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The Victorian Age, Part Two
> Women writers
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.
§ 23. Women writers.
Marguerite Power, countess of Blessington, after an unhappy first union, married the earl of Blessington and lived with him on the continent. Her two volumes
The Idler in Italy
The Idler in France
show the fruit of her foreign experiences. She lost her husband in 1829, and, subsequently, settled at Gore house, which, for fourteen years, was the resort of many famous men and women of letters of the day, and, in 1832, her
Journal of Conversations with Lord Byron
was produced and became at once popular. As a novelist and anecdotist, she favourably impressed one side of the critical world of her day.
Sydney Owenson began life as a governess, and, at the age of twenty-one, published a novel
St. Clair or the Heiress of Desmond,
which proved successful enough to enable her to devote herself to literature. She married Sir Thomas Charles Morgan, after the publication of
The Wild Irish Girl,
and, with him, travelled abroad. Like Lady Blessington, she wrote her experiences of life in France and Italy. In the French volume, she had her husbands assistance, as, also, in her
Book without a Name.
Her two volumes of continental experiences,
were bitterly attacked by Croker in
but she had as her champions Byron, who, in a letter to Moore, speaks of her
as fearless and excellent on the subject of Italy, and her friend sergeant Talfourd, who assisted her to reply to Croker with wit and good temper. Undoubtedly, she often wrote carelessly, often gushed in the manner of her time and betrayed conceit in her writings, but, of her bright ability as a novelist and storyteller, there can be no doubt, and she has left one vivid Irish lyric behind her,
which is still frequently sung to the air to which she wrote it.
Mary Shackleton, afterwards Mrs. Leadbeater, whose quaker father Richard Shackleton was Burkes schoolmaster, published, in 1794, her first work,
Extracts and Original Anecdotes for the Improvement of Youth,
intended to brighten the literature to which her young friends were then restricted. She followed this with a book of poems of quiet charm, and
Cottage Dialogues of the Irish Peasantry,
intended as an appeal on behalf of that suffering class, and concluded her productivity with
The Annals of Ballitore from
17681824, a life-like record of the doings and sayings, droll and pathetic, of the folk of a quaker village during periods of peace and amid the scenes of the rebellion of 1798, which she had herself witnessed. This work, with a memoir of the authoress by her niece, Elizabeth Shackleton, appeared in 1862 under the title
The Leadbeater Papers.
An Irish woman writer of exceptional gifts was Anna Murphy,
the daughter of D. Brownell Murphy, an eminent Dublin miniature painter, whose high intelligence had a marked influence upon her subsequent career. She acted as governess in the family of the marquis of Winchester, and, subsequently, in that of lord Hatherton, with whom she travelled in Italy. It was during this period that
The Diary of an Ennuyée
was written; but it was not published till after her marriage with Robert Jameson, a barrister who became successively a puisne judge in the West Indies and in Canada. This charming book became deservedly popular, as did her fresh and fanciful
Winter Stories and Summer Rambles in Canada,
into which country she had passed with her husband. She also wrote many other works of different kinds, those on art exhibiting much antiquarian knowledge and delicate taste.
Somewhat wanting in constructive skill, but with a gift of good-humoured cynicism, Marmion W. Savage belongs to the novelists of the school of Charles Kingsley. Passing from an official position in Dublin to journalistic duties in London, and becoming editor of
he found leisure to write a series of novels, two of which,
The Bachelor of The Albany
became popular in this country and in the United States, where they were reprinted. But his
a satire on the leaders of the Young Ireland party, is the best known and ablest of his stories, and if, as now conceded, some of his sarcastic sketches of these men were overdrawn, they are, at any rate, extremely amusing.
Julia Kavanagh was the daughter of Morgan Kavanagh, author of writings on the source and science of language. Long residence in France during girlhood enabled her to describe French life and character with a fine faithfulness which have secured her tales and novels much acceptance. Later, she visited Italy, the result being
A Summer and Winter in the Two Sicilies.
Then followed her successful
French Women of Letters.
Of her French tales, it has been well said that they are exquisitely true to life, delicate in colour, simple and refined in style and pure in tone, and, among them,
may well be said to be one of the best French stories written by a British hand.
Annie Keary, daughter of an Irish clergyman holding a living in Bath, where she was born, wrote a series of stories and novels of which her
A Doubting Heart,
which did not appear till after her death, are the most remarkable. But she was also authoress of
A York and Lancaster Rose,
and, in collaboration with her sister, of a Scandinavian story,
The Heroes of Asgard.
She was a singularly unaffected writer, who knew her Irish atmosphere well, and who, therefore, could give full effect to its sudden changes from brightness to gloom, from storm to calm.
Emily Lawless, daughter of lord Cloncurry, was attracted into the open-air life of Ireland by her taste for natural history and, later, she was drawn by her sympathy with the country folk of the west to study Irish history in its relation to them, with a result shown most profoundly in her poems and works of prose fiction. Ireland had been graven on her very soul. For, though there is plenty of alternating Irish shower and sunshine in
and notes of exultation occasionally leap forth from her
With the Wild Geese,
yet, no one can read through her first two novels or, indeed, many pages of
With Essex in Ireland,
without that painful perplexity which must haunt all who attempt candidly to face the eternal riddle presented by that distressful country to all students of its history.
Finally, of recent women novelists, mention must be made of Charlotte OConor Eccles, for her
Rejuvenation of Miss Semaphore
A Matrimonial Lottery,
which achieved popularity by their droll situations and exuberant fun; but her
Aliens of the West
contained work of much finer quality. She takes us behind the shutters of Irish country shop life in a most convincing manner, and the characters drawn from her Toomevara are true to type. The disillusionment of Molly Devine, The Voteen, with her commonplace, not to say vulgar, home surroundings, on her return from the convent school, with its superior refinements; her refusal to marry so-called eligible, but, to her, repulsive, suitors, encouraged by her mother and stepfather, and her final resolve to become a nun, in order to escape farther persecution of the kind, is told with convincing poignancy, while a variant of this theme is treated with even more power and pathos in
Tom Connollys Daughter.
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