Entertainment Book Reviews

Thursday 16 August 2018

Unforeseen treasure by a forgotten Irish voice

Fiction: The Unforeseen, Dorothy Macardle, Tramp Press €15.00

Dorothy Macardle's The Unforseen is a disquieting novel, and is deserving of international acclaim
Dorothy Macardle's The Unforseen is a disquieting novel, and is deserving of international acclaim
The Unforeseen

Anne Cunningham

In the summer of 1938, Virgilia Wilde reluctantly decides to consult her doctor about her problems with premonitions. Recently widowed after a long and loveless marriage, she has used her slender inheritance to buy and restore a small cottage in Wicklow, back in her native Ireland. She is an educated, practical woman and the mother of an art student, Nan, who lives in London.

Virgilia's visit to her GP leads her to Dr Franks, an eminent Dublin psychiatrist, who can find nothing wrong with her. But he sets the ball rolling very early on in this excellent psychological thriller: "I do not believe in ghosts," he says, "but I am becoming increasingly aware that there are forms of subjective experience that we do not as yet comprehend."

Enter Dr Franks's son Perry, recently returned from America, where he's been involved in a post-grad research project into telepathy. Then Virgilia's daughter, Nan arrives, having fled London and her relationship with the increasingly unstable sculptor, Carlo.

Nan and Perry Franks meet and inevitably fall for each other. But Virgilia continues to have dark, violent premonitions. And they're coming true. A premonition of a road accident, with Nan and Perry in the car, convinces everyone that something inexplicable is happening to Virgilia. As the frequency and intensity of these visions gather momentum, Virgilia begins to have waking dreams of her beloved daughter being brutally murdered - strangled by a man whose face Virgilia can't see.

Meanwhile, a local traveller boy is being threatened and harassed by the gardai. Virgilia tries to help him, but when the boy's mother casts a curse on Virgilia's house it looks like things are really unravelling.

This novel is the fourth published by Tramp Press in its series entitled Recovered Voices. The Unforeseen was first published in 1945 and has since fallen out of print. In 2015, Tramp republished another of Macardle's novels, another story involving seemingly supernatural forces called The Uninvited, to considerable critical acclaim. So successful was The Uninvited in its day that it made it all the way to Hollywood and the film of the book, starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, was released in 1944.

Dorothy Macardle is a fascinating character. She was born into the wealthy Macardle brewing family in Dundalk and educated at Alexandra College and UCD, where she graduated with a BA in English in 1912. A political activist and feminist during Ireland's most tumultuous years, she was a member of both the Gaelic League and Cumann na mBan. During this time she had returned to Alexandra College to teach English and was arrested - in her classroom - for her activities. She spent six months imprisoned in both Mountjoy and Kilmainham. She recorded her experiences in Kilmainham Tortures, an expose of the cruelties experienced by women prisoners, and later recorded those experiences at length in Earthbound: Nine Stories of Ireland in 1924. She is best remembered for her 1937 tome The Irish Republic, which was commissioned by de Valera.

She worked as an historian, lecturer, novelist and playwright, as a journalist and theatre critic for The Irish Press, and later as a champion of children's rights in post-war Europe, and while many of her works are now out of print, she wrote prolifically, with three of her 11 plays being produced in the Abbey.

How such a prominent literary figure in our fledgling State could become so wholly neglected is, in the recent aftermath of Waking the Feminists, hardly surprising. But nonetheless it is utterly dispiriting.

Tramp Press is to be lauded for its literary resurrections in the Recovered Voices series and long may it continue.

The Unforeseen is easily as impeccably written and haunted and disquieting as du Maurier's Rebecca, which has never been out of print.

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