Naming and Narrating in Women’s Fiction, 1750-1880
Chapter Three. “Syren Lure”: Folklore as National Rhetoric in The Wild Irish Girl 45
C H A P T E R T H R E E “Syren Lure”: Folklore as National Rhetoric in The Wild Irish Girl THE Act of Union in 1800 took the colonial relationship between England and Ireland to a new level, officially unifying the two nations and putting an end to an Irish legislature. The English took a sudden interest in their neigh- bors, including their “savage” culture, customs, and literature. In her 1789 Introduction to Reliques of Irish Poetry, amateur antiquarian Charlotte Brooke envisioned a much different curiosity. “As yet, we are too little known to our noble neighbour of Britain; were we better acquainted, we should be better friends. The British muse is not yet informed that she has an elder sister in this isle; let us then introduce them to each other!” she en- thuses.1 For her, rather than uncivilized, Ireland offers a source of ancient poetic excellence. But several decades prior to the Act of Union, James Macpherson ar- ranged an initial meeting between the ancient bard Ossian and England, Ire- land, and Scotland. He published his first translation of Celtic verse, Fragments of Ancient Poetry, in 1760 and followed with Fingal in 1761 and Temora in 1763. Immediate praise, as well as immediate suspicions about the texts’ authenticity, arose from leading intellectuals from Samuel Johnson to David Hume, and Macpherson’s infamy spread across Europe. Romantic poets like Wordsworth and political leaders like Napoleon read Ossian with admiration. By 1774, Goethe assigned the bard a prominent...
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