Introduction to The Female Line: Northern Irish Women Writers

© By Ruth Hooley (Carr)

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We are living in a decade which has seen the setting up and expansion of women-only publishing houses throughout the world. A whole new commercial apparatus has come into being whereby more women writers are at last gaining recognition. Without the increasing demand for books by and about women the disproportionate silence would continue. The time is hopefully past when a male nom de plume was a pre-requisite for publication; or when an introduction by an eminent person was felt necessary to validate the work of a female author (eg Lord Dunsany’s introduction to Bridie Steen by Anne Crone.)

Here in Northern Ireland there is little evidence of any such evolution. Relatively few female authors find their way onto reading lists for higher and further education courses. Few female authors stare out from the covers of locally published fiction and poetry. (For instance, The Blackstaff Press’s ration of single-author poetry books is in the region of two female to fifteen male poets.) This silence is ambiguous. Does it mean an absence – there are hardly any women writing? Is it due to suppression – women lack confidence and opportunities to develop their writing? Is it a result of oppression – women are discriminated against in terms of what is taken seriously and which material matters? Or is it a passive resistance by those who find the language so steeped in gender-biased values as to be alien and inadequate to express their meaning?

In publishing this first collection of writings by Northern Irish women writers the Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement is not outing forward a particular viewpoint or political slant. The Female Line is feminist in that the book is a women-only publication. However the contents express the many different voices of women in and from Northern Ireland, drawing on their actual experience and creative imagination. This anthology is unusual in two ways: it includes both published and previously unpublished female authors side by side, writing in a wide range of forms and styles. The result is a miscellany of poetry, verse, short stories, reflections and extracts from novels and plays. The aim of the book is to highlight what is being written and to encourage more women towards publication. It is left to the reader the judge whether women write differently from men, are concerned with separate issues, or approach language differently.

As editor I have tried to select what is representative and of genuine interest. Finding the predominant themes to relate to family and personal life, the pieces are arranged in an informal sequence which moves through childhood, adolescence, growing awarenesses, personal relationships at various stages, marriage, motherhood, disillusionment, independence and old age. Woven through these is another common theme, ‘The Troubles’ (these never being very far from the door).

With the concentration of focus on the home and family, it might have seemed appropriate to give this collection a title identifying women with their traditional role. But this would have ignored the emergence of women’s lives beyond the limitations of the domestic situation. Themes of escape, of the imagination, and more particularly the birth of a self as an independent, political being are central to the developing literature of women writers. What emerges most readily from these writings are mixed feelings of dis-satisfaction, alienation, affection and humour: a sense of belonging and disowning. The Female Line is both handed-down and self-written. I hope that it will be read with this in mind.

Published by: Northern Ireland Women’s Rights Movement

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