Student notes on extract from Sebastian Barry’s ‘The Secret Scripture’

(by montgodc)

This is a very fascinating novel which for me explores two key themes. The first theme explored is introduced to us very early on in the very first paragraph of the chapter. It is this idea of Mr Grenes where he relates the condition of the building to that of the patients it contains.

“As if the very head and crown of the institution were mirroring the condition of many of the poor inmates beneath.”

Barry uses very vivid imagery to allow us to depict in our minds a very large unwelcoming building. Dr Grene does not resist the idea of a new building but he is not welcome to it. He feels that the building has almost become the heart of this mental asylum, both patients and workers alike have become a part of this building through the history shared in it. It is interesting however in the way in which he portrays this idea in relation to patients and workers, he imagines that the patients have become part of the actual solid construction of the building.

“How can we prise many of the patients out of here, when their very DNA has probably melded with the mortar of the building?”

Yet when he talks about the workers they appear to be more of the inhabitants in the building not the building itself

“Similarly the attendants and nurses have become as much part of the building as the bats in the roof and rats in the cellars.”

For me one of the most powerful parts of the story is when the hospital is referred to as the ‘lost ground of Roscommon’ this really sums up the stories of the people inside, despite the knew plan of reassessing the patients and releasing those who are found to have been held for unjust reasons the overwhelming feeling is that society had forgotten about them and by society demanding there release now it is too late for them, they are to old they have been interned for too long.

“I am not so great a fool as to think that all the ‘lunatics’ in here are mad, or evere were, or were before they came here and learned a sort of viral madness”

The introduction of Mrs Mcnulty brings into the story a character who we are told is very old, yet it is her realism that propels the story forward. She does not come across as a person who should be in a mental hospital and this helps us to then accept when her history is brought into question. For me she is a person who has just grown to accept her position and what she has.

“There will always be mice”

When she says the beauty of Dr Grene is that he is entirely humourless you are left wondering does she feel this because it allows her to read him more easily and know exactly where she stands or is it because after over 50 years in the asylum she has lost her ability to enjoy humour and so Dr Grenes lack of humour she finds refreshing and easier to deal with.

On a whole I really enjoyed reading this book it out of all the books we have read so far this one is the one I have most wanted to carry on reading and to see how it turns out. The story was well written building up an excellent basis for the story and out lining to very different yet both fascinating characters while not revealing to much committing the reader to wanting to read more.


Thoughts on Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture

(By Daire)

Work focuses on / inspired by his relations / ancestors and their relationship as unionists to the rest of Irish society post independence. Highly fictionalised.

‘The Secret Scriptures’:

James Tait Black Memorial Prize,

Book of the Year at the 2008 Costa Awards,

Irish Book Awards: “Novel of the Year” & Choice Award.

Shortlisted for the Man Booker, losing to The White Tiger

Story of elderly woman “sectioned” for unknown reasons possibly social rather than medical.

Told by the alternating writings of Rosanne and her long time psychiatrist, Dr. Green, at a Roscommon psychiatric hospital.


Man as an island. How little we know about each other. What are the bands of communication? How fragile are they?

Pythagoras/Beans => Ancestors interest of Barry’s. He says in interview that he had to wait ten years for Rosanne and Green to write the book through him. Did he eat them in beans? He say’s in interview that “their DNA wakes up” in him. Lovely.

Axe like beard / not all knives and axes. ???

As a doctor you are being examined and scrutinised just as much as you are examining and scrutinising.

“His long white beard was sharp as an iron axe. It was very hedgelike, saint like.”

Dr. Green answered my questions with his usual solemn face…

building like R and G=> at the end. Funnily, they need the surveyors to come tell tehm the state it’s in like a doctor checking BP.

Telling the story or writing it is central to both R&G but in a sense taking a story from someone is a violation. Both try to hide their writing. They are not public but private writings the second unintentionally. The wife withdraws her hurt by withdrawing her story her side of the converation. she

leaves much unsaid.

Green’s marrage destroyed by lack of a child. Here life destroyed by a child/preg.

Everyone hates the ending. Could G be R’s son?

The rats and the fire. Are they like the people hiding from the truth in the dark? The fire comes and forces them out into the light, but they go back to the dark when they can/

The community obviously drove her away now want her back

rheum : good word

Our history makes us delicate (Egyptian tomb) a touch of the truth can shatter us

pa 28: Our names? what are they? they are important to us. Are they integral to our story? The first line perhaps which we write so often. the part of our stroy we write over and over again the only oart many of us write. pa 47 “that unwritten narrative of herself” ,“The full name, no longer Will, just William, separate”

Pa 45: Doctors can be forgiven an awful lot because of the work they do with people. Or the work is forgiving. i.e. bends to the worker easily.

How little we know and what lengths we go to figure it out, to gleen nuggets of information to pry them from people.

Savagery of people and society. Scriptures are coppied in abbys (Book of kells) retreats from the world which is what the hospital is for both R&G and their writing. But the savage vikings are at the door.

pa46 Irishness, identity => writing /culture / accent (Me) R&WR is way of overcoming those missing cultural experiences.  Writers are an importand part of Irish cultural identity. Barry interested in his place as an Irish writer.

Pa 47 compares two people in bad marriage to two states (N&S or pro anti treaty)

Pride conceit covering up our ability to recognise

When this world here is demolished so many tiny histories will go with it.


Oliver Sachs interview

Oliver Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England into a family of physicians and scientists (his mother was a surgeon and his father a general practitioner). He earned his medical degree at Oxford University (Queen’s College), and did residencies and fellowship work at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco and at UCLA. Since 1965, he has lived in New York, where he is a practicing neurologist. In July of 2007, he was appointed Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and he was also designated the university’s first Columbia University Artist.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings

Stories of people, spending time with them, allowing their stories to come out of them, this allowing you to treat them.

The story of medicine/ history 19th century concept of progress that the whole world is moving inexorably forward. Is this still around is it significant? or just plesing, because we are human and like narrative. Why because it gives us an excellent way of learning.

Writing and medicine: pa 359

Writing on something can detract from it.

Suffering defines us….? pa 361 So is it only the misery that shapes our lives? Is the crucial truth  about a patient that is hidden from us the long interrupted suffering of their life? Is that why it is such a contradiction to go to a doctor and tell him of your pain? Why it is so difficult. Romanticising removes the truth as it removes the suffering.

Language as the apple of the tree of knowledge . Love this. And follow with the tower of Babel..


Nietzsche: 1844- 1900 19th c philosoper

God is dead etc. Concerned with the validity of truth.

Can remove man’s problems by deciding his mating and removing the mental problems of conscience brought about by morality by dispelling it with biological understanding of our animal urges etc????