close to the next moment jar : In an essay about Synge and prostitution, you wrote that you were outraged about Arthur Griffith’s response to the woman picking up the stranger in In the Shadow of the Glen: ‘Everyone knows that Irish women are the most virtuous in the world.’
ae : That was in my history book when I was in sixth year in school. It’s possibly the only thing I remember from that history book – F.S.L. Lyons’s Ireland Since the Famine – which is a very thick book indeed. I was outraged by it. You could say I spend considerable amounts of time proving that this isn’t so. But actually, that’s not what I’ve been doing. When I write about sex and sexuality in my books it’s very ordinary stuff. It is, as the modern people say, very vanilla. So I’m not transgressive in that way. I’m not saying that Irish women are not virtuous. I’m not saying, isn’t it wonderful, here’s my character, the prostitute who really likes it. I don’t do any of those things. It’s a very puritan idea anyway. I’m not interested in it. I do very ordinary situations in which women could not be described as virtuous or not. Virtue doesn’t come into it. They’re neither virtuous nor not virtuous. They’re having sex. So it’s getting rid of a whole structure, it’s working outside of the structure, to find a new virtue – or not, thank you. Both at the same time.
jar : You say your writing about sexuality is very vanilla, very ordinary. But have there been times when it has caused outrage?
ae : There was some guy writing about Eliza Lynch, that she was disgusting, foul. I said well, yes, she has sex, that’s true certainly. She spends a whole chapter having sex. I suppose that’s true too. But you know sex is different for different people. For some people it was a foul thing to do. And for some people it’s just something they do of a Tuesday. Actually it’s kind of fun, to shock people with something that isn’t actually in the least bit shocking. It’s a very political act. Everything, even the physical, is seen though a social filter. Whether it is experienced that way is another question.
When it comes down to it, I don’t think that Ireland was sexually repressed. I think it was sexually oppressed. There are whole societies that are much more repressed than Irish people. I think of two English women I passed once in a park whose dogs were fucking and they were talking sweetly about the weather and saying, ‘Come on Rover!’ That’s repressed. In Ireland, that wouldn’t happen. In Ireland