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Between 1780 and 1830, a highly distinctive body of imaginative writing emerged in Ireland, formed by and in turn helping to mould the linguistic, political, historical, and geographical divisions characteristic of Irish life. The intense and turbulent creative effort involved bore witness to a key transition at the beginning of the nineteenth century: the emergence of modern Irish literature as a distinct cultural category. During these years, Irish literature came to consist of a recognisable body of work, which later generations could draw on, quote, anthologise, and debate. This chapter offers a new map of the making of Irish literature in the romantic period, as well as introducing the aims of the volume as a whole.
This chapter considers the transatlantic influences that shaped Irish literary culture in the romantic period. In particular, it focuses on two understudied phenomena. First, the chapter provides an account of texts published in Ireland that concern African slavery and the transatlantic slave trade, written by pro-slavery sympathisers, white abolitionists, and writers of African descent like Ignatius Sancho and Olaudah Equiano. Second, it zeroes in on a forgotten Irish novel, Sarah Isdell’s The Vale of Louisiana, published in Dublin in 1805, which dramatises the transatlantic, trans-Caribbean travels of an English family, addresses slavery directly, and borrows heavily from a canonical early American novel, Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland (1798). The chapter concludes on the other side of the ‘steep Atlantic’, as Sydney Owenson called it, and briefly addresses the publication and reception of Irish writers in the early United States, especially Thomas Moore and Maria Edgeworth, where they found an unpredictable and productive future.
The Irish poetry of the romantic age is dominated by its best-known figure, Thomas Moore. While Moore claimed that his songs were responsible for saving the national literary and musical culture, there were, of course, many other writers producing poetry in differing modes, languages, and registers. This chapter begins and ends with Moore’s considerable achievements, but it also deals with three issues that preoccupied Irish poetic and cultural debate in the period and after: translation, authenticity, and quality. The debate gains its first focus in the work of Charlotte Brooke, but continues through Moore’s contact with music in the collections of Edward Bunting. This period was also one of considerable historical moment, and the chapter also addresses poetry written out of the contact with French revolutionary ideas, the United Irishmen, 1798, and Union. Among poets considered are also William Drennan, Mary Tighe, James Orr, and Thomas Dermody, writing in English and Ulster Scots as well as in contact with the Irish-language tradition, mock-epic, and the oriental.
Lady Morgan’s celebrity has come to be defined by her aptitude for self-fashioning, as she embodied her fictional heroine Glorvina for an enraptured English readership. Morgan’s self-conscious representation of herself in her Memoirs (1862) as ‘the poor butt that reviewers, editors and critics have set up’ suggests an equally acute awareness of her literary reception and legacy. Taking these notions of literary celebrity and self-fashioning as its starting point, this chapter focuses on Morgan’s national tales, arguing that her writing provides a self-conscious account of the cultural circulation of Irish identity. Morgan’s layering of multiple genres and discourses in her national tales indicates a writer deeply engaged with processes of both cultural and literary transition and the chapter suggests that this engagement is best understood through Morgan’s fictional appraisal of Enlightenment philosophical constructions of history and nation. In their alertness to the politics of sympathy and the performance of national suffering, the novels construct Ireland as a site of multiple and competing modes of perception and representation. In doing so, they reveal Morgan as a self-conscious reviser of form who both registers and shapes the dynamic literary transitions taking place during the romantic period.
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