s. So the book needs to be seen in its proper context. It was early to be writing a book which is so vicious about marriage – and women’s roles in particular – which is why, yet again, Edna O’Brien found her book banned in her native country. It’s kind of like reading Margaret Atwood’s earliest books – like The Edible Woman (excerpt here) and Surfacing (excerpt here. Those were published in the late 60s, and have nothing like the power and beauty and horror of her later books (although they are still good) – and her views on marriage and women and men were shocking, at the time. Now books like that are a dime a dozen (although perhaps not written so well). Girls In Their Married Bliss is a brutal examination of marriage, and being trapped in it, of making bad choices in a man because you don’t know you have more agency in your life, and also – how women could get lost in marriage. Even down to the fact that you lose your last name. You disappear. Kate definitely disappears. She marries Eugene – the dude from The Lonely Girl – he finally gets a divorce. And he gets Kate pregnant. And they have a shotgun wedding. Very scandalous. The Catholic Church wouldn’t bless a marriage like that. But Baba was always more practical. Kate believed in love. She was looking for love. Baba always just wanted a bit of a laugh, maybe some sex, and a comfortable life where she could buy things. Her standards were much lower. And she also lacked the earnestness of her best friend Kate … she is not as easily hurt. Here’s an excerpt from where Baba meets the guy she will eventually marry. Again, seen in the context of that time – especially in Ireland – all of this was quite shocking – I mean, birth control!!, and nobody wanted to hear it. (Well, everybody wanted to hear it … but the powers-that-be freaked out. You can’t say that!!!) Well, yes she could, and did.

EXCERPT FROM Girls In Their Married Bliss, by Edna O’Brien.

His name was Frank and he was blowing money around the place and telling jokes. I’ll repeat one joke so as you’ll have an idea how hard up I was. Two men with fishing tackle have an arm around an enormous woman and one says to the other, “A good catch.” When people are drunk they’ll laugh at anything, provided they’re not arguing, or hitting each other.

Anyhow, he drove me home and offered me money – he has a compulsion to offer money to people who are going to say no – and asked if I thought he looked educated. Educated! He was a big, rough fellow with oily hair, and his eyebrows met. So I said to him, “Beware of the one whose eyebrows meet, because in his heart there lies deceit.” And sweet Jesus, next time we met he’d had them plucked over his broken nose. He’s so thick he didn’t understand that the fact they met was the significant thing. Thick. But nice, too. Anybody that vulnerable is nice, at least that’s how I feel. Another dinner. Two dinners in one week and a bunch of flowers sent to me. The first thought I had when I saw the flowers was, could I sell them at cut rates. So I offered them to the girls in the bed-sits above and below, and they all said no except one eejit who said yes. She began to fumble for her purse, and I felt so bloody avaricious that I said, “Here’s half of them,” so we had half each, and when he came to call for me that evening, he counted the number of flowers that I’d stuck into a paint tin, for want of a vase. And you won’t believe it, but didn’t he go and ring the flower shop to say they’d swindled him. There he was out on the landing phone, yelling into it about how he’d ordered three dozen. Armagh roses and what crooks they were, and how they’d lost him as a customer, and there was I in the room with a fist over my mouth to smother the laughter. “You may not be educated,” said I, “but you’re a merchant at heart. You’ll go far.” It ended up with the flower shop saying they’d send more, and they did. I was driven to go out to Woolworth’s and buy a two-shilling plastic vase because I knew the paint tin would topple if one more flower was put in.

He didn’t propose bed for at least six dinners, and that shook me. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or offended. He was blind drunk the night he said we ought to, and my garret was freezing and far from being a love nest. The roses had withered but weren’t thrown out, and I had this short bed so that his feet hung out at the bottom. I lay down beside him – not in the bed, just on it – with my clothes on. He fumbled around with my zip and of course broke it, and I thought, I hope he leaves cash for the damage, and even if he doesn I’ll have to go to a technical school to learn how to stitch on a zip, it’s that complicated. I knew the bed was going to collapse. You always know a faulty bed when you put it to that sort of use. So he got the zip undone and got past my vest – it was freezing – and got a finger or two on my skin, just around my midriff, which was beginning to thicken because of all the big dinners and sauces and things. I reckoned I ought to do the same thing, and I explored a bit and got to his skin, and the surprising thing was, his skin was soft and not thick like his face. He began to delve deeper, very rapacious at first, and then he dozed off. That went on for a while – him fumbling, then dozing – until finally he said, “How do we do it?” and I knew that was why he hadn’t made passes sooner. An Irishman: good at battles, sieges, and massacres. Bad in bed. But I expected that. It made him a hell of a sight nicer than most of the sharks I’d been out with, who expected you to pay for the pictures, raped you in the back seat, came home, ate your baked beans, and then wanted some new, experimental kind of sex and no worries from you about might you have a baby, because they liked it natural, without gear. I made him a cup of instant coffee, and when he went to sleep I put a quilt over him and put the light out. I sat on the chair, thinking of the eighteen months in London, and all the men I’d met, and the exhaustion of keeping my heels mended and my skin fresh for the Mr. Right that was supposed to come along.

I knew that I’d end up with him, he being rich and a slob and the sort of man who would buy you seasick tablets before you traveled. You won’t believe it but I felt sorry for him, the way he worried about not being educated, or being fooled by florists, or being taken for an Irish hick by waiters. Never mind that they’re Italian hicks. I could tell them all to go to hell because I had a brazen, good-looking face and was afraid of none of them, not even afraid whether people liked me or not, which is what most people are afraid of, anyhow. I know that people liking you or not liking you is an accident and is to do with them and not you. That goes for love, too, only more so.

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