The Novice in the City: Sydney Owenson and the Bildung of Metropolitan Economics
In the atlas of Irish women’s writing and of Irish literature more broadly, Sydney Owenson (c. 1783–1859) remains exceptional for the geographic expansiveness of her oeuvre. A brief mapping of Owenson’s literary career highlights what critics such as Ian Campbell Ross, Aileen Douglas, and Moyra Haslett recognize as an historically global trend in Irish writing that extends far beyond the demesnes of Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent: An Hibernian Tale (1801).1 The geography of Woman; or, Ida of Athens (1809), The Missionary (1811), O’Donnel: A National Tale (1814), Florence Macarthy (1818), The O’Briens and the O’Flaherties (1824), and The Princess; or, The Beguine (1835) stretches from the Indian subcontinent to Dublin, to South America, and, most importantly for this study, to France. Mapping Owenson’s novels challenges the privileged narrative locus of Ireland and re-frames the geographic terms through which Irish literary studies understands Irish literature. This re-framing occurs because of the centrality of Paris in Owenson’s work; the French capital is a place to which she returns in O’Donnel, The O’Briens and the O’Flaherties, as well as The Princess and her two separate volumes of travelogues.2 Paris functions as an omphalos in Owenson’s geography, not as a ‘strange country’ or a phantasm, to borrow ← 43 | 44 → from Seamus Deane, but as an alternative space in which Owenson explores complex representations of modernity, political economy, and selfhood.3
To suggest that the central location of Owenson’s fiction is not Ireland but France, and more specifically Paris, is to...
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