Rose - Amongst Women
Immediately after the section in Amongst Women that depicts the last meeting between Moran and McQuaid, there is a paragraph break. Then the reader is treated to fourteen pages of gorgeous lyrical writing telling the story of how Moran got together with Rose Brady.
“Rose Brady had come home from Glasgow to nurse her father and stayed on irresolutely after his death, one day stretching into another…Sometimes she had too strong of a sense of being locked into the life of the farmhouse, even with the door open on the summer yard, her brother away in the fields, her mother stumbling about the place with buckets, leaning on the table or the back of a chair whenever she stood to talk. One evening, as an excuse to get out of the house, she went with a letter to the post office.”
Lyrical writing is song-like, poetic, evocative. It does not collapse under an overabundance of metaphor and simile but has enough of these devices to distinguish it from more journalistic prose. In the above example, the first sentence describes why Rose in in Ireland, where she came from, what she’s doing. However, the next sentence expands in a lyrical bloom. It describes her feelings about staying at her widowed mother’s farmhouse but doesn’t say “The everyday routines of her family made her feel confined.” Instead, it talks about her being “locked into the life of the farmhouse—even with the door open. About her brother’s absence, her mother stumbling with buckets. She feels confined by life and wants to escape. This is quite important as it leads her to Moran.
Moran represents escape.
It is at the post office, that she encounters Michael Moran, of whom it is said she knew by sight but had never spoken to before. “He had been a widower for many years, she knew…She found him attentive, intelligent, even charming, but with a distinct sense of separateness and pride that she found refreshingly unlike any other other local men she had known.”
“She was in her late thirties, lean and strong, too neat and plain of feature ever to have been beautiful but her large grey eyes were intelligent and full of wilfulness and energy. As soon as she got home she couldn’t resist bringing up Moran’s name…She saw her mother look at her sharply. ‘They say he’s one sort of person when he’s out in the open among people—he can be very sweet—but that he’s a different sort of person altogether behind the walls of his own house.’”
Heedless, Rose returns to the post office each night, “each time managing to leave the post office alone with Moran…She was able to conceal her restlessness, the pacing about, the dream of a different beginning to a new life, her impatience with the old shapes that she had used for too long; she was not young and was old enough to perceive failure…she could not stay away from the post office…”
The townsfolk, even Rose’s mother, become sarcastic and insulting about Rose’s efforts, criticizing her for being too pushy. Moran himself is ambivalent. “Rose Brady’s attention had been as unexpected as it had been sudden and welcome. It was as if she had fallen out of a generous sky. She was much younger than he, strong, not unpleasant to look at. He had reason to suspect that she had saved money and his life could glow again in the concentration of her attention. It was unlikely that such luck would fall his way again no matter how long he waited.”
Moran tells his daughters he’s considering re-marriage. He calls on Rose, meets her family, and as he’s leaving, kisses her. (The old dog). He introduces Rose to his family. They plan to marry.
“Rose wished that they could be married quickly but now that there was nothing in the way of it Moran grew cautious and evasive. She saw the way it was and moved differently.”
Rose invites Moran and his family to her mother’s house and charms the Moran children. Soon after, she and Moran marry.
Rose is, I believe a central figure in Amongst Women, equally so with Michael Moran, the obvious protagonist. We will get into the issue of how the narrational style of the story facilitates this—later. For now, I want to say I believe Rose is the redeemer of the Moran family, absorbing and re-directing much of Moran’s anger and meanness. She is “the good mother” who interprets and explains Moran’s misbehavior to his children. For better or for worse, she is “Daddy’s” apologist. And she devotes herself to taking care of all of them, including Moran—who is not exactly husband-of-the-year material.
“Then one evening as she was tidying up the room he said as quietly as if he were taking rifle aim, ‘There’s no need for you to go turning the whole place upside down. We managed well enough before you ever came round the place.’
She did not try to answer or to turn it aside. It was again as if she had been struck…Then with the same shocking slowness, without a word, without looking at anyone, she went to the door, opened it and let it close softly behind her. There was complete silence.”
Moran finally finds her in their darkened bedroom.
“Are you awake at all there Rose?”
“I’m awake,’ she said in a voice strained with hurt. ‘I’ll have to go away from here.’
‘I never heard such nonsense,’ he blustered…’God, O God. Has everything to be taken like this? I never meant anything like that…I thought we’d finished with that forever’…He had been checked.”
There is a pattern of Moran behaving badly and Rose showing how he’s hurt her, which leads to Moran apologizing with less and less reluctance. Gradually, he’s “tamed.”
What is Rose’s motivation for this self-lessness? It’s not directly explained. It can be inferred that she is anxious to marry Moran, not so much because of who he is or because of any great love, but more because she does not wish to be an unmarried, aging woman who never experienced marriage and family. And I suppose it can also be inferred that she is invested in maintaining this marriage and family—almost at all costs.
And Moran needs Rose. He seems to sense that, alone, he would not be a successful human. As his oldest son says late in the story, Moran needs to be among women (another meaning of the title). Men are threats—unless they aren’t, like Sheila’s husband, Sean, and then Moran can be affable in a controlling way. He cannot abide men who are like him—strong-willed, controlling. Most of all his eldest son, Luke.
‘Kay. It’s time to wrap up today’s post.
Till next time, my friends.
#AmongstWomen #JohnMcGahern #AlanBray