Irish women’s writing, 1878–1922

Advancing the cause of liberty

Anna Pilz
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Whitney Standlee
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Irish women writers entered the international publishing scene in unprecedented numbers in the period between 1878 and 1922. This collection of new essays explores how Irish women, officially disenfranchised through much of that era, felt inclined and at liberty to exercise their political influence through the unofficial channels of their literary output. By challenging existing and often narrowly-defined conceptions of what constitutes ‘politics’, the chapters investigate Irish women writers’ responses to, expressions of, and dialogue with a contemporary political landscape that included not only the debates surrounding nationalism and unionism, but also those concerning education, cosmopolitanism, language, Empire, economics, philanthropy, socialism, the marriage ‘market’, the publishing industry, the commercial market, and employment. The volume demonstrates how women from a variety of religious, social, and regional backgrounds – including Emily Lawless, L. T. Meade, Katharine Tynan, Lady Gregory, Rosa Mulholland, and the Ulster writers Ella Young, Beatrice Grimshaw, and F. E. Crichton – used their work to advance their own private and public political concerns through astute manoeuvrings both in the expanding publishing industry and against the partisan expectations of an ever-growing readership. Close readings of individual texts are framed by new archival research and detailed historical contextualisation. Offering fresh critical perspectives by internationally-renowned scholars including Lauren Arrington, Heidi Hansson, Margaret Kelleher, Patrick Maume, James H. Murphy, and Eve Patten, Irish Women’s Writing, 1878-1922: Advancing the Cause of Liberty is an innovative and essential contribution to the study of Irish literature as well as women’s writing at the turn of the twentieth century.

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‘This essay collection is an invaluable resource that covers a glaringly underexplored area of literature by Irish women. The book highlights the years between 1878 and 1922, which, as the co-editors observe, was “a pivotal historical period” when “women entered the literary marketplace in conspicuously large numbers”. Nevertheless, this is “a development in publishing which has tended to elude the academic gaze”. As the contributors emphasise, the gaze which these Irish women faced, and which their legacy continues to face, is predominantly masculinist. The 12 essays cover a range of well-known and marginalised women writers from the North and South. The editors' aim is to present a corrective to the infamous, all-male poster of “Irish Writers”, and work to fill in the gaps caused by the gender imbalance of Irish literary history. In her foreword, Lia Mills remarks upon importance of “attentive engagement with the work of women writers”. Otherwise, “we are left with a false sense of a series of giant leaps rather than something organic, various, evolving”. This book envisions the latter trajectory, providing a more holistic view of writing by Irish women during a defining moment in literary history.'

Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado
Irish Times

‘This sparkling volume advances a timely corrective to the ways in which, as its editors put it, “Irish writing has often been conceived in the popular imagination as a male phenomenon” (1). Over 12 fascinating chapters, Irish Women's Writing 1878–1922: Advancing the Cause of Liberty provides a wealth of fresh insights and compelling analysis of hidden or neglected treasures of Irish women's writing…Overall, this important and path-breaking volume highlights the potential for further research in Irish women's writing. Such scholarship continues to reconfigure Irish Studies and challenge its androcentric biases, and Pilz and Standlee's achievement here is significant in this regard.'
Michael Pierse, Queen's University Belfast
Irish Studies Review, Volume 25, Issue 3

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