Friday 11 August 2023

The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

This historical novel takes place in Ireland in 1962.  It’s storyline portrays the terrible lives lived by young women, who for whatever reason were placed into the care of nuns who ran the Catholic Church’s Magdalen Laundries in Dublin.  Their incarceration was worse and more hopeless than what was experienced by criminals jailed in the prisons of the day.

Teagan, a normal 16 year old girl, was introduced to a handsome young priest at his welcome reception.  The priest was clearly interested in Teagan and asked her to help him pick out a wine in the basement at the reception.  She was uneasy at the request and fortunately nothing happened, but a rumor of Teagan sexually tempting the young priest arose, and the elderly priest who ran the church, contacts Teagan’s abusive and alcoholic father, telling him of what he suspects, and as a result her father agrees to have Teagan sent to The Sisters of Holy Redemption Convent, where Teagan discovers she has become a slave in the Magdalen Laundry they run.

While publicly the Convents were seen as a place of redemption for unwed mothers, “fallen” and wayward women, in reality it was a grim, uncaring workhouse for girls and young women, some of which are there only because, like Teagan, they are deemed to be too pretty and tempting to men.  In the convent the inmates were given new names, had their heads shaved, and given dreary, shapeless, gray dresses to wear.  This sudden change in her life is incomprehensible to Teagan, but any questions or explanations are quickly shut down by the very stern Mother Superior, Sister Anne.

The laundry was run like a prison, and although the Magdalen girls were not allowed to speak to one another, Teagan slowly becomes friends with Nora, whose wild behavior spooked her parents into sending her to the Convent.  The two teenaged girls make a pact to find someway to escape from their imprisonment, back into the world they knew.

The novel is based on real facts and does a good job of describing the slave-like lives the women are forced to live.  Many a girl’s dream of the future, were brutally crushed by the forced labor and having to live under the strict rules of the Church.  The hopelessness of their situation, drove some to suicide, drove others too accept their fate and just give up to spend their lives working in the laundry, and surprisingly, even drove some to become nuns to escape the unending laundry work.

The Magdalen Laundries run by the Catholic Church were very abusive, inhumane, and broke laws, but unfortunately, when their crimes were finally made public, they were overshadowed by the news of the sexual abuses of the clergy which came out about the same time.  The Magdalen Laundries were finally closed in 1996.

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