Dramaturgy, genre and theory

Paper 2

Title: The Liminal Space of Widowhood in Teresa Deevy’s Wife to James Whelan

Dr Christa de Brún


The unspoken narratives of widowhood remain the unhealed wounds in the social memory (Mukta 2002).

This paper focuses on the liminal space of widowhood in the writing of Teresa Deevy whose work frequently explores the lives of women who are not conventional objects of male desire. This paper specifically examines the play ‘Wife to James Whelan’ as a critique of the cultural history of widowhood in Ireland. A widow is, by definition, a marginal creature; she is not sexually intact, she is unattached to any male, her very unattachment a cause for anxiety and a potential threat (Gordon 2013). Widowhood thus renders her invisible and pushes her into a liminal space both physically and socially. The lives of widows have historically been confined to the domestic sphere and the private domain, and thus largely hidden from public knowledge. This paper seeks to reclaim a space for these narratives of widowhood in the public sphere, evolving from personal narratives to a larger sociohistorical document in terms of ‘postmemory’, and to pursue the possibility of an ethical function in weaving the entangled strands of disparate personal histories into the social fabric of Irish culture.

How do I access this recorded presentation?

  1. Click on the play button on the image below.
  2. To access the captions: when the video begins, click on the CC button, or the subtitles icon.
  3. Press play and enjoy!


Christa de Brún lectures in English Literature in WIT. She holds a BA in English and Philosophy from UCD, an MA in Contemporary European Philosophy from UCD, an MPhil in Anglo Irish Literature from Trinity College Dublin and a doctorate in Literature and Education from NUIM. Current research interests include Irish Modernism and Revolutionary Irish Women Writers.

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12 replies on “Dramaturgy, genre and theory”

Christa, I really enjoyed this (although I was glad that I was sitting down when you got to the phrase ‘no aggregation, just annihilation’….devastatingly insightful)! Thank you so much for your excellent scholarship: I delivered a paper on Wife to James Whelan some years ago and I’m going to dust it off now to improve it informed by the benefit of your thinking! 🙂



Thank you, there’s so much here to think on and unpack. I was struck while listening to your presentation of John 20.29, ‘happy are those who do not see and yet believe’, and wondered whether in One Look and What it Led To whether the radio audience is also asked to believe without ‘seeing’.

What a pleasure it is to hear these little known plays considered and to be encouraged to think of how Deevy’s writing for radio might be considered in light of the fact that she was a deafened writer.




A terrific paper, thank you! Theoretically informed, insightful in its analysis of Katie Roche and a careful contexualisation of Deevy’s work within Irish social and political history.

It also struck me, as you read out snippets of dialogue that, between all of the conference presenters, we have an excellent cast of performing academics! (Jonathan Bank take note 😀).



Dear Dayna – I am slowly working through presentations and so happy to have watched yours this morning. I thoroughly enjoyed your paper and it brings together so many interesting observations – on realism, metatheatre, relation to writers like Una Troy, disciplinary spaces and so forth. This is a moment when the virtual seems totally inadequate as I would love to have a chat about all of the above over a conference cup of coffee. 🙂 Great discussion of older female characters / the space of home. Your discussion / application of Butler and Foucault is illuminating too. I hope to have an opportunity to discuss properly at some stage.


Dear Willy,

The image of Annie ‘splashing’ the Bride’s dress with colours of ‘rainbow romance’ is exquisite; the ‘bridal dress of many colours’ is richly evocative inviting us to think and rethink how and what Deevy does by her references to the dress. Also, your observation that Annie stands in sisterly solidarity with Molly and Dot helpfully connects and helps us appreciate and critique the relationship between Nan and Kate in Deevy’s Wife to James Whelan.

Finally, I was struck how the Scotish accent is perfectly suited to Deevy’s work – particularly so the phrase ‘We’re all the wan…’ It was a joy to listen to, thank you.



Hello Emily, Your revealing analysis of Deevy’s writing for radio pushes at the boundaries of discussion of TD’s work in a very valuable way. For me you opened up an area of Deevy’s vision as a writer, as well as her thematic interest in visionary experience. Thank you!


Hello Dayna,
Thank you for your wonderfully well-researched account of the ideology of womanhood in Deevy’s Ireland and in her work. I loved your use of Foucault! Many thanks again.


Thank you very much – for your comments and for all your generous guidance and time over the last number of years. What a wonderful idea about the ‘acting academics’ – I love it!

Hi Caoilfhionn,
Sitting down for a chat with you about this would be so exciting! I have so much enjoyed reading your articles and am thrilled with your comment!

Hi Cathy,
Thank you so much for listening to my paper and your comments- your response means such a lot to me!



Dear Emily,

It was so interesting to hear of Deevy’s passion for the medium of radio and to know that she saw the spatial possibilities of the medium; rather than the auditory difficulties that the medium poses for a writer who is deaf. Your comparison of two of Deevy’s radio plays was very informative and showed how she developed as a writer in this form and eventually freed herself from the spatial constraints of the stage,

Thank you – your paper has given me so much to think about!



Dear Christa,

Your paper was so interesting, I found your analysis of Deevy’s devestating representation of the poverty stricken Nan – in light of act 41.2 of the constitution- really poignant. I am interested in Deevy’s general refusal to represent mothers within her plays and what this means in an Irish society where women were directed towards the roles of wife and mother. Nan seems to pose an exception – and yet she does not- she is a mother, she was married, yet now she is not. It seems to reinforce the necessity for Irish women to be both wife and mother, just one will not do, no matter the circumstances? Is there anywhere else I can read your work?

Thanks so much- I am going back now to have another listen!

Kind regards



Dear Wily,

Thank you for your presentation- it was full of very memorable and poetic phrases. I’m really interested in domestic spaces and your paper reminded me that, even though ‘The King of Spain’s Daughter’ is not set in the home, the home still looms ominously in the off-stage space,

Kind regards



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