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(generated from captions) That's just weird. Next question.
(ALL LAUGH) Do you have any ideas
of what you want to do after this, like future jobs or careers
or anything? I'm probably the same as you. I still don't know what
I want to do with my life. It's a crazy world,
and if I do have one bit of advice, it would be don't rush into anything
and follow your heart. Have you just been around Australia,
or have you been anywhere else? I left high school and went straight
to the US and lifeguarded there, and then came back and did uni and I've basically been on the road
for the last 10 years. Does anyone else have any poignant
A Current Affair-style, hard-hitting questions? Were you guys friends
before this show started? Great question, and to this day,
we still don't like each other. Captions by Ericsson Access Services Copyright Australian
Broadcasting Corporation

Hello there. I'm Geraldine Doogue.
Welcome to Compass. Irish novelist and playwright
Edna O'Brien was once on the Catholic Church's
blacklist, banned and despised
for her supposedly racy novels. In some cases, her novels were burned due to their frank portrayals of
the sex lives of their characters. But throughout her life, she's remained a surprisingly
committed believer. Still writing at 85, she talks to Irish broadcaster
Gay Byrne about her life and work. Thank you, Edna, for joining us.
Thank you. Let me start by asking you tell me
about your early beginnings, your childhood, your parents
and your family in Tuamgraney.

Well, that would take a book
in itself.

My childhood was in
a very lovely house. Stone house in the middle of a field
with every kind of trees. And there was a very, very pervasive
sense of religion. Religion was everywhere. It wasn't a house of harmony...

..but it was perhaps a house where I learned something about
the necessity to write. I thought then and I still think it, that spiritual. That literature is a way,
if you like, of making ordinary life
more bearable.

In contrast to the tears or rows
or all else that I also saw. My father...

..was unlucky in that he was one of
those people who shouldn't drink. He was a great storyteller.

But he was a man with a high temper. High, volatile temper. My mother, in contrast to my father,
was a much more hardworking woman.

I never saw my mother not working.

Feeding hens, feeding calves,
pounding meal, making cakes, making the house right. I get the impression that
you loved your mother, you were wary of your father. Would that be right?
That would be very accurate. But was it a happy childhood
for you? No. No. No. No, it wasn't because
I was full of fear. Where there is fear
there isn't happiness.

Jumping way ahead, did you eventually forgive
your father for this? I do forgive him. I do forgive him. Before he died?
Absolutely. I just didn't want to be
in that place. Fear doesn't rule out forgiveness,
if that makes sense. And your mother.
You loved your mother, did you? I loved my mother,
and she was a wonderful woman. A very intelligent woman.

I was her last child and I was...

People think of me as a rebel. Well, God help us,
I was very biddable. Anything my mother wanted, if I thought I should fast,
let us say, or drink salted water... I was full of penance and religion. I know you're laughing
but it's the truth. If I thought... I associated my mother with
the Virgin Mary and with divinity and with purity and all those words. So I was obedient
to the point of cravenness. When I began to feel that I might
like to kiss a man or a boy or go to a dance and that, her possessiveness of me,
her stranglehold on me became more and more apparent. So I had a lot of judgement
in my life. I had the judgement of my mother. Oddly enough,
my father did not judge me. He didn't, but my mother did
and of course the church. Nuns, priests, everyone. It was only later that
I've come to truly distinguish between religion and spirituality. Religion is very often coercive,
in any faith. Muslim, Jewish or Catholic. And Irish Catholicism
was great at it.

Most of the enjoinders were
"Do not. Do not, do not, do not." Not love of God but fear of God. What about books?
Was it a reading house in any way? No. There weren't any books. There was, as I've often said,
this copy of Rebecca that circulated in the village. Some woman had brought Rebecca. In the village?
In the village. The book was loaned by the page
but not consecutive. So you got page 104
and then you got page 2. Well, everyone wanted to read it. So she tore out the pages of the book
and said, "You have that page," but it wasn't like 1, 2, 3. I longed for books. We had some essays of great writers. Not our greatest Irish writers
but great English writers. Snatches of Shakespeare. The Gospels, as I said,
and some myths. I would learn these things
off by heart. I would recite them
coming home from school. I would write
other girls' compositions. A Day At The Seaside,
not having been to the seaside. Or A Day In The Life Of A Penny,
and so on. And my own mother,
from a very early age, was deeply suspect of this vocation,
because I call it a vocation, that I had for that, for writing. Let's move on, then,
to the Sisters of Mercy in Loughrea. And did...
Was that a happy time for you?

Ah, it was punitive...

..but in some ways
it was more peaceful. There wasn't...
I missed my mother terribly. When I wrote The County Girls,
which... ..chapters of which are really,
of course, based... ..not based on but stimulated by, the actual backdrop
is the convent I was in.

The head nun, Sister Teresa,
wrote to me and said, "We hear you have written a novel.

"We give credence an open mind." Well, I was shaking, 'cause I knew that she wasn't giving
credence an open mind. They were very upset by my book.
Well, everyone was upset.

"I was not sorry to be leaving
the old village. "It was dead and tired and old
and crumbling and falling down. "The shops needed paint "and there seemed to be fewer
geraniums in the upstairs windows "than there had been
when I was a child". Now, only a girl born and reared
in a small Irish town could've written that. It was from the heart
and you had determined, "I'm getting out of here." Out. Yes. There's an anger in it. Yes. There's an anger in it
and that's part of youth. Of...of...of breaking out.
One wanted... I wouldn't write that now. Not because I would wish
to placate people but at that point in time... And I don't know when I wrote it,
which book it's from. The Country Girls.
The Country Girls. ..that's what I felt. I saw this world as
crumbling, worn, dead. Imaginatively dead and I wanted out. Now, it wasn't imaginatively dead 'cause there were people
unknown to me, living, suffering, dreaming,
cursing, hating, praying. But I only spoke
for my own incentive. Now, let's move onto The Country
Girls and when it was published. Is it true that the parish priest
burned a copy of it? They did. They did. But it was in Scariff. There were two villages,
Tuamgraney and Scariff. They did. In a sense being... Does that make a difference? Oh, yes, from the point of view
of accuracy. Yes. The burning did happen. We have to remember in those times -
it was 1960...

..County Clare or any other county wasn't the most culturally
enlightened. Nowhere was. Nowhere was. I mean, Charlie Haughey, who later
claimed to a... know, to like me, he and the archbishop of Dublin had an exchange of letters about
The Country Girls that's laughable. That it shouldn't be let
in any decent homestead, that it was filth, and so on. They all thought I had fouled,
you know, girlhood and childhood. I'd...smear... The same phrases
had once been said about JM Synge. Apparently it's in the vernacular. A smear on Irish womanhood. But there was the little burning. The priest asked... A couple of women
had bought The Country Girls. It'll show you what big sales
I have, Gay. And he asked that
the books be brought in and the women brought them in
and there was the burning.

My mother didn't attend the burning
but naturally she told me. And I was quaking.
I thought, "Oh God." Where were you at this stage? I was in England. You'd done a runner?
I had gone. I had scooted.

Again, fear and self-preservation,
both. I was thought by many... many to have done
something treacherous to my own people and my own country. Whereas within me,
what I was trying to do - not something pretty or prettifying
or appeasing. I was trying to render... the best language that I could
search for in my mind...

..the reality and the comedy
and the sorrow as I saw it and much more importantly,
as I felt it around me. So between what I felt I was doing and what was perceived
as what I was doing, there was a great gulf. Were you conscious of people staring
at you or pointing the finger or "That's the one
who wrote this book"? Ah yes. Ah yes, of course. And more. What did you do about that?
How did you cope with it?

I don't think I was that brave. My only bravery was to
write the next book. I remember getting
anonymous letters. You know, "drowning in your own
sewerage" and so on and so on. Go back to your mother again.
How did she cope with this? What did she do with the book?
Well, she buried it. She buried it in a bolster case. I dedicated the book to my mother. Do you mean physically buried it?
Yes. Out in a turf house. My mother went through the book
with black ink. I only found this after she was dead and honestly,
I could have killed her. She went through... You know, Baba's given
to the expletives. I can't remember what she did about
Mr Gentleman's semi-nakedness. She must've had a seizure
at that moment. But in black ink she'd gone through
any offensive words. So after my mother's death I found The Country Girls outside
in a turf house. It was in a bolster case.
Wrapped up, wrapped up, wrapped up. Secret.
Secret and sinful. Where were you spiritually
at this stage? In relation to the Catholic Church. You were now married
to a divorced man. Exactly. I had erred and fallen,
if you like. I'd become wedded to a divorced...
married to a divorced man and had a very grim little wedding. It was in the sacristy of a Catholic
church in Blanchardstown. The witnesses were the two builders. Well, this must've been love.

I'm not sure, Gay.

I had burnt my boats... going with the man
I later married. My own family pursued us...

..and were violent, actually,
towards my future husband.

And I knew. I wasn't married then.
I was just living with him. I knew that evening
when he had wounds and was livid. What do you mean he had wounds? Well, there was a fight.
Ah. So he was hit or kicked.
By whom? Well, my father came with a priest.. Ah. It was like something
out of the Middle Ages. You know? As if I were... It was the same as if were a witch but instead of being a witch,
I was a fallen woman.

Anyhow, there was fisticuffs
with Ernest Gebler, which naturally I
was very ashamed of.

I had no power over
or no ability to redress.

But by then, I knew that
I had cast my lot, and I had. And there was no going back. He must've loved you. I think he did. He was very...

I think he did love me but he also
determined to completely control me. Right. Now in Eleanora,
in The Light Of Evening... Yes. describe finishing your book
in the jotters on the window ledge. You've done it, you've finished that
and he comes in...

..and you describe
a most horrendous scene of hatred, resentment... Jealousy. ..jealousy...
Yes. ..of your writing ability.
Yes. Is that as it was?

Yes. Absolutely. He could not bear the thought that you had written a book,
and a good book? It undermined him.

It undermined his own sense
of himself, his own gifts. This is very sad.
It's very sad for him too. He's dead. This is very sad
but that is the truth. He said, "You can do it,"
meaning write.

"And I will never forgive you."

Did he influence your
spiritual beliefs or values or theology in any way,
your husband? Well, he was very opposed to... You know, he said I came
from ignorant peasants and that. I did come from peasants
and they had some ignorance but they also had great stock. They had great determination,
which, thank God, I have some of. He didn't put me off God. If anything he put me
slightly more on God because I hate people telling you how
you must think, how you must feel. Even though I have, if you like,
been subservient to it. Where do you stand now
in relation to the Catholic Church? I shall now do my Joan of Arc. I saw some of the blatant hypocrisy
of the Catholic Church of saying, "You do that
but I can do what I like." That's not religion. That's not spirituality.

The power of the Catholic Church
in the '40s, '50s, '60s, in Ireland and maybe long after...

..was overwhelming. It is less so now because people have become,
if you like, a little more... They're asking questions,
they're more enlightened and in many ways they're more angry. They feel the Catholic Church
has let them down.

I don't feel the Catholic Church
has let me down 'cause it was never intending
to build me up.

So what I feel is that
whatever relationship, including my fears...

..fears and my hopes...

..if you like, are with my maker and my with myself. I know some wonderful
devout Catholics. I know a nun in The Mater Hospital who gave me so much help
with The Light Of Evening, with that book, who nursed my mother in her final
and most troubled moments.

That nun has...not like
some of the nuns who taught me, that nun has given her life to God.

So her stronghold will be...

..towards God, and not towards
this or that bishop or priest.

Do you pray?
I do pray, of course. To whom do you pray?

I pray to God, a divinity. I pray to... In my little, venal ways
or whatever you might call them I pray to Saint Anthony. But the prayers one says must come,
the way writing must come...

..from the soul and from the heart. They can't be robot. It's not robot time. It's too late on this earth
for robot time. The world is too troubled
and troubling. What vision do you have in your mind
when you're praying to Him?

Well...'s subjective. I'm very frightened in life so when I'm praying to Him I would
think I become something of a child. Mm-hm. It's between me and the person
to whom I am appealing, whom I am not even sure exists. In there lies, if you like,
a whole crop of paradoxes. Do you think prayers are answered? I do. I think an intensity of prayer
is answered. I do, actually. I can't say that's happening... I would like to own a house
in London. I don't think I'm going to get
a house in Dublin or in London before nightfall but if I do, let me assure you
I will telephone you.

You have not been lucky
with the men in your life. Your dad and your husband and... Is that a fair statement? Very precise. A fair statement and one that
we'll dwell on for a moment or two. I have not been lucky. Certainly in the case
of Ernest Gebler I chose a...

..judgemental or punishing figure.

Not obviously religious. In fact irreligious
but with the same strictures. Some people call it masochism.
I object to the word. I think in me was...

Religion had be so instilled into me that I did not think or feel that earthly love should be anything
but in some form...punishing. I didn't feel it should be a romp. And now I am 78 years of age.

I haven't met the man with whom my whole being,
heart, soul and body...

..would be miraculously entwined. I didn't.

My prayer has not been answered
in that, nor is it likely to be. Do you believe you'll see
your parents again?

I am frightened to.

Now, I would love to be able
to say to you, I would love to see my parents, because when I die
I hope my children...

..will not be want...
will not only not be afraid but will be longing to see me.

There were things left unfinished and in my little understanding of it, which, again, is just like
a fable in my mind, those unfinished things
would have to be thrashed out and I would be nervous of that. Do you not think
the communion of saints theology in the Catholic Church is a very nice, comforting
kind of theology?

It certainly is so long as one
can totally believe it. You see, again,
it's a question of faith. If...if... Let's say 100% faith, like
the nun I love in the Mater Hospital, who has the great name of Raporata. She has total faith. I do not have total faith. Do you envy her that faith?

No, I still want to be me.

The feeling of the love of God,
the absolute love of God, at whatever age or years I felt it is something I am glad to have felt. But where it got destroyed was that it was intermeshed
with such fear and with hell. Hell as opposed to heaven. Hell and purgatory took precedence.

Do you fear death?

I fear death and I fear the journey
towards death.

Everybody baulks at the word
'nothingness' and I baulk too but I don't know
whether it's nothingness or... Those who tell us,
Richard Dawkins and many people, they don't know either. Shakespeare's great line, "From whose hilly bourn no traveller
returns to tell us of the way."

Were you ever attracted
to another faith? Muslim, Hindu, Protestant, Jew? There is something about
the best of Buddhist faith that is also
the best about human...humanity. But as regards crossing over or taking the soup
as it used to be called, I don't think I could do that because the other
was so ingrained in me.

What do you think
the Old Testament is? Well, I think it's great literature. It does stretch the imagination. Seven days. You know, it takes people
seven days to deliver a pizza. Seven days to create the world? What do you think Matthew, Mark,
Luke and John is? The evang... They... The disciples of Christ...

..I believe were in...

..were in an epoch -
I don't know the exact dates - in which a man called Jesus lived
and was crucified and rose from the dead. Do you think he was God,
the son of God? That's where I don't know. I don't know. That is what the teaching is,
that is it the son of God. What do you believe?

I want to believe...

..that he was.

Do you believe in
the real presence... mass?

Very often I'm so distracted at mass
by the noise and coughing and... It's like kindergarten now. In the presence of Christ
in the host...

..I... ..I suppose I do believe in it but I cannot logically tell you. I believe in it
because I believed in it at first.

One last question. Suppose it's all true...

..and you meet Jesus
when you arrive at the pearly gates. What will you say to Him? Bless me.
Bless me throughout eternity.

VOICEOVER: It's one of the oldest
religions on earth and the world's newest genocide. Has ISIS dealt the final blow
for the Yazidis? They believe that Yazidis
don't have the right to exist in the Islamic world. I think it's fair to say Yazidism
will never be the same again. Compass, next Sunday. Captions by Ericsson Access Services Copyright Australian Broadcasting

This program is live captioned by Ericsson Access Services.

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