The “Cool Medium” of Sydney Owenson’s The Lay of an Irish Harp

  • Terence Allan Hoagwood
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


Lady Morgan may have been the first Anglo-Irish writer to espouse Irish nationalism,2 but considerable evidence indicates that her literary ambition and appeal were much more Anglo than Irish. She achieved great fame with her popular novel The Wild Irish Girl (published in London in 1806), and in London she impersonated that book’s heroine, Glorvina, at parties of the English aristocracy.3 She purchased a faux Irish harp (it was small and painted green), and played it at the parties of the English nobility; a schematic image of an Irish harp appears in Owenson’s frontispiece in 1807 (see figure 2; for a more detailed image made in Owenson’s lifetime, see figure. 3). In her Memoirs, Lady Morgan writes that she also danced at the Vice-regal Lodge for the amusement of the Duchess of Northumberland.4 In 1807 the Duke and Duchess of Bedford attended a performance of her operetta The First Attempt, the Duchess wearing a Glorvina bodkin, which was a commercial trinket sold as part of the marketing plan for The Wild- Irish Girl5 For commercial reasons she played (in Mary Campbell’s words) “the living incarnation of one country for the entertainment of the other”(1). Leith Davis has recently stated the point trenchantly: “Owenson’s reliance on Irishness as costume and as performance… merged into representations of Irishness as a commodity, as Owenson, her book, and her paraphernalia became consumer items on English markets.”6


Cool Medium Sensitive Plant Personal Feeling English Market Marketing Project 
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© Terence Allan Hoagwood 2010

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