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‘Power to Observe’

Irish Women Novelists in Britain, 1890–1916


Whitney Standlee

Irish women flourished in the publishing world at the turn of the twentieth century, and a number of the most popular and prolific of these authors chose to live and work in Britain. As expatriates, these women occupied a complex cultural space between Ireland and Britain from which they were able to observe the rapidly altering political landscape in their homeland and, in particular, the debates that concerned them as women.
This book examines the lives and literature of six Irish novelists – Emily Lawless, L. T. Meade, George Egerton, Katherine Cecil Thurston, M. E. Francis and Katharine Tynan – who lived and worked in Britain between the years 1890 and 1916, between them producing nearly 500 published works. Drawing on a range of their novels, this study explores their participation in the prevailing debates of the era: the Irish Question and the Woman Question.
This book was the winner of the 2013 Peter Lang Young Scholars Competition in Irish Studies.
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Conclusion: Writing about Ireland; Writing about Problems


In one of the publisher’s notes or announcements attached to this fresh and graceful story, it is remarked, presumably by way of heightening interest or of allaying alarm, that ‘Katharine Tynan,’ in her new book, does not deal in any way with Irish problems. It is not a compliment, and it is in some ways an injustice. Nobody could write sincerely about Ireland without writing about problems.

— G. K. CHESTERTON, Review of Katharine Tynan’s Her Ladyship (1907)1

In 1907, G. K. Chesterton, musing on Katharine Tynan’s most recent novel, noted the contradiction inherent in her publishers’ affirmation that the book in question did not deal with Irish problems. While Chesterton admitted that Her Ladyship was ‘a fresh and graceful story’ which did not overtly address the ‘political problem of Irish nationalism’, he also assured his readers that it was preoccupied in no small measure with Irish political issues. In particular, it had much to do with what he deemed a prevalent lack of patriotism among the Irish aristocracy, and with the subject of those numerous Big House owners who had failed in their duties to Ireland by remaining loyal to the Union. ‘Had [the Irish aristocracy] been true to nationalism’, Chesterton conjectured, ‘the Irish would have followed their lords; they might even have followed their tyrants. The deepest offence of the great Irish peers is not that they are tyrants, but that they are traitors’.2 Whether Chesterton came to these conclusions as...

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