The Madeline Houses scattered through Ireland were workhouse confinements facilities run by the Catholic Church. Young girls were sent to the Sisters in charge for a number of reason - perhaps they were too pretty and the parents were afraid of what could happen as a result, some were already pregnant, some were prostitutes. Still others were girls of poor families who simply could not afford to care for them.
Families signed over the right to the girls' care and protection to the Sisters, and the girls who were not successful at escaping, or who did not succumb and join the convent, lived their entire lives under convent rules. Their main job was to launder and repair clothing brought in by residents, thus helping sustain the needs of the convent. The girls and women worked in silence for 12-15 hours a day in the steamy laundry room, with a single break for a minuscule, nearly inedible meal once a day.
This book follows the lives of two girls who became "Madelines" for minor indiscretions. A young priest flirted with Tegan; Nora was caught kissing a boy in her family living room. Both were sentenced to live at the convent.
"The Madeline Sisters" is a fine film depicting the unimaginable acts that went on in these institutions. Although fictionalized, it is based on stories provided by surviving women. Several actual Madelines speak briefly at the end of the film. In many ways this book seems like a narrative of the film so I found it less that rewarding to read. The book will fill the gap for those of you who can't find the movie.
The last Madeline House closed in 1996. Horrible.
Coincidentally, the book I read last week, Everything I Never Told You, reminded me of another movie- the dysfunctional family drama starring Mary Tyler Moore, in a totally witchy role, and Timothy Hutten - called "Ordinary People".
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