The Island Women, Mary Lavin and Women.

Mary Lavin is possibly my favourite author, I possess an autographed book of her which I  have to return to its rightful owner … (My mother).

If I were to choose a story that for me represents Mary Lavin, it would have to be The Chamois Gloves. It took me years to understand how such a pretty name can be pronounced in such a manner and its relation to window shammys. How and ever, this story is a must read for anyone who adores Lavin’s lightness of touch.

I cannot even at this point remember the heroine’s name in the glove story but I do remember the milieu, and strange as it seems for many people who live happily in post-catholic and increasingly secular Ireland, the Reverend Mother is very recognisable to those of us whom were educated in the convent schools. The story opens with the mild hysteria of the Reverend mother as she bemoans the lack of culture of the families of her postulants.  She is to give a lunch and there are no grapefruit spoons.

Indeed, the woman likes nothing better than to go through the dowry offerings and silverware in the vain hope that someone (anyone) will have the breeding to have used and subsequently donated the spoons to the convent. One can smell the floor polish and the linens soaking at this point..I know that smell.

The story is so beautifully written that it usually brings the tears, its about friendship, about sisters and their intimacy. The cold rinsing of the chamois gloves and the memories that this action provokes are absolutely pure, unadulterated and magnificent Lavin.

It’s small mourning for womanhood, childhood, and friendship writ on a monumental scale and hence the title of this small piece.

Women took with them to the marriage bed, the convent and the islands: trunks. Within these trunks were linens, ribbons, laces, negligees, inserts, recycled wedding gowns and the mending box. A lifetime of wear could be had from the trunk; and of course engagements would be long to ensure that the trousseau was adequately completed. Cos they married Island men, their Religious Christ or the future husband in much the same manner as is delineated in Lorca Plays. The trunks, the plate and the trinkets have always intrigued me, largely because of my feminism and the idea of Ownership.

A woman would walk into a marriage (often the marriage was arranged) with her tinpotchattels and linens, and from this trunk would emerge the christening robes and winding sheets that would cover her family until her death. She would give up her name too

I am going to excerpt a small section of The Chamois Gloves in the comments section. It’s awful to romanticise the social customs of the past when one realises the things that were hidden by the idea of marriage including high Infant mortality rates and the usual human gamut of domestic battles/triumphs and disasters.

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