English Lesbians and Irish Devotion: The Manipulation of Sexual Discourse in Molly Keane’s The Rising Tide

Catherine Bacon, University of Texas at Austin

This essay reads Molly Keane’s The Rising Tide (1937) in the context of three discourses: Keane’s own earlier lesbian novel, Devoted Ladies (1934); 1930s sexology; and the tradition of the Irish Big House fiction. It argues that Keane revises the negative discourse of lesbian sexuality in order to situate lesbianism as a by-product of English modernity, rather than a dangerous result of female friendship and autonomy. It also shows that while The Rising Tide follows convention by chronicling the political and familial failures of the Irish Ascendancy, it stops short of depicting the impotence of this class as either inevitable or complete. Rather, by drawing on both theories of inversion and on psychoanalytic understandings of lesbianism, Keane is able to renovate the trope of Irish romantic friendship to create an alternative household characterized by a fertile garden where creativity, beauty, and love can flourish. Thus, Keane’s novel makes a unique contribution to the Big House genre, and to modernist lesbian fiction, in its assertion of a connection between lesbianism and the land in the Irish context.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]