Jo?o Carneiro (PG38538)
Ive chosen to talk about the story of Deirdre of the Sorrows and the recurring theme of the destructive woman within the mythological context.
As you know, Deirdre deals with the story of Deirdre, the beautiful girl whom King Conchubor had brought up to be his queen, but who ran away with the brave young warrior, Naoise, in an attempt to stand up for the life she whished for. Ultimately, she will be the catalyst for death, destruction and misery, as her lover, Naoise, and his brothers are murdered by the Kings troops and Deirdre commits suicide after learning that she was to spend the rest of her life with Fergus, the warrior who killed Naoise. Interestingly enough, this grim myth is subject to several rewritings and adaptations, as modern and post-modern writers find its heart-breaking narrative to be of extreme value. But why exactly, did Yeats, Synge and even Vincent Woods find Deirdres story to be so appealing? I am most compelled to believe that her condition as a victim, as well as the inciter of such tragedies, plays an important role in the way in which we perceive not only Deirdre, but womens representation in literature and in popular culture overall.
It should be important to contextualize womens role in Ireland at the time, since they, to a certain extent were allowed to make a living for themselves, as weve seen in class with the The Cattle Raid of Cooley tale, in which Queen Medb compares her wealth/cattle with her husband, Ailill. Despite this possibility, women, as well as men, were unable to own property and were still under certain limitations since they lived in a patriarchal society. Deirdre’s attempt to free herself from that and her devastating death, represent a struggle for independence that is still manifested today across the world. Most recently, the Republic of Ireland voted to overturn the abortion ban, which guaranteed the unborn the right to live. This event has led to discussions surrounding the parallels between pro-life conundrums and womens agency over their own bodies, not only in the public stratosphere but also within a cultural context. In this sense, the story of Deirdre can still be relevant to modern society and, more specifically, to the fight against womens oppression.
What is also interesting to note is the dichotomy of Deirdres condition as a victim, but also as the catalyst for demise. In the several versions and retellings of the myth, the reader is led to believe that Naoises death, as well as her own, revolves around the striking beauty of Deirdre. We have seen this pattern of blaming women for mens mistakes or atrocities several times. Take the example of Helen of Troy who was kidnapped by Paris and had to take the blame for being the igniter of a dreadfully long war against Greece. Or, if you want to give in to a more populist approach, take the example of Yoko Ono, who was blamed, more than once, for being the cause for the Beatles separation. In all these instances what Im trying to say is that being a woman, or a disruptive woman at that, automatically qualifies you to carry a bigger and heavier burden under the casualties of mens lust and greediness.
Furthermore, this two-faced depiction of women in literature, as well as in popular culture, is extremely representative of the association of womens emancipation and transgression with the canon of a love story. More often than one might think, women perform rebellious acts for a romantic counterpart, which is telling of how limited womens role even in literature is. In this sense, Deirdre did not think of escaping from King Conchubor before she had seen Naoise. Obviously, this is not meant to undermine her brave act of standing up to King Conchubor, since he was the highest man in power, but its interesting to see how womens liberation and romance go hand in hand very often, referring to a literary context obviously.
Conclusively, Deirdre of the Sorrows or whichever version of the myth we choose to read is very telling of the constraints placed upon women in fiction, but it is exactly this obvious representation of the destructive woman that fuels the readers intention to deeply reflect on the social matters that have corrupted womens place in the world and to remind us that we still have a long way to go.
The Guardian. Political aftershocks of the Irish abortion vote. May 2018 Retrieved from Harvey. A Cry From Heaven Vincent Woods. 2005 Retrieved from Alan. Deirdre of the Sorrows reinvented as a modern feminist parable. June 2015 Retrieved from Britannica. Deirdre (Irish Literature). December 2018 Retrieved from