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‘Sligo made me and Sligo undid me’: Mental Health, Coercive Confinement and Repression in Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture

Author:

Åke Persson

University West, SE
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Abstract

In recent years, the institution of the mental asylum in Ireland has been given much attention. For example, the TV documentary, Behind the Walls (2011), focused on mental health care in post-independence Ireland. It brought up the often gruesome conditions under which the asylum forced the patients, or inmates, to live. It also revealed how the mental health regulations were misused by doctors, priests and families at the local level to get rid of individuals who in various ways did not conform to the community’s norms; indeed, it was not uncommon that once a person had been committed to an asylum, he or she had to remain there for a very long time, sometimes for many decades. This is the fate of the protagonist Roseanne Clear/McNulty in Sebastian Barry’s novel The Secret Scripture. Towards the end of her life, still in the Leitrim psychiatric hospital after several decades, Roseanne writes her own story. What emerges is that she has been the victim of external forces and harsh sociocultural norms dominant in the Irish Free State. Drawing on Michel Foucault’s ideas in Madness and Civilization, as well as research on Irish mental asylums, this article examines how a repressive system uses mental health and the mental health care system as a tool to excise an individual perceived to be a threat to the social order, an order carefully policed by the Catholic Church, mainly represented by the priest, Father Gaunt.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.35360/njes.622
How to Cite: Persson, Å., 2020. ‘Sligo made me and Sligo undid me’: Mental Health, Coercive Confinement and Repression in Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. Nordic Journal of English Studies, 19(5), pp.222–243. DOI: http://doi.org/10.35360/njes.622
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Published on 19 Dec 2020.
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