Irish literature revolves around a rich culture and extensive history. In the Irish Literature 101 series, the focus was on the general outline of the literary eras in Ireland. However, to better understand this literary tradition, Irish Literature 102 dives deeper into the key literary figures that influenced the literary movements. Additionally, this series constitutes a wide-ranging study on works that are examined in the context of documented events and critical cultural movements.
Irish Literature 102 is divided into the following chapters:
The 19th century marks the rise of female writers in Ireland, along with the romanticism movement and its turn against social norms. To be a female writer meant in the century of romantic male gallantries equaled standing against the Victorian definition of a woman’s role and character.
The early 19th-century woman writers, not only in Ireland but throughout Europe, are known for their remarkable influence on the literary arch; they combined feminine wits and their emotional eloquence with the established literary techniques. Many of these writers are under-credited because of the lack of access to print and so, loss of their literary manuscripts; what remains, however, is an ever-enchanting source of delight for our generation- and those to come.
Lady Sydney Morgan (1781? –1859)
Lady Sydney Morgan was one of the most influential women writers of Ireland. Since birth, she was acquainted with idealistic life goals and liberalism of arts. Her father, Robert Owenson, was a stage actor with an inclination for comedy. She was the offspring of a love marriage between the young actor while he was on his artistic quest in England, with Jane Hill, a tradesman’s daughter. Their marriage was bound in love and with social opposition; he, an Irishman and a catholic, and she, a protestant and middle-class Londoner, where social ranks were directly tied to marriage.
A portrait of Lady Sidney Morgan by René Théodore Berthon, oil on Canvas.
Against all odds, the couple married and lived in London for two years. They returned to Ireland and nestled into a politically modest society in Dublin. A while after their return, Sydney was born in (possibly) 1778; though the accuracy of this date remains as an enigma because of Sydney’s peculiar behavior about her age, which she upheld until the end of her life, 14 April 1859.
Sydney Morgan's Works
She established her literary prominence through her novel, The Wild Irish Girl (1806). It was a series of letters that formed an epistolary novel, with a passionate tone and much nationalistic praise for Ireland. The book was written and published after the Act of Union and the loss of independence of the Irish parliament and political power. Sydney and her novel were whole-heartedly acknowledged for their opposition against the new, and ever more potent, rule of British Imperials over Ireland. This was magnified by the fact that she herself was an Anglo-Irish, with a conviction of Irish patriotism and soul calling for the Emerald Isle.
Her other works were equally successful; her novel O’Donnel (1814) delved deep into the life of Irish peasantry and its hardships, France (1817) provided a look into the French society and politics who were equally affected by imperialism at the time, and Florence MacCarthy (1816) later known as Italy, an insightful vision of the country which was written following her year-long visit to Italy.
Besides her novels and long works, Lady Sydney Morgan employed herself with writing news and political reviews in themes of Irish, French, and English diplomacy; there are over seventy volumes of fiction, poetry, and prose. She was also in touch through correspondence with several known literary figures, including Maria Edgeworth and Lord Byron.
“I am ambitious, far, far beyond the line of laudable emulations, perhaps beyond the power of being happy. Yet the strongest point of my ambition is to be every inch a woman” - Morgan’s letter to Alicia LeFanu in 1803, Dublin Trinity College Collections.
Unlike most writers, her writing career did not end with her life; instead, it ebbed away by a change of place. She moved to her mother’s birth town in 1839, where her time was consumed by the havoc of social life in London, or perhaps she had no longer access to what she was inspired by; her Ireland.
Mary Tighe (1772-1810)
Mary Tighe was an Irish-born author and poet. Though her father was a methodist leader, she lived in his care for a single year. After her father’s death in 1773, her mother, Rev William Blachford, raised her with rather liberal principles and education- which perhaps built the foundation of her future works.
At 21, she married her Henry Tighe and together they left Dublin to find a home where Royalty Lives. London did not prove to be a success for their marriage. The unhappy pair returned to Dublin in 1801, where she started to follow her literary calling.
A portrait of Mary Tighe, attributed to John Comerford, after George Romney, watercolors.
Mary Tighe as a Romantic Icon
Mary earned a name for her delightful literary eloquence, and along with criticisms for her outspoken ways. Psyche, or the legend of love, was written in a blend of eroticism and romanticism- that too by a woman. It was, in essence, the traditional epic of Cupid and the beautiful Psyche. The epic was published anonymously at first, but it was not long before the literary society discovered the identity of its composer. The reactions ranged from many gasps and expressions of “oh my’s” or “dear god’s” to well-versed admirations for the true beauty of the piece. “I regret to find that Mary Tighe is becoming so “furieusement litteraire”: one, hardly, to get a peep at her blue stockings but now I am afraid she shows them up to the knee.”
A part of the letter from Thomas Moore to Mary Godfrey
The above lines are the content of a letter written by the prominent male writer and lyrics, Thomas Moore, written to a highborn lady who had a hand in art herself, Lady Mary Godfrey.
“...How soothing in the dark sequestered grove To see thy placid waters seem to sleep Pleased they reflect the sombre tints they love, As unperceived in silent peace they creep. The deepest foliage bending o’er thy wave Tastes thy pure kisses with embracing arms, While each charmed stoops her limbs to lave...” A verse from Psyche- 1805
Despite the curiosity it arouse, the manuscript was praised highly; some of these admirations were published in The Quarterly Review. It is said that her works influenced other artists, including John Keats.
Among her other works, her autobiographical novel, Selena, was never published. Mary died young. Perhaps if she’d lingered longer in this world, more of her literary genius would have remained among us. Her life came to an end by afflictions of tuberculosis in 1810.
Mary Tighe’s life was filled with tribulations which she endured with poetic apprehensions and romantic inclinations in her works. Her way of life and early death marked her as a Romantic icon in Irish Literature.
A Few Honorable Mentions of Women In Irish Literature
Mary Leadbeater (1758–1826) was an author and diarist known for her Cottage Biography- A Collection of Lives of the Irish Peasantry. Betsy Sheridan (1758–1837) was an Anglo-Irish writer and diarist, also a member of the Sheridan family’s long line of authors and artists. Regina Maria Roche (1764–1845) was a gothic novel writer mostly known for her novel, The Children of the Abbey.
Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington (1789–1849) author and literary hostess, was recognized for her generous approach to literary society and her book inspired by Lord Byron’s acquaintance. Louisa Catherine Beaufort (1781 - 1863) is one of the first women who was published by an academic magazine in Ireland.
Lady Eliza Dorothea Tuite (1764-1850) was an Anglo-Irish gentlewoman, best known for her satirical works and romantic poetry. Dorothea Conyers (1869–1949) was a dedicated romantic writer with over 40 title publications. J.S. Anna Liddiard (1773–1819) was another nationalist writer and poet with strong romantic inclinations.
Wikipedia, National Gallary of Ireland. A portrait of Lady Sidney Morgan by René Théodore Berthon, oil on Canvas
The Irish Aesthete, Portrait of Mary Tighe, attributed to John Comerford, after George Romney, Watercolors.
Harriet Kramer Linkin, Romanticism and Mary Tighe’s “Psyche”: Peering at the Hem of Her Blue Stockings, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997
The Collected Poems and Journals of Mary Tighe, Edited by Harriet Kramer Linkin, 2005
The representation of Ireland in the novel “The Wild Irish Girl”, Allgemein, Universität, Wissenschaftliche Beiträge, 2019
Miranda O’Connell, Biography of Mary Tighe, Somerville Press, 2013