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It is a point of some controversy whether we can call the Ireland of the nineteenth-century ‘Victorian’, for all that Victoria was its head of state within the United Kingdom. While not a state in itself, Ireland was certainly going through what William Carleton called in 1842 a ‘transition state’. There is much that is preliminary, provisional or even experimental about the writing of nineteenth-century Ireland, caught between Romanticism and Revival and never fully accounted for in the mainstream of Victorian literary history. The writing, too, was not located solely in Ireland: famine and mass emigration meant that the Irish found themselves in the United States, Australia or India, both as participants in decolonising movements or as servants of Empire. This chapter surveys the twin location of Irish literature, nationalist and diasporic. It focuses on the work of Carleton and Jane Elgee (Speranza) while also introducing many of the themes and authors which are the subject matter of the pages that follow.
John Henry Johnstone (1749–1828), sometime cavalryman, promiscuous lover and Dublin tenor, spent the best part of forty years on the legitimate London stage, playing everything from Lucy in a cross-cast Beggars’ Opera to both ‘genuine’ and comic Stage Irish roles. Though deemed ‘most unmusical’ by Haydn, his greatest cultural influence was as a singer, particularly of ‘Irish’ songs. This chapter examines the figure of Johnstone as a cross-media production of Irishness, focusing upon these songs and their dissemination.
Cox Jensen’s essay is a rejoinder to Davis’s positive reading of Johnstone’s career and contends that the gradual fixing of this identity largely represented a diminution of Johnstone, subsumed within a role determined beyond the sphere of his own agency. Linking the growing consensus that Johnstone was the Stage Irishman to factors ranging from vocal technique to an association with the ‘poor Irish’ of London’s Seven Dials, Cox Jensen nuances recent accounts of the positive appropriation of Irishness, exploring the intermedial means by which the English cultural economy muffled and managed this most sonorous of Irish voices. Read in tandem with Davis’s piece, the essay gestures towards the spectrum of interpretative positions available when considering the resilience and authority of theatrical stereotypes.
Actresses performing as Irish characters on the eighteenth-century London stage embodied the contradictions of national identity during the Irish Enlightenment. Playwright and actress Kitty Clive was the first to claim an ‘Irish-English’ identity and to turn topsy-turvy the notion of Irish inferiority. The chapter argues that more than their male counterparts, these actresses and the characters they played often served as intermediaries across gender, class, national and religious divides. The various parts for Irish women, largely comic, ranged from peasants and labourers to boisterous widows and would-be aristocrats. The most notable recurrent Irish characters are the cross-dressed and travestied women who perform roles that reveal fixed assumptions about gender and national identity and often expose English hypocrisy. Examples include Ann Barry in Garrick’s Irish Widow cross-dressed as her soldier brother; Margaret Doyle as Patrick in Holcroft’s Seduction; and Maria Macklin’s several roles playing a man or dressed as one, especially in her father Charles Macklin’s The School for Husbands. These women employed popular stereotypes but also attempted on occasion to empty them of their power. They are thus exemplary of the plight of immigrants who seek to assimilate while maintaining a distinct identity.
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