The ‘Wild Irish Girl’ in Selected Novels of L. T. Meade

  • Sandra McAvoy
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Childhood book series


Though now largely forgotten in Ireland, Elizabeth (‘Lillie’) Thomasina Meade (1844–1914) was an Irishwoman who became one of the most popular writers for and about adolescent girls at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.1 She was a Church of Ireland (Anglican) rector’s daughter from Co. Cork, born into a gentry class that produced generations of clergy and soldiers.2 In her writing, Meade sometimes drew on her own background to create Irish heroines, many of whom were the daughters of Anglo-Irish clergymen and army officers. At the time of her birth, her father was rector of Killowen, near Bandon. In 1856, when she was twelve years old, he was appointed to Templetrine, Ballinspittle, near Kinsale, another Cork parish.3 One of her last novels, The daughter of a soldier: A colleen of south Ireland (1914),4 contains descriptions of ‘Kingsala’ — clearly Kinsale — a garrison town where girls ‘should have every chance of marrying well and enjoying themselves.’5 One scene, involving local girls on a rainy day, may have been drawn from memory:

The girls — and very handsome girls they were — put on their waterproofs and flirted with the officers in the garrison-town, meeting them in a place which was called The Green, and enjoying life to the uttermost. These girls never thought about age. They wanted to have a good time, and they could not possibly tell you what age they were; the subject of age was taboo at Kingsala. The people were good-natured and most neighbourly.6


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  1. 1.
    Some sources suggest 1854 as Meade’s date of birth but the Bandon baptismal records, accessible at, show that 1844 is correct. On Meade’s popularity, see Mary Cadogan and Patricia Craig, You’re a brick, Angela: The girl’s story 1839–1985 (1976; Bath: Girls Gone By, 2003), 61;Google Scholar
  2. Helen Bittel, ‘Required reading for “revolting daughters”?: The New Girl fiction of L. T. Meade’, Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies, 2: 2 (2006), 5;Google Scholar
  3. Sally Mitchell, ‘Children’s reading and the culture of girlhood: The case of L. T. Meade’, Browning Institute Studies, 17 (1989), 55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 2.
    Meade’s family history is accessible by searching under each of the parishes in which family members served, in William Maziere Brady, Clerical and parochial records of Cork, Cloyne and Ross (Dublin: Alexander Thom, 1863), vol. 1, (accessible at: Scholar
  5. John Harding Cole, Church and parish records of the United Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross (Cork: Guy and Co., 1903) accessible at Relevant parishes include Killowen, Templetrine, Nohoval and Innishannon. See Brady, Clerical and parochial records, 126, for example, on her great-grandfather’s marriage to a daughter of Baron Kingsale and his soldier sons, including a major general.Google Scholar
  6. 3.
    In 1877 he was also appointed to nearby Nohoval, Co. Cork. See discussion of Meade’s background in, Tina O’Toole, The Irish New Woman (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 45–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 4.
    L. T. Meade, The daughter of a soldier: A colleen from south Ireland (Cleveland: The Arthur Westbrook Co., 1915, paperback edition). This was published posthumously. It seems unlikely Mrs Meade would have approved the sub-title.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    L. T. Meade, ‘How I began’, Girls’ Realm, 3 (1900), 58–9.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    L. T. Meade, Ashton Morton: Or memories of my life (London: T. C. Newby, 1866).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    L. T. Meade, Lettie’s last home (London: Shaw, 1875). In ‘How I began’, Meade referred to this as ‘a little immature MS’ she had rediscovered just before leaving for London and she, or perhaps a secretary to whom the article was dictated, wrote the title as ‘Letty’s last home’.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    Ibid., 12–13. For detail of contemporary debates on girls’ health, exercise and education see Hilary Marland, Health and girlhood in Britain, 1874–1920 (Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 13.
    Janis Dawson, ‘“Write a little bit every day”: L. T. Meade, self-representation, and the professional woman writer’, Victorian Review, 35: 1 (2009), 132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 14.
    Bittel, ‘Required reading’, n.1. See Sally Mitchell, The New Girl: Girls’ culture in England 1880–1915 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995). See also O’Toole’s comments on Meade’s ‘creation of the “New Girl”’ and on her Irish girls in The Irish New Woman, 12 and 43–66.Google Scholar
  14. 16.
    David Rubenstein, Before the suffragettes: Women’s emancipation in the 1890s (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1986), 222–3, and Dawson, ‘Write a little bit’, 144–5.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Kimberley Reynolds, Girls only? Gender and popular children’s fiction in Britain, 1880–1910 (New York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990), 115, and 112.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Carole Dunbar, ‘The wild Irish girls of L. T. Meade and Mrs George De Horne Vaizey’ in Celia Keenan and Mary Shine Thompson (eds), Studies in children’s literature, 1500–2000 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004), 38–43.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    See Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan, The wild Irish girl ed. Kathryn Kirkpatrick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999). On Owenson’s The wild Irish girl and Irish romanticism seeGoogle Scholar
  18. Tom Dunne, ‘Haunted by history: Irish romantic writing 1800–50’ in Roy Porter and Mikulás Teich (eds), Romanticism in national context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 68–91.Google Scholar
  19. 22.
    L. T. Meade, Wild Kitty (1897; New York: Hurst & Company, 1900).Google Scholar
  20. 23.
    L. T. Meade, A wild Irish girl (London: Chambers, 1910).Google Scholar
  21. 25.
    Sarah Bilston, The awkward age in women’s popular fiction, 1850–1900 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 182–4, drawing onGoogle Scholar
  22. Anne Ardis, ‘Organising women: New Women writers, New Women readers, and suffrage feminism’ in Nicola Diane Thompson (ed.), Victorian women writers and the woman question (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 190.Google Scholar
  23. 32.
    L. T. Meade, Bashful fifteen (1892; London: Cassell & Co., 1893).Google Scholar
  24. 33.
    L. T. Meade, The rebel of the school (1902; Milton Keynes: Dodo Press, 2009), 55.Google Scholar
  25. 34.
    L. T. Meade, Peggy from Kerry (New York: Hurst, 1912).Google Scholar
  26. 35.
    Charles Ferrall and Anna Jackson, Juvenile literature and British society, 1850–1950. The age of adolescence (New York; Oxford: Routledge, 2010), 12.Google Scholar
  27. 50.
    Matthew Arnold, On the study of Celtic literature and other essays (1867; London: Dent, 1916), 86.Google Scholar
  28. 71.
    Board school’ refers to the national or primary school system. Requirements at third standard are set out in Áine Hyland and Kenneth Mylne, (eds), Irish educational documents. Volume 1. A selection of extracts from documents relating to the history of Irish education from the earliest times to 1922 (Dublin: Church of Ireland College of Education, 1987–1995), 152–4. At this level, pupils were required to read set texts ‘with ease, directness of articulation, correctness, and intelligence.’ The arithmetic curriculum included mental arithmetic, decimals, measurements, weights, fluid measurements, pounds, shillings and pence and the calendar, 152–3. The system was intended to provide for the ‘average’ pupil but also to allow ‘a child of above average intelligence the opportunity of developing it to the best advantage,’ 149. In addition, cookery, laundry and needlework were compulsory for girls if a suitable teacher was available, 151.Google Scholar

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© Sandra McAvoy 2015

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  • Sandra McAvoy

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