Friday, January 27, 2017

The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

Dublin, 1962. Within the gated grounds of the convent of The Sisters of the Holy Redemption lies one of the city’s Magdalen Laundries. Once places of refuge, the laundries have evolved into grim workhouses. Some inmates are “fallen” women—unwed mothers, prostitutes, or petty criminals. Most are ordinary girls whose only sin lies in being too pretty, too independent, or tempting the wrong man. Among them is sixteen-year-old Teagan Tiernan, sent by her family when her beauty provokes a lustful revelation from a young priest.

Teagan soon befriends Nora Craven, a new arrival who thought nothing could be worse than living in a squalid tenement flat. Stripped of their freedom and dignity, the girls are given new names and denied contact with the outside world. The Mother Superior, Sister Anne, who has secrets of her own, inflicts cruel, dehumanizing punishments—but always in the name of love. Finally, Nora and Teagan find an ally in the reclusive Lea, who helps them endure—and plot an escape. But as they will discover, the outside world has dangers too, especially for young women with soiled reputations.
Told with candor, compassion, and vivid historical detail, The Magdalen Girls is a masterfully written novel of life within the era’s notorious institutions—and an inspiring story of friendship, hope, and unyielding courage.


I learned about the Magdalen laundries in a Canadian document that revealed the history of these homes not only here but also in Ireland where they originated.

The hardship and tales of abuse are difficult to fathom, but they are real and they did occur. 

The Magdalen Girls is a fictional account of young women who were sent to the Irish laundries if their behavior was scandalous, or they were victims of male attention, or often by innocent mistakes. Unwed mothers, prostitutes, victims of rape, all were sent there to relieve their families of embarrassment or scandal. 

The laundries were administered by the Catholic Church and the young women worked under the harshest of conditions while suffering horrendous punishments. 

The girls who were imprisoned in Ireland in the Magdalen laundries in the 1960s to learn the errors of their ways. The laundries were managed by Catholic nuns for girls who were deemed unacceptable - either they had a baby out of wedlock, were prostitutes or were merely too pretty and may entice men. The living conditions were extremely harsh as they girls were being rehabilitated with hard work, punishment and prayer.

This book was difficult to read as it stirred my outrage. It was well researched and an authentic accounting of what transpired.  More importantly, it is recent history - 1960's. 

The characters were not real, but they depicted exactly the type of women or circumstances they faced when confined so.

For those that love to learn history through historical fiction, this is not a book to miss. Definitely worth reading...

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