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  • Writer's pictureAlan Bray

Old Friends - Amongst Women

Last week, we started thinking about the structure of Amongst Women—the way it establishes a present time at the beginning when Michael Moran’s daughters have returned to the family home to break him out of a decline.

“You’ll have to shape up, Daddy. You can’t go on like this. You’re giving us no help. We can’t get you better on our own.”

Then the story moves back in time. From the present, which I believe occurs around 1960, it goes back to the last time Jimmy McQuaid came to visit Moran on Monaghan’s Day, this being the family event the daughters revive to help their father. This time is shortly before Moran marries Rose, apparently some ten years earlier from the book’s start. Some writers might employ a change of verb tenses and/or a new chapter to indicate this shift. McGahern uses a paragraph break and then the new section begins with the unnamed narrator’s voice:

“The attempt to revive Monaghan Day was a gesture as weak as a couple who marry in order to retrieve a lost relationship, the mind having changed the hard actual fact into what was comfortable to feel.”

“On the last Monaghan Day that McQuaid came to the house Moran was on edge…”

So, no shift in verb tense to mark the movement into the past. There’s a summary of the previous section’s meaning, and then the shift is marked by naming the particular time and the event—the last Monaghan Day that McQuaid came to the house. This also serves to show a significant plot point—that the event of McQuaid’s visiting Moran every Monaghan’s Day came to an end.

Jimmy McQuaid was Moran’s comrade in the Irish military fighting for Irish independence from the British. He has become a prosperous farmer—more prosperous than Moran and is Moran’s oldest friend. Every year, the fellas get together and reminisce. Moran serves McQuaid a bottle of whisky but does not drink himself, stating it doesn’t agree with him anymore. On this last time, they talk about an incident from the war when they attacked a British Army meeting and killed several high-ranking officers. McQuaid praises Moran’s leadership but the mood changes. Moran objects to McQuaid’s comments against the Catholic Church, and the men become sullen and silent.

“…And there might never be another world.” McQuaid could not resist this hit at Moran’s religiosity.…”God stays out of it.”

The reasons for the old friends arguing aren’t entirely clear—perhaps they dislike the men they’ve become. There may be some jealousy over McQuaid’s prosperity. Perhaps Moran has never been as good of a friend as McQuaid wanted.

“Moran was too complicated to let anyone know what he thought of anything.”

The tradition has been that McQuaid would spend the night but on this final evening, he announces he plans to go home. Moran remains by himself.

“As soon as Moran saw McQuaid on his feet again he knew the evening, all the evenings, were about to be broken up and he withdrew back into himself. He would neither plead with him to stay nor help him with his leaving.”

“In a cold fury he stood and sat about for a long time within…After years he had lost his oldest and best friend but in a way he had always despised friendship; families were what mattered, more particularly that larger version of himself—his family, and while seated in the same scheming fury he saw each individual member gradually slipping away out of his reach. Yes, they would eventually all go. He would be alone. That he could not stand. He saw with bitter lucidity that he would marry Rose Brady now. As with so many things, no sooner had he taken the idea to himself than he began to resent it passionately.”

This passage shows several things: Moran denies he feels any regret over the quarrel with McQuaid. He shifts off this quickly and broods in a deeply angry way about his family, which he tells himself is the most important thing in his life but one which will abandon him. And it shows how Moran is an unhappy man who can only briefly feel happiness but then must denigrate and deny it.

‘Kay. Enough there, my friends. Next time, we’ll continue with the story of Moran and Rose’s coming together.

A little romance, eh?

Till then.


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