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The Magdalen Girls
     

The Magdalen Girls

5.0 1
by V.S. Alexander
 

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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

Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
10/31/2016
Set in early 1960s Dublin, Alexander’s first novel chronicles the lives of three teenagers who are sent to live indefinitely as penitents under the watch of occasionally sadistic Catholic nuns. After a minor flirtation with a priest, 16-year-old Tegan finds herself sentenced to a life mostly in silence with meager food and an enormous workload as a laundress. She’s joined shortly by loud, hotheaded Nora, who takes a shine to her. The girls make a pact to look out for each other. They form a trio with vulnerable, quiet former farm girl Lea, who appears to have inherited a gift for clairvoyance from her mother. Both Tegan and Nora make ill-fated attempts to escape, while Lea has largely resigned herself to her fate. The convent’s brutal Mother Superior, Sister Anne, cuts herself occasionally and harbors a dark secret. Sister Anne devises barbaric punishments for her wards under the guise of caring for their spiritual salvation: among other things, penitents are made to hold their hands over the flame of a candle to experience hellfire. The Magdalen laundries where Tegan works were infamous for their severe conditions and the inhuman way their girls were treated, but Alexander explains away Sister Anne’s hardness with a backstory that ends up undercutting the ubiquitous cruelty of these institutions. (Jan.)
Library Journal
11/15/2016
In 1962 Dublin, there still exist the commercial laundries in convents, known as Magdalen laundries, run by nuns and worked by young women of "ill repute"—prostitutes, petty thieves, unwed mothers, and girls abandoned by their families for various reasons. Such is the fate of 17-year-old Teagan Tiernan, who was accused by her drunken father of having caused prurient thoughts in the heart of a young priest. Twice Teagan and her friend Nora try to escape, only to be brought back by the police for more punishment and rebuke. The future looks bleak for Teagan and the other Magdalen girls unless they are deemed acceptable to enter the nunnery or a miracle happens. In Teagan's case, she experiences a shocking change of circumstance, which handled by a less-accomplished writer might have seemed contrived. VERDICT Using the pen name Alexander, author Michael Meeske (Poe's Mother) has clearly done his homework. Chilling in its realism, his work depicts the improprieties long condoned by the Catholic Church and only recently acknowledged. Fans of the book and film Philomena will want to read this.—Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781496706126
Publisher:
Kensington
Publication date:
12/27/2016
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
53,860
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

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Read an Excerpt

The Magdalen Girls


By V. S. Alexander

KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Copyright © 2017 Michael Meeske
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0613-3


CHAPTER 1

The red rose pinned to Teagan Tiernan's dress looked out of place. She fussed with the closed bud, avoiding the thorny stubs her mother had clipped off the stem, and repositioned it on her left shoulder. It hung there for a moment, giving off its soft fragrance, but then drooped above her breast. After an hour at Father Matthew's, the rose would be as wilted as her perspiring body, and it wasn't even three o'clock yet.

She was tempted to throw it on the bed with the sweater her mother wanted her to bring to the reception. There was no need for it on this unseasonably hot day.

Teagan thought of a million things she'd rather be doing on a Sunday afternoon than gathering at the parish house to welcome a new priest. She could be taking a spin on Cullen Kirby's motorbike, or spending the afternoon with him at the River Liffey, enjoying the cool breeze off the water.

Her mother had picked out the white satin dress. Teagan protested, saying it made her look like a schoolgirl, too immature for a sixteen-year-old, but her mother insisted it was appropriate for a church gathering.

"Come on, all of you, or we'll be late." Her father's anxious footsteps echoed downstairs. His words were directed at Teagan, and at Shavon, her mother. "Me whiskey's getting warm. The punch will be gone by the time we get there. When that crowd starts drinking, it disappears fast."

Teagan sighed. What did it matter? Her father always brought his own flask to social events, no matter the occasion. She grabbed her brush, swiped the bristles through her hair, and glanced in the mirror over her dresser. She fluffed the hair behind her ears.

Outside, thick clouds drifted near the sun. Teagan squinted at the bright dot that hung like an incandescent bulb in the surrounding blue. If only she could turn it off and extinguish the heat — but she had no more power over the sun than she did getting out of this meeting. She gathered her sweater from the bed and opened the door.

Her mother caught her by the arm in the hall. "Turn 'round and let me take a look."

Teagan swiveled on her low white heels and rolled her eyes.

"No exasperated looks," her mother cautioned, while brushing imaginary lint from her daughter's shoulders. She inspected her from head to toe. "You look like a princess, love. Your father will be proud."

She wrested herself away from her mother. "I look like a fancy girl. Do I have to go? We went to Mass this morning. I'd rather take a walk by the river."

"No getting out of this one." Her mother smoothed the lapels on her new dark suit. "And I know why you want to walk by the river. I imagine it has something to do with Cullen Kirby. He'll just have to wait. Come on, now. It's important to meet the new priest, and we don't want to make your father mad."

Teagan looked down at her dress. She would die of embarrassment if Cullen or any of her school friends saw her in it. It looked as if she was off to a formal dance. There was only one good thing about it — it showed off her breasts. They were too small, she felt, and the tight fabric lifted them into pointed cones that accented her slim figure.

She never felt she could compete with her mother, who always looked feminine, neat, and composed, whether she was going to the market or off to play bridge. Today was no exception. The suit fitted her mother's form perfectly, contrasting with her fair skin. Her mother had pulled her black hair into a tight bun at the base of the neck to accommodate her hat.

"For Christ's sake!" Her father's voice bleated up the stairs. "Do I have to come up there and drag you two to the car?"

They started down the steps, Teagan first, her mother following. Cormac stared up, turning his fedora in circles. He took out a handkerchief and swiped at the sweat beading on his forehead. "I'm sick of this heat wave. It's hot as hell itself, and now we'll be late. I can understand my daughter having no respect for manners, the way children are these days, but you, Mother, should know better." He wore a blue suit, a bit too heavy for the day; however, it was his favorite, the one he wore most to work and church.

Her mother looked sour. "There'll be plenty of booze, don't you worry. You'll get your fill. Father Matthew makes sure it doesn't run out. You could compliment your daughter."

Cormac grunted, then ushered his wife and Teagan out of the house with an agitated wave. He locked the door. They followed him to the small space where their black sedan sat in front of the row house. The car windows were rolled up, the seats baking in the sun.

She climbed into the back, punched by the stifling heat. Her father seemed more than irritated by the hot day. She wondered whether her mother and father were happy, but quickly brushed the thought aside. She was lucky to live on the south side of Dublin, away from the poverty and tenements of the north side. Ballsbridge didn't suit her mother, however. She always lamented that they lived too close to Donnybrook and its working-class neighborhoods.

She didn't have much contact with the outside world. Her father forbade most everything that was fun. He was a bureaucrat, a pencil pusher, and although Teagan had an idea what he did as an aide at Leinster House, the parliament, she had never been to his office. She always pictured his as an exciting life, dealing with important people, but he constantly complained about the job and how little money he made. But the nuns at parochial school always told her to count her blessings. A tidy home, food on the table, and a car awaited her, when many in Dublin had few luxuries.

The car jerked away from the curb and turned north toward St. Eusebius Church. It was only a five-minute drive. The warm air streamed into the car, tugging at her hair. The elms lining the road provided patchy shade as they drove. Shavon fussed in the front seat, arranging her new pillbox hat, while her father lit a cigarette with a free hand.

"Shit!" Her father pounded the steering wheel as they neared the church. "We have to park a field away — and in this heat. That's what we get for being late. Who the hell holds a reception in July?"

Teagan protected her hair with her hands and peered out the window. A row of vehicles, shimmering in the sun, lined the road. The church's car park was already filled.

"Watch your language, Cormac," Shavon said as they pulled curbside, a few blocks from the church. "Teagan, take your jumper."

She scowled at her sweater. "It's so hot. I'll look like a dunce."

"Hang it over your arm. A lady should carry it just in case. Manners, you know."

Cormac snickered. "Oh, let it stay in the car. Manners won't get you into heaven."

Her father rarely took her side, but in deference to her mother she would carry the sweater; after all, they had an understanding. It wasn't that she hated her father, but for as long as she could remember, she and her mother had forged a bond. They kept each other afloat when her father was drunk, or when he made strict demands that strained the household. She picked up the sweater and placed it over her arm.

Her stomach knotted as she stepped out of the car. She didn't want to be here — few social situations with her parents were pleasant. She already knew how the afternoon would go. Her father would drink too much; her mother would criticize his drinking and throw disapproving looks his way. Teagan would have to make small talk with lots of people she hardly knew and really didn't care about.

Too bad Cullen wasn't Catholic. As a Protestant, he wouldn't be at this reception. Her parents didn't approve of her boyfriend, but Teagan didn't care. She saw him when she could, mostly on the sly. Cullen was her business and not her mother's. If she could get through this excruciating gathering, maybe she could call him. They might be able to go for that walk after all.

Two times at St. Eusebius in one day was enough — Mass and now this. The parish church loomed in the distance like a granite prison. Teagan had always thought it didn't have much going for it, except for the tall belfry. In the afternoon sun, the church seemed forbidding and hot.

Her father walked ahead of them, eager to get to the punch bowl. Teagan and her mother followed, fanning the heat away. He led them down a path on the north side of the church, through a garden sheltered by tall trees. Laughter spilled out of the open parish house door. Teagan took a deep breath before diving into the crowd. The room was so tightly packed she could barely move. Body heat washed over her like warm bathwater. Cormac waved to a group of men standing across the room and pushed his way to the drinks table. Her mother joined a group of ladies standing near the door.

Teagan spotted Father Matthew, the parish priest, standing near a table holding the punch bowl and several open wine bottles. A framed photograph of Pope John XXIII hung above it. The Pope, attired in a white skullcap and crimson robes, smiled upon the festivities. Father Matthew's face reddened as he joked with the parish men who lined up for drinks. Teagan heard her father ask for punch. After getting a glass, he shuffled off, keeping his back to the crowd. Teagan knew what he was doing. She saw his elbow bend after he reached into his pocket.

Cathy, a girl she knew from school, shouted from across the room. Teagan thought of her satin dress and blushed, but waved back and took a glass of punch for herself. She had started to make her way through the throng when a man in the center of the room caught her attention. He had to be the new priest. He was dressed like one, wearing the clerical collar, dark shirt, and pants, but unlike Father Matthew, he was handsome and young, with solid arms and shoulders like some of the athletic boys at school. The parish women, young and old alike, circled around him like birds pecking at feed.

The women hung on his every word. When he smiled, his cheeks folded into dimples. He laughed and swept back his wavy black hair with his fingers. His sky-blue eyes stopped Teagan in her tracks. Had she imagined it, or had he looked at her with more than an expression of interest? A few women eyed her. One in particular, Mrs. O'Brian, seemed to be taking notes on the new priest.

But he was watching her walk toward him. She hadn't imagined it.

Mrs. O'Brian studied them both, her hawklike eyes beaded into dots.

Teagan pushed into the inner circle, ignoring Cathy for the moment. The priest grinned as she snaked her way through the crowd. Was he smiling at her? A tingle washed over her body. She liked the feeling, particularly coming from so handsome a man. Something about him — she couldn't put her finger on it — excited her. Was it the thrill of meeting someone important and new? Or was it his good looks? She stopped short of introducing herself, but stood close enough to hear him answer questions about his new duties. Someone accidentally nudged her from behind. Her arms broke out in gooseflesh as she brushed against the priest.

"Excuse me," she said, without looking directly at him. "Someone pushed me."

The priest's eyes twinkled. Apparently, he was no stranger to adoring crowds. "No apology necessary," he said, and resumed his conversation with the others.

She broke free of the circle as embarrassment rose in her chest. Cathy grabbed her by the arm when she came within reach. "Isn't he gorgeous?" she gushed. "You got close to him! What did he say to you?" Cathy pushed back her glasses so she could focus on the priest. "Father Mark," she said languorously. "I'd love to share my confessions with him."

Teagan scoffed. "You can hardly get to him for all the swooning women. All we need are the other Apostles — Father Luke and Father John — to complete the set."

Laughter erupted from the corner where her father had joined his pals. He was probably on his second whiskey by now.

"I think Father Mark fancies you," Cathy said. "I saw the way he was looking at you." Her friend stared at her. "My, you look dolled up today."

"My mother made me wear this dress — and carry my jumper." Teagan sighed. "I told her it was ridiculous, but she wouldn't listen. And you're daft. Father Mark is old enough to be my da — at least thirty." Her shoulders drooped at the thought. "And even if he did fancy me, what future is there with a priest? None." She was happy Cathy thought she was attractive enough to capture a look from Father Mark.

Cathy squinted at the young priest. "Maybe you could convince him to give up his vows of celibacy."

"Don't be silly." Teagan fanned her face with her hand. "My God, it's hot. I wish we could get air-conditioning here like my aunt Florence has in America. She tells my mother about all the luxuries they have in New York City."

"Let's go to the table and stand by the stairs," Cathy said.

"Stairs?"

"Father Matthew has a wine cellar. I helped him and Father Mark bring up some bottles. It's cooler by the steps." They made their way to the table and the stairs that led below.

Her mother walked to the group of ladies gathered around Father Mark. In the corner, her father leaned on one of his friends, sharing the contents of the flask.

They had only been at the stairs a few minutes when Father Mark broke through the crowd and started toward them. Cathy nudged Teagan in the ribs. "Get ready. Here he comes."

Teagan slapped her friend's hand. "Quit it! I don't want him to look at me."

He stopped in front of them and extended his hand to her. "I've met Cathy, but we haven't had the pleasure." He had no Irish accent and Teagan wondered where he was from. She took his hand, warm to the touch, and shook it. A thrill shot through her, and she pulled her fingers away. She stared at the priest. He filled out his clothes like no other priest she had met. A question popped into her head: Why would such a good-looking man become a priest?

"It's very hot and I'm looking for a particular bottle of wine," he said. "I think a drop or two would do me good."

"Teagan will help you," Cathy offered.

She shot her friend the evil eye. "I'm sure Father Mark can manage by himself."

"No, go ahead," Cathy said.

"I don't mind company," the priest said, as he breezed by Cathy. He started down the stairs. Cathy shoved Teagan after him.

She scowled at her friend, grasped her sweater, and clung to the wall as she felt her way down. It was like being a child again, she thought, struggling against the feeling that she was doing something forbidden by following this handsome man. He was so different from Cullen. His maturity and charm captivated her.

Father Mark disappeared for a few moments. A flash of light flooded the stairs. She saw the priest halfway across the room standing under the glare of a naked bulb. The room smelled of must and generations of damp walls. Several dilapidated chairs sat in a corner near a writing desk with a broken leg. A large travel trunk with old books piled upon it filled another. Father Mark scrutinized the wine bottles laid out in a wooden rack against the wall.

He lifted one, read the label, and without looking back, asked, "What's your name?"

"Teagan Tiernan."

"A pretty name." He turned and studied her. His blue eyes bored through her in the close quarters. "Your parents are parish members?"

"Yes. They have been for many years." The intensity of his gaze made her nervous, but she found it hard to look away.

Something like sorrow flitted across the priest's face and then vanished. He flipped the wine bottle in the air and caught it in his hand. "This is what I'm looking for. A nice claret. It's almost a sin to drink it on so warm a day." He reached for her with his free hand.

Teagan instinctively raised her sweater.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I wanted to look at the red rose on your dress. I love roses. They're symbols of purity, you know, especially white ones."

She nodded and cupped her hand over the flower, which had flopped forward. The rose was close to her left breast, which the dress accentuated. Her nerves got the better of her. "Maybe we should go upstairs."

Father Mark smiled. "In a minute. I'm tired of shaking hands and answering questions. Let me ask a few." He leaned against the wine rack. "It's awfully hot to be carrying a jumper."

"My mother made me bring it. She thinks a young lady should always carry one no matter how hot it is."

"Do you know anything about wine?"

Teagan shook her head. "My da drinks it once in a while, but he prefers whiskey."

"Take a look." Father Mark held out the bottle.

She placed her sweater over the books on the trunk, took the bottle, and examined it. "It doesn't mean much to me." She handed the wine back to him.

Raucous voices and laughter poured down the stairs. She wondered if her mother might be looking for her. The thought of being alone with the priest made her stomach flutter, although she wasn't doing anything wrong. So what if she was caught in the wine cellar with him? He didn't seem to be too concerned about their meeting.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Magdalen Girls by V. S. Alexander. Copyright © 2017 Michael Meeske. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

V.S. Alexander is an ardent student of history with a strong interest in music and the visual arts. Some of V.S.’s writing influences include Shirley Jackson, Oscar Wilde, Daphne du Maurier, or any work by the exquisite Brontë sisters. V.S. lives in Florida and is at work on a second historical novel for Kensington.

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The Magdalen Girls 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
LisaMReader 22 days ago
This story gripped me from the opening page. The research about life in Ireland in the early sixties was meticulous and made me feel like I was living the story along with the characters. The injustice of the girls being unfairly judged and shamed galled me. I shared in their outrage and sense of powerlessness. And the details of their imprisonment - without benefit of any kind of trial - were chilling. What made convent life particularly oppressive was how the mother superior claimed to love the "inmates" and want only the best for them, while at the same time we learn that most of them would never leave. Their lives are portrayed as grim, relentless, and hopeless. Yet, since the main characters are teenagers, there is always that kernel of hope to move the story onward, and each girl learns something vital about herself through her experiences. A powerful story based on real life events. I'm looking forward to more historical fiction from this author!