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scriptures of madness

Today has been much lighter so am now reading fiction again, spurred on by a great piece in the Evening Standard on Monday on Sebastian Barry's latest book, The Secret Scripture.  I don't usually buy hardback unless I really really want it, and I did!  Then my sister called me and just casually mentioned that she too had read of the book, although she didn't know the title, only a bit of the story, not knowing I'd already bought it!  The story is that of a hundred year old woman who, it seems, has been in Roscommon mental hospital for over fifty years.  It is alternately narrated by the doctor, worn down and dealing with marriage problems, and Roseanne, the main character.  I was attracted to it, and I suspect my sister was too, by the fact that it is set in a mental hospital in Ireland.  I am currently thinking about researching my own mum's troubled past.  My mum grew up in Manchester but her mother was Irish and had her sent away after her Dad died, first to a convent in Liverpool, then, at seventeen, to a very large mental institution in the Ribble Valley, where she was to stay for seven years - it was not for medical reasons, but for social.  It can never be denied that my mum has always had a 'difficult' character and quite a few 'issues' but to be sent away for seven years was something else.  I want to tell her story because she's currently very poorly. Last year, six weeks after we buried our Dad, she had her first severe stroke, which left her wheelchair bound.  Then just a few weeks ago she suffered 'numerous' strokes.  I was advised by doctors to go up to Manchester as they weren't sure how long she had left.  She's still with us, but just about.  Her consultant last week said she's the worst case he's ever had - I think he was taking into account her entire 'medical' history as well.  It suddenly dawned on me that, whilst I know a lot about my mum's history, this doctor has all her notes going back years - from way before I was even born and that he knew more about her.  It was a strange feeling.  Yesterday we were told she has now got pneumonia.  It's a day by day thing and I'm trying to stay as grounded as possible.  Anyway, to add more to this chain of events leading up to the buying of this book this morning I was offered a freelance assignment at a well-known London psychiatric hospital.  I will be working in the press office, helping to keep them on the positive side of the press should former patients, for whatever reason, make the headlines!  But should writing about one's mother be done in a certain way?  That notorious French writer, Michel Houellebecq, who has often used the public space accorded to him as a writer to slate his mother (who it has to be said abandoned him to his grandmother at a young age because she wanted more freedom) has now had the tables turned on him.  His mother, in her eighties, has written her own book.  Read the story here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1913984/French-icon-attacked-in-mother%27s-revenge-book.html
 

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Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

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A couple of weeks ago I contributed to the BBC World Service’s radio programme the Forum on the subject of Friedrich Engels. It’s available on The Forum’s webpage on the BBC website. Apart from myself, the illustrious Terrell Carver, Jonathan Sperber, and Christian Kell also gave their learned insights. It felt great to be invited and reminded me of my PhD and how I must do more with it!
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My PhD critical paper

The biggest thank-you is due to Norma Clarke, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University, who supervised this PhD. I never had cause to doubt my initial instincts as Norma proved to be the best mentor I could ever have wished for.

I would also like to acknowledge the generous studentship that I was fortunate to be awarded by Kingston University, without which postgraduate study of this nature would have remained firmly beyond reach - as it is - and becomes even more so - for countless others who would relish this hard, yet rewarding journey of growth.
Thanks are due to my brothers and sisters, particularly my older brother, Sean.

Behind this PhD candidate was a fellowship of brilliant friends, whose kind and wise words, often amounting to no more than 'keep going' encouraged me in the low moments. And, of course, to the spirit of Mary Burns (1822-1863) - no mere mistress.


No endeavour is the work of an individual.


SECTION ONE
Revolution, Rom…