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Do Penance or Perish: Magdalen Asylums in Ireland Paperback – April 8, 2004

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review


"She provides valuable information about the nature of Magdalen asylum system in Ireland." --History: Review of Books


"The definitive account of the Magdalen Asylums..." --The Guardian


"Frances Finnegan's pioneering works on poverty and prostitution in Victorian Britain are classics, and so is this beautifully-produced book, the eagerly-awaited fruit of two decades' research. This is what social history should be... This excellent book represents a coming of age for Irish women's history... This is 'nasty' women's history; as feminist historians we will have to find a way of understanding (without excusing) women who perpetrated and perpetuated cruelty and inhumanity." --Women's Studies


"There is much fascinating detail, prompting questions about class, power, and religion... Frances Finnegan, provocatively sympathetic to her subject, has written a book that ascribes significance to lives that were carefully hidden" --Saothar, the Journal of the Irish Labour History Society


About the Author

Frances Finnegan is at Waterford Institute of Technology.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 8, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195174607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195174601
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.9 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,319,991 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was looking for more of a collection of actual "inmate" experiences at the laundries. This book, while very well written, concise and thorough, simply verifies the existence of these asylums.
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After seeing, and enjoying the film "The Magdalen Sisters" I wanted to find more factual information about the subject. This was the only book available.

I was, unfortunately, VERY disappointed. The book is poorly written; the author jumping from one subject to another rather than following any logical pattern. She looks at not only the Magdalen Asylums in Ireland (as the title implies)but 'rescue homes' for prostitutes run by a variety of organizations, and located in both Ireland and England. The main focus of the book (such as it is) is on early to mid-19th century institutions. At that time the asylums and homes were used almost exclusively by prostitutes, and attendence was purely voluntary. (The author notes that most women left after only a few months, unwilling or unable to cope with the strict rules.) The book barely touches on the more recent history of the asylums. (It was mostly in the mid-to-late 20th century that they were inhabited primarily by unwed mothers.)
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Format: Paperback
Frances Finnegan is an English historian who resettled in Ireland. She had previously done a study of Victorian prostitution, the last chapter of which was on the Rescue and Reform movement (particularly in York, England.) Finnegan makes no apology for not choosing "to be 'objective' about the subject of this study, no do I think it a necessity, or a virtue, for historians to suspend their moral judgement." As long as she has her facts straight, I have no problem with that. Finnegan points out that the Female Penitentiary (using the term to mean a place where one repents, although the sense of prison is not inappropriate either) was largely carried out by women and "[f]ew questioned the morality of consigning 'fallen' women but not men to penitentiaries."

She was given access to the records of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd,which dominated the Magdelan system in Ireland for more than a century. Originally a branch of the Order of our Lady of Charity, founded by Saint Mary Euphrasia Pelletier in France in 1835 and dedicated to rescuing fallen women. Finnegan discuss the order as a whole, and then the individual houses in Ireland, comparing them at times with other organizations. She focuses on the last half of the 19th century, although she does briefly discuss the continuation of the system into the 1970s, with the last inmates leaving in the 1990s. Finnegan is disappointed that so few historians are willing to discuss this controversial topic, with most of the literature being autobiographical accounts. Obviously here is a fertile field for oral history. Finnegan has grouped her statistics in tables, mostly towards the end of the book.
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I must agree with several of the previous reviewers... This book is filled with so much NUMERICAL DATA, that the numbers and figures are stated in just about every sentence & this of course does take away from the rhythm & narrative in this book.

I think it would have been better if the author had included a sort of "TABLE" at the very end of the book, (which in turn) could have been filled with much of the numerical statistics that were mentioned throughout this actual book .

For me, the information was actually quite interesting , since I had no previous knowledge of any Victorian "work houses" and old "religious homes" for these unfortunate gals.
This book was interesting to me, but again, the flow of the paragraphs were stunted by all the numbers and statistics.

Once again, I think the author could have placed much of the "data" in footnotes & in an Appendix at the very end of the book.... instead of including all of the data within the actual chapters.

I did enjoy the black and white photographs of the Victorian and mid-century women and children that were actually housed in these special "homes" ...I just wish the author had included more photos, but then, I was glad to see at least a few of the antique photos in this book.
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Historian Frances Finnegan has produced a scholarly account of the origins of the Magdalen Laundries in Ireland. It is well-researched as well as well-written and engaging. It is worth noting that the emphasis in this work is in the nineteenth century origins of the Magdalen system. This is the perfect book to begin serious research into the subject, however, providing a scholarly framework to inform further reading.
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This book contains a recitation of well researched facts but unfortunately, offers very little in the way of sociological interpretation or comment.
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