Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem: Ironhead, or, Once A Young Lady

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Tuesday 16 July 2024

1:00 pm


Bantry Library

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Ironhead, or, Once A Young Lady is the riotous and powerful story of a fierce renegade, and the silly men who try to bring her down. Belgian author Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem will join us in person whilst the book’s translator Kristen Gehrman will join us via pre-recorded video to talk about the translation process.

Eighteen-year-old Constance (“Stance”) is not interested in marriage or in being a “young lady.” But for a young woman coming of age in the early 1800s, that’s just about all that’s expected of (or available to) her. When her parents arrange her marriage with a man more than twice her age, she’s powerless to resist. Stance couldn’t possibly find her newfound husband less appealing, but what can she do?

Jean-Claude will be in conversation with Pragya Agarwal

Admission: Free. YA

Four months into the marriage, when her dear husband is just beginning to get surly about her still-empty womb, she can slip out of their bed in the middle of the night — with every movement she makes, pausing to ensure that he’s still sound asleep — and she can put on his clothes. She can look in the mirror and like what she sees. She can sneak out of the house, and before dawn, visit the local baker’s scrawny son, who has just been drafted into the army, and offer to take his place.


As a soldier in the Grande Armée of Emperor Napoléon the First, Stance very quickly becomes beloved in her regiment. She survives rabid dogs, a duel, and a bullet to the head (thus earning her the title “Ironhead”). Vive l’Empereur!


Hot on Stance’s tail all the while is her younger brother Pieter (whom Stance not-so-lovingly refers to as “Pieter the Pious”), determined to bring Stance back home to Ghent where she belongs. The battlefield is no place for a young lady, after all.


This event is supported by Flanders Literature as part of their Flip Through Flanders programme




Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem

Jean-Claude van Rijckeghem is a Belgian writer and producer. He has a master’s degree in languages. He has written or co-written screenplays for fifteen feature films in Flanders and the...

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Kristen Gehrman

Kristen Gehrman is a literary translator from Dutch to English. Recent translations include Ironhead by Jean-Claude van Rijckghem (Levine Querido), The History of My Sexuality by Tobi Lakmaker (Granta), and The Melting by Lize Spit (Picador)....

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Pragya Agarwal

Pragya Agarwal is an academic and writer, and founder of a research think-tank investigating global inequalities. She is currently a visiting professor of social inequities and injustice in the UK,...

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