By: John Broderick
‘She felt like a woman imprisoned in a luxurious room; to whom visitors are admitted; whose life goes on very much as it has always done; but who is conscious that if she lifted the thick carpet she would gaze down into a pit of wild beasts.’
Julia Glynn is the very model of a ‘prim and well-conducted’ bourgeois Catholic wife, a regular Mass-goer and president of her local charitable society. Her crippled husband, Michael, is the richest man in town, held in awe by bankers and bishops alike. In his illness he is dutifully tended to by the household manservant, Stephen Lydon, and by his handsome young nephew, Doctor Jim. As Michael’s condition worsens, their friend Father Victor proposes a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
When Julia begins receiving a series of obscene anonymous letters detailing her sexual infidelities with Jim, her suspicions fall on the ‘sinister’ Stephen, who both attracts and repels her. As the day of departure to Lourdes approaches, the heart of an Irish small town ‘as watchful as the jungle’ is laid bare, its inhabitants stripped of their ‘respectable clothes’ to reveal an ‘elemental sensuality’.
The Pilgrimage‘s depiction of sexual need in 1950s Ireland led to its banning by the Censorship Board in 1961. Retitled The Chameleons in 1965, it sold over 100,000 copies in America. This reissue restores Broderick to his rightful place alongside McGahern, O’Brien and O’Faolain, taking a new generation of readers on a unique ‘pilgrimage of the body’. A preface to the French edition by Julien Green is here translated for the first time.
JOHN BRODERICK (1924-89) was born in Athlone, County Westmeath, and died in Bath, England. He worked as a journalist and was author of numerous works including The Pilgrimage (1961), An Apology for Roses (1973), The Pride of Summer (1977), London Irish (1979) and The Trial of Father Dillingham (1975). The Waking of Willie Ryan and a biography, Something in the Head: The Life and Work of John Broderick, are also available from The Lilliput Press.