“I am not one of his followers”The Rewriting of the Cultural Icon of the Virgin in Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary

  1. Carregal Romero, José
Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses: RAEI
  1. Caporale Bizzini, Silvia (coord.)
  2. Esposito, Lucia (coord.)
  3. Ruggiero, Alejandra (coord.)

ISSN: 0214-4808 2171-861X

Year of publication: 2013

Issue Title: Identity, Culture and Performance Studies

Issue: 26

Pages: 89-100

Type: Article

DOI: 10.14198/RAEI.2013.26.07 DIALNET GOOGLE SCHOLAR lock_openRUA editor

More publications in: Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses: RAEI


Even though the Virgin Mary is one of the most popular characters of The New Testament, she appears very little and is almost silently passed over. However, the devotion to Mary has turned her into a powerful icon of religious folklore in many Catholic societies. In Ireland, the Virgin has often been used as a figure for cultural nationalism, characterised by its religious orthodoxy, rigid moral codes and a staunch defense of patriarchy. In The Testament of Mary (2012), Irish author Colm Tóibín, a lapsed Catholic and anti-traditionalist intellectual, rewrites the cultural icon of the Virgin and offers a humane, complex and highly subversive portrait of this legendary mother. Exiled in Ephesus, the Virgin feels repelled by the constant visits of her “guardians”, who want her to recount the event of the Crucifixion. It is soon revealed that the apostles are trying to appropriate her voice and experiences, as Mary readily intimates that one of the guardians “has written of things that neither he saw nor I saw” (5). The questions of voice, agency and performance become essential in the reshaping of narratives of cultural identity. Thus, the novel dramatises the importance of articulating one’s own voice through Mary’s urge “to tell the truth of what happened” (82) on her own terms.

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