Bridget Matthews-Kane 1
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  • 1 University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Gothic Excess and Political Anxiety
Lady Morgan‘s The Wild Irish Girl
in Gothic Studies
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In 1807, the Duchess of Bedford and several of her circle attended a performance of the opera The First Attempt at Dublin‘s Theatre Royal. Their hair was not coifed in the style of the day but rather swept up and fastened with golden bodkins in the ancient Irish manner. Soon this became all the rage in polite Irish society, and Dublin jewellers, struggling to compete, took out advertisements to accuse other firms of making less than authentic replicas. Indeed, the great demand in Dublin for these golden bodkins inflated the price of gold in Ireland. Drapers soon saw a business opportunity in this Celtic fashion renaissance and started producing the `Glorvina Mantle, a flowing scarlet cape, ideally secured with golden replicas of Celtic broaches. Eventually these ancient Gaelic styles made their way to London and became fashionable among ladies from the upper class. The popularity of this exotic dress resulted from a confluence of factors. While the growing interest in Irish antiquarianism, the European fascination with orientalism and the popularity of Gothic romance fed the fire, the spark that ignited the blaze was The Wild Irish Girl, a novel written by a young Irish governess. Not only does this fashion craze bear witness to the popularity of the text, but so do the sales figures. This popular novel, first published in 1806, went through seven editions in two years, and was even successful on the Continent, especially in Germany, where the young authors popularity almost eclipsed Scott‘s and Byron‘s and her sales figures surpassed those of her fellow Irish writers, Maria Edgeworth and Charles Maturin. In fact, the great Gothic writer Maturin openly borrowed from The Wild Irish Girl in his own work.

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