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Ireland's Magdalen Laundries and the Nation's Architecture of Containment Paperback – September 28, 2007

12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0268041274 ISBN-10: 026804127X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“James M. Smith’s book . . . fills a significant gap in research about the Magdalen laundries and their impact on Irish society. . . . As well as being an overview of laundries run by various religious orders, Smith’s monograph also positions the Magdalen laundries within a variety of discourses that overlap and interconnect, including religion, politics, sexuality, and the arts. . . . The topic of this book is fascinating, its execution is excellent, and its contribution to Ireland’s social and cultural history is essential.” Reviews in History



“[Smith’s] insights about Ireland’s ‘architecture of containment’ will surely prove an invaluable scholarly approach to understanding the collusive institutional forces of discipline and sexual repression. We can be equally grateful that his lucid explanation about this dynamic in post-independence Ireland is so compelling that Irish lay readers, as well as avid television and movie watchers, will be chewing over his insights for years to come.” —New Hibernia Review



“Smith, a literary critic, evaluates diverse contemporary representations of the women of the Magdalen laundries within the context of the available historical information about these institutions. Most usefully, he also measures the relationship between historical record and literary interpretation to good effect. . . . [T]he tone of Smith's method and writing here is balanced and compassionate, sensitive to the injustices done to these women in the laundries but scrupulous in terms of historical and archival research. . . . [A] fair-minded, scholarly and sensitive study of a profoundly difficult chapter in our recent and living history.” —The Irish Times



“This richly argued and impeccably researched study focuses on ten Magdalen laundries that operated in Ireland between 1922 and 1996. . . . As an admirably interdisciplinary work that treats the history of the laundries alongside their representation in recent culture, Smith also seeks to draw attention to a very painful aspect of contemporary Irish history. This is an important work that deserves wide reading.” —Choice



Smith] provides readers with the first attempt at a comprehensive history of the institutions in Ireland. His scholarship aims to continue the work of others in chipping away at the national amnesia regarding the place of the Magdalens, to bring them to the centre of public discourse from the concealment of their margins. The study reaches beyond the ivory tower into the larger society, becoming not just useful for other researchers but also a rare example of academic activism at its best.” —Irish Studies Review

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2007 Donald Murphy Prize for a Distinguished First Book from the American Conference for Irish Studies
"Ireland's Magdalen Laundries is an important book, written with scrupulous attention to detail and impeccably researched. This is a dark and deeply emotional subject about which James M. Smith manages to be fair-minded and calm in his judgments. It is an essential book for anyone interested in the fear and cruelty surrounding women's sexuality in the Ireland of the recent past." --Colm Tóibín
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; 1 edition (September 28, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026804127X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268041274
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #551,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By MC on March 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
James Smith contributes to the documentation of Catholicism's dark side in Ireland with a heartfelt scholarly work which acknowledges the modern Irish village and urban culture of hatred towards both unmarried mothers and desperate prostitutes, something which has run rampant and perpetuated a legacy of shaming & blaming to the point of actual enslavement of impoverished women in work camp nunneries. Smith also contrasts this with extremely different, pre-domination previous Irish Gaelic culture, which makes this work an all-encompassing effort to grapple with the beast of Irish enslavement in general, in unholy alliances of Church and State.

Ireland has suffered not only 800 years of British rule (and the genocide rather erringly called famine) but also simultaneously, and even longer, the cultural domination of the Catholic Church which has profited greatly because of it. "Internalized Oppression," is a term coined by social scientists to explain the victimization of the vulnerable by their own people within an oppressed nation riddled with self-hatred - and what is more a culture's "self" than its pregnant women? And so, the Magdalen Laundry Catholic asylum system of over a dozen locations/camps of discreet forced labor of unwed mothers and prostitutes, managed by nuns who a) obviously had little power within the male-identified Church and b) who did not cultivate their own spiritual life to the extent of being able to conceive & organize for a more Christ-oriented strategy & vision (unlike, say, St. Hildegard of Bingen).
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mari T. Steed on August 1, 2013
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Professor Smith's insightful work was the culmination of years of careful research. It shows in the precise and highly detailed statistics provided, the respectful tone of the book (toward both survivors and the religious who ran the Laundries) and it can truly be considered an unbiased, worthy treatise on a dark chapter in Ireland's history.

I can't imagine why the notorious misogynist Bill Donohue would even attempt a review of a book he's clearly not read (nor do I doubt he's read any more than the introduction to the Interdepartmental Committee's 1000+ page report, a.k.a. 'The McAleese report'), other than to once again get his name in the press. It's a shame, because had he taken the time to read Prof. Smith's book, he might've actually learned something about the Magdalene Laundries - institutions he's never set foot in (which Prof. Smith has) yet claims some level of expertise.

I urge anyone who wishes an inside look at why and how the Laundries existed to read this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By William E. Hewitt Jr on March 4, 2014
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If you saw the movie "The Magdalen Sisters" this book will add a bit of new information. A bit dry and hard to read, it still stands as a stunning indictment of the cruel and inhuman treatment of the poor girls who were forced to suffer at the hands of sanctimonious "moralists" and the collusion of church and government who perpetuated this crime for so many years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alexander on January 19, 2015
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James M. Smith has written a first-rate account of the Magdalen Laundries and their place within the larger context of Ireland’s history. Written with clarity and power, Smith’s prose is compelling. I couldn’t put it down and devoured all 188 pages (the length of the book not including the footnotes) in little more than a single day.

Smith provides a solid history of the laundries but also describes their place in what he calls Ireland’s “architecture of containment”. He shows how they fit into the overarching system of church-state collusion that also birthed the horrors of the Industrial Schools. He points out that the Irish state as well as Irish society at large is complicit in the tragedy. He also shines a light upon the double-standard in which thousands of Irish women were sentenced to lives of incarceration and slave labor for perceived sexual deviancy while the men involved customarily escaped all punishment. Finally, he analyzes a variety of modern artworks about the Magdalen Laundries (plays, a film, and two art exhibits) and what they say about the modern perceptions of the tragedy. Along the way, Smith pulls no punches. He describes the horrors of the institution as well as the cultural assumptions which allowed it.

An absolute must-read for anyone interested in the topic as well as anyone interested in Modern Irish History.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Terri on January 5, 2014
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How did this go on for so long? Women and girls swept under the rug in a brutal slavery while their male counterparts got off scot free.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Arbor Dell on March 12, 2014
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The book has two divergent elements: a review of the representation of the Magdalen Laundries in contemporary Irish arts, which the author reports as having been a chapter in his dissertation; and an attempt to offer historical and sociological context to the institutions, apparently in an attempt to create a stand-alone book. The author is clear in his introduction that he is neither a historian nor a sociologist, but attempts to overcome this lack with an abundance of footnotes. Unfortunately his superficial grasp of the pre-1922 social structure and dynamic produce simplistic understandings of the post-1931 context of the Laundries. His academic advisor Maria Luddy has published her own updated book: Prostitution and Irish Society 1800-1940 (2007) which could be used to refine some of Smith's thinking and commentary. The subject matter deserves better.
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