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Charlotte Brooke’s Impact on Ascendancy Women Writers from Maria Edgeworth to Lady Gregory

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Abstract

Critics have long acknowledged that Charlotte Brooke’s Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789) is a “fundamental ‘growth-point’ for Anglo-Irish literature.” Brooke argues in an essay in the Reliques that poetry in Irish is “already music,” even before being set to an air. Leith Davis has shown that this idea—and Brooke’s belief that it might be possible to create Anglophone Irish literature that is also “already music”—inspired Thomas Moore, the Young Irelanders, and the Revivalists of the 1890s. While this is one major area of influence, another is the way she inspired several Irish Ascendency women writers who emerged after her, including Maria Edgeworth, Sydney Owenson (a.k.a. Lady Morgan), Mary Balfour, and Lady Gregory. Although various critics have discussed Brooke’s influence on these women, I examine unexpected ways in which these writers were inspired by Brooke but also the ways in which they consciously differed from her.

Keywords

  • Charlotte Brooke
  • Maria Edgeworth
  • Lady Augusta Gregory
  • Irish Women’s Writing
  • Irish Language
  • Translation

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As quoted in Laurence and Grene, eds., Shaw, Lady Gregory, and the Abbey, 66.

  2. 2.

    See Blunt, “A Woman’s Sonnets.” They were first published in Blunt’s Love Lyrics and Songs of Proteus (1892).

  3. 3.

    This was by no means a straightforward conversion, and, for a helpful discussion of Gregory’s long-time struggle between what Lucy McDiarmid has called her “soft Fenianism” and what could be perceived as lingering Unionist tendencies, see Valente , Myth of Manliness in Irish National Culture, 77–81. For the original quote from McDiarmid, see McDiarmid, “The Demotic Lady Gregory,” 225.

  4. 4.

    The title of Brooke’s anthology is, of course, a nod to Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765).

  5. 5.

    Brown, Ireland’s Literature, 189. It should be noted that Brown is actually writing about the descendants of those settlers.

  6. 6.

    Welch, History of Verse Translation, 25.

  7. 7.

    Ibid., 42.

  8. 8.

    Brooke, Reliques, 229.

  9. 9.

    White, “Review of Music, Postcolonialism, and Gender by Leith Davis,” 142. White is summarising the arguments in Davis, Music, Postcolonialism, and Gender, 77–94.

  10. 10.

    Clare, Bernard Shaw’s Irish Outlook, 50.

  11. 11.

    Brooke, Reliques, VIII.

  12. 12.

    Clare, Bernard Shaw’s Irish Outlook, 49–50. For proof of Grace Nugent’s Catholic Jacobite background, see McCormack, Ascendancy and Tradition, 139–147.

  13. 13.

    It may also have been influenced by the fact that Maria’s second cousin was the Longford-born L’Abbé Henry Essex Edgeworth de Firmont, a Catholic priest in France who famously served as confessor to Louis XVI. Maria and her father Richard never disavowed their link to this Catholic branch of the family, and—in fact—Maria benefitted from L’Abbé Edgeworth’s social contacts during her visit to France in 1820.

  14. 14.

    The novel is credited to Edith Somerville and (Violet) Martin Ross, despite the fact that it was written after Ross’s death in 1915. The novel’s plot was suggested to Somerville by a letter that Ross sent her, which details the history of a Co. Galway Big House family that she knew. (Somerville & Ross, Selected Letters, 294.) Somerville claimed that there was one other reason for giving Ross co-credit for this novel and other post-1915 works: she said that she communicated with Ross’s departed spirit as she wrote them. (See Greene, “Demystifying and Resituating the Somerville and Ross Writing Partnership,” 212.)

    For more on the Irish Anglican fear of intermarriage and “cross-breeding” between Protestants and Catholics, see Clare, Bernard Shaw’s Irish Outlook, Chapter Three.

  15. 15.

    Edgeworth, Essay on Irish Bulls, 122–123.

  16. 16.

    Edgeworth, The Absentee, 168.

  17. 17.

    Edgeworth, Tales and Novels, 458.

  18. 18.

    Edgeworth, Ormond, 47.

  19. 19.

    Edgeworth’s father Richard wrote the Castle Rackrent glossary note which refers to the “Irish words” sung at funerals in Ireland. (Butler, Notes to Castle Rackrent / Ennui, 350.)

  20. 20.

    Edgeworth, Essay on Irish Bulls, 22, 85.

  21. 21.

    Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, XXXVI.

  22. 22.

    McCormack, Ascendancy and Tradition, 152.

  23. 23.

    Owenson, Wild Irish Girl: A National Tale, 89; Morgan, Lady Morgan’s Memoirs, 261.

  24. 24.

    Brooke, Reliques, 247.

  25. 25.

    Brooke, Reliques, 247; Owenson, Wild Irish Girl, 91. “Palm” meaning a “prize.” In the Irish original, Gracey does not win any prizes; she merely “excels in fame and in understanding … the fine clever women of the provinces.” (Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, 132.)

  26. 26.

    Brooke, Reliques, 247; Owenson, Wild Irish Girl, 91. Meaning “gait.” No such line exists in the Irish original.

  27. 27.

    Brooke, Reliques, 248; Owenson, Wild Irish Girl, 91. In the Irish original, it was merely a “swan,” not necessarily a young one. (Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, 132.)

  28. 28.

    Brooke, Reliques, 248; Owenson, Wild Irish Girl, 91. Instead of simply “lime,” as in the Irish original. (Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, 132.)

  29. 29.

    Brooke, Reliques, 248; Owenson, Wild Irish Girl, 91.

  30. 30.

    Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, 132.

  31. 31.

    O’Driscoll, Ascendancy of the Heart, 58. See also Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, 133.

  32. 32.

    Brooke, Reliques, VII, X; VII.

  33. 33.

    Tracy, Unappeasable Host, 31; Tracy, “Maria Edgeworth and Lady Morgan.” It must be noted here that Tracy also applies the term “the Glorvina solution” to situations in which the gentleman who marries the colleen is (in his words) “Anglo-Irish ”—that is, a native Irish member of the Anglican Ascendancy.

  34. 34.

    Davis, “Malvina’s Daughters,” 152–153.

  35. 35.

    Davis, “Malvina’s Daughters,” 153.

  36. 36.

    Brooke, Reliques, 369.

  37. 37.

    Balfour, Hope, 43, 81.

  38. 38.

    Balfour, Hope, 80.

  39. 39.

    Davis, “Malvina’s Daughters,” 153.

  40. 40.

    Balfour, Hope, 80.

  41. 41.

    Beiner, Forgetful Remembrance, 298; Davis, “Malvina’s Daughters,” 149; Clare, “Mary Balfour’s Kathleen O’Neil.”

  42. 42.

    Behrendt, British Women Poets, 275–276; Kelly, “Writing under the Union,” 65–66.

  43. 43.

    Gregory, Cuchulain of Muirthemne, 360; 359.

  44. 44.

    McDiarmid and Waters, Introduction to Selected Writings, xxxix. See also Welch, History of Verse Translation, 4.

  45. 45.

    Welch, History of Verse Translation, 4.

  46. 46.

    Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fíor-Gael, 1996. 363.

  47. 47.

    McDiarmid and Waters, Introduction to Selected Writings, xxviii; Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, XXXV, XLI.

  48. 48.

    As quoted in Gregory, Seventy Years, 392. (Gregory explains in this memoir that her Cuchulain of Muirthemne was a rebuttal of this assertion.)

  49. 49.

    Brooke, Reliques, vii.

  50. 50.

    Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, XLII.

  51. 51.

    McDiarmid and Waters, Introduction to Selected Writings, xxviii.

  52. 52.

    Walker, Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, 42n. Macpherson attempted to pass off old Irish sagas as ancient mythological material from Scotland which he had “discovered.”

  53. 53.

    Welch, History of Verse Translation, 38. For more on the “inflated” emotions and imagery in the Reliques, see Ní Mhunghaile, Reliques, XLI, XLIV.

  54. 54.

    Welch, History of Verse Translation, 38; 39; 38.

  55. 55.

    Ibid., 40.

  56. 56.

    Ibid., 155. It should be noted that the “literal translations” included by Brooke in the Reliques did not, like Hyde’s , replicate Irish-language syntax.

  57. 57.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 385, 387; 388; 394.

  58. 58.

    Ibid., 395, 409; 408.

  59. 59.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 384; Cowley, The Works of Abraham Cowley. 34.

  60. 60.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 393; Palmer, East Lynne, 43.

  61. 61.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 394; see, for example, Pepys, Diary of Samuel Pepys, Vol. 7, 51, 87, 102.

  62. 62.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 399; Hooker, Soules Humiliation, 219.

  63. 63.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 400; Dryden, Dramatick Works, 429.

  64. 64.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 406; Coleridge and Southey, Fall of Robespierre, 17.

  65. 65.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 421; Macaulay, History of England, 480.

  66. 66.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 421; Richardson, History of Clarissa Harlowe, 163.

  67. 67.

    Gregory, Selected Writings, 396; 397; 399; 404; 411; 420.

  68. 68.

    O’Connor, Backward Look, 131.

  69. 69.

    Murray, Maria Edgeworth, 38–39.

  70. 70.

    For Collins’s love of this play, see Pilz, “From Gort to Antarctica.”

    It should be noted that, during 2020, New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre and Galway’s Druid Theatre Company both produced multiple one-acts by Gregory. Hopefully, these productions will prove to be early indications of a general/wider rediscovery of the playwright by theatremakers.

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Clare, D. (2021). Charlotte Brooke’s Impact on Ascendancy Women Writers from Maria Edgeworth to Lady Gregory. In: Irish Anglican Literature and Drama. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-68353-5_4

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