Jane Maxwell1
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  • 1 Trinity College Library, Dublin
Sources for the History of Women in Eighteenth-Century Ireland: The Case of Dorothea Herberts Retrospections
in Bulletin of the John Rylands Library
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The poor survival rate of primary sources for the history of Irish women in the early modern period is mitigated by the sophistication with which extant sources are now being analysed. When re-examined without reference to the demands of the traditional historical grand narrative, when each text itself is permitted to guide its own interrogation, previously undervalued texts are revealed to be insightful of individual existential experience. The memoir of eighteenth-century Dorothea Herbert, hitherto much ignored due to the authors mental illness, is becoming increasingly respected not just for its historic evidential value but for the revelations it contains of a distressed individuals use of literature to manage her circumstances. The interpretive tools deployed on such a text by different research specialisms necessarily lead to divergent conclusions; this in turn may lead to creative re-imagining of history although they cannot all equally reflect what was likely to have been the lived reality of the original author.

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