Literature Review

I am writing an overview of relevant literature regarding Strumpet City by James Plunkett (Panther, 1969) Juno and the Paycock by Sean O’Casey (W.W. Norton and Company, 2009), and The Rising of Bella Casey by Mary Morrissy (Brandon, 2013), focusing on the theme of class and its intersections with gender and religion. These works are set in inner-city Dublin during the early twentieth century, at times of political turmoil. My thesis examines working-class Irish characters in the historical context of the 1913 Lockout, the 1916 Rising and post-Civil War Free State Ireland, with reference to the gender politics and religious norms of the era.

How do the authors use the intersections of class, gender and religion to form a social critique of Ireland’s political status quo? How do the impoverished working-class characters try to improve their social standing, and how does religious and gender-based oppression hinder their upward mobility? What social conditions motivate the workers’ industrial action, and what are its effects on Irish society?

The theme of class is significant to my dissertation: I will consider the socio-political circumstances of Dublin in the early 20th century, particularly working-class poverty, which led to workers taking collective action. Colbert Kearney’s The Glamour of Grammar (Greenwood Press, 2000) examines the oral culture of the tenements which O’Casey drew upon for his Dublin Trilogy, including Juno. Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama, edited by John P. Harrington, contains scholarly contributions about Juno and the Paycock, including an extract from Christopher Murray’s biography of O’Casey.

Characters such as the foundry workers in Strumpet City, Mary in Juno, and Bella’s daughter Babsie in Rising go on strike to obtain better working conditions. Michael Pierse’s Writing Ireland’s Working Class: Dublin after O’Casey (Palgrave MacMillan, 2011) is an overview of working-class Irish writing, and I intend to focus on the chapter “Industry and the City: Workers in Struggle,” in which Pierse details the social conditions and class hierarchies in Strumpet City which led to the historic 1913 Lockout.

 James Connolly’s Labour in Ireland is relevant to the historical backdrop of industrial struggles and the connections between class, nationalism and labour activism. R.M Fox’s biopic of Larkin, Jim Larkin: The Rise of the Underman (Lawrence and Wishart, 1957), describes Larkin’s life and his trade union activism. James Plunkett’s essay collection, The Boy on the Back Wall and Other Essays, (Poolbeg Press, 1987) gives insight into his beliefs about poverty and trade unionism, particularly the essays “Changed Times,” “Jim Larkin: A Memoir,” and “O’Casey and the Trade Unions.” The article by Lawrence Wilde, “Making Myth: The image of ‘Big Jim’ Larkin in Plunkett’s Strumpet City,” in the Journal of European Studies, describes the trade unionist movement in Dublin at the time of the novel.

I want to examine gender roles in Irish society, with focus on working-class women.Michael Pierse edited A History of Irish Working-Class Writing (Cambridge UP, 2017), which I am using for research. I will focus on Heather Laird’s chapter, “Writing Working-Class Irish Women,” which examines the depictions of struggling working-class mothers in Strumpet City, Juno and the Paycock and The Rising of Bella Casey, among others. Rising is based on the life of Sean O’Casey’s sister Bella, and I intend to use both volumes of Sean O’Casey’s Autobiographies (Pan Classics, 1980 and Carroll & Graf, 1984) for insight into life in early twentieth-century Dublin. I will refer to Mary Morrissey’s blog, including “Viral Echoes from History.” Gender and Modern Irish Drama by Susan Cannon Harris explores gender roles on the Irish stage, including O’Casey’s feckless men and long-suffering women in Juno.

To place these works in context, I will make reference to comparable working-class characters in fiction, such as Maria from “Clay” and Lily from “The Dead” in James Joyce’s Dubliners (Penguin, 1996), and The Charwoman’s Daughter by James Stephens (Gill and MacMillan 1972), which centres a working-class mother and daughter in inner-city Dublin. I will reference O’Casey’s Three Dublin Plays, which also include The Shadow of a Gunman and The Plough and the Stars. The Plough, set during the Easter Rising, focuses on working-class experiences in tenement housing.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

Religion is a powerful force in these three works, and I am particularly interested in the effects of religious oppression on the characters’ lives. In Strumpet City, Fr O’Connor tries to control his working-class parishioners and hinder the strikers through doctrine. Mary Boyle, in Juno, scandalises her family by falling pregnant outside of marriage. In Rising, Bella Casey, a Protestant, suffers when she is raped by a violent Reverend. Occasions of Sin by Diarmaid Ferriter (Profile Books, 2009) is a historical overview of the connections between sexuality, religion and morality in Ireland and how this has affected Irish society and punished those who deviate.

The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland by Chrystel Hug (MacMillan Press Ltd, 1999) chronicles the Catholic hierarchy’s influence on Irish laws, emphasising societal change which eventually led to a rejection of doctrine. In Terence Brown’s Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-2002 (Harper Perennial 2004), “The Fate of the Irish Left and of the Protestant Minority,” explores the difficulties faced by Protestants in newly-independent Ireland, which is relevant to Bella’s difficult experiences with her Catholic neighbours in Rising.

I want to examine religious morality, particularly societal judgement of characters’ sexuality. The three works contain incidents of crisis pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, or both, and the victims are judged for breaking cultural and religious norms. Maria Luddy’s Prostitution and Irish Society, 1800-1940 (Cambridge UP, 2007) chronicles Ireland’s history of prostitution, referring to social and economic factors which led working-class women to work in brothels. It refers to “fallen women,” religious societies’ rescue work, Magdalene laundries, venereal diseases, and policing of prostitutes.

These are some of the main sources I intend to use in order to analyse the themes of my dissertation. The lockdown has prevented physical access to the Boole library, but I will continue to use other resources, including UCC’s eBooks and JSTOR journal articles. I will write about these literary works using secondary materials to create an in-depth analysis.

Works Cited

Brown, Terence. Ireland: A Social and Cultural History 1922-2002. Harper Perennial, 2004.

Cannon Harris, Susan. Gender and Modern Irish Drama. Indiana University Press, 2002.  

Connolly, James. Labour in Ireland. At The Sign of the Three Candles Press,1950.

Ferriter, Diarmaid. Occasions of Sin. Profile Books, 2009.

Fox, R.M. Jim Larkin: The Rise of the Underman. Lawrence and Wishart, 1957.

Harrington, John P. (ed.). Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama. W.W. Norton and Company, 2009.

Hug, Chrystel. The Politics of Sexual Morality in Ireland. MacMillan Press Ltd, 1999.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. Penguin, 1996.

Kearney, Colbert. The Glamour of Grammar: Orality and Politics and the Emergence of Sean O’Casey. Greenwood Press, 2000.

Laird, Heather. “Writing Working-Class Irish Women.” in Michael Pierse, ed., A History of Irish Working-Class Writing. Cambridge UP, 2017, pp.122-139.

Luddy, Maria. Prostitution and Irish Society 1800-1940, Cambridge UP, 2007.

Morrissy, Mary. The Rising of Bella Casey. Brandon, 2013.

—, “Viral Echoes from History.”

O’Casey, Sean. Autobiographies 1. Pan Classics, 1980.

—, Autobiographies 2. Carroll and Graf, 1984.

—, Three Dublin Plays: The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars. Faber and Faber, 1998.

Pierse, Michael. Writing Ireland’s Working Class: Dublin after O’Casey. Palgrave Macmillan,     2011.

Plunkett, James. The Boy on the Back Wall and Other Essays. Poolbeg Press, 1987

—, Strumpet City, Panther, 1969.

Stephens, James. The Charwoman’s Daughter. Gill and MacMillan, 1972.

Wilde, Lawrence. “Making Myth: The image of ‘Big Jim’ Larkin in Plunkett’s Strumpet City.” Journal of European Studies, Volume 41, Issue 1, March 2011.

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