Lesser Lights or Major Literary Influences?
In October and November, 2005 the Boston College Libraries granted O'Neill Library Reference Bibliographer, Kathy Williams, a research leave to engage in a special project related to Irish Studies resources at the O’Neill Library.
The goal of my research project was to provide enhanced access to the O’Neill Library’s significant holdings of works by and about nineteenth and twentieth century Irish Women writers. The outcome of the project is a local collection of titles searchable in Quest, and a research guide that, together, will:
- point researchers to holdings in Quest for printed material and hard to locate material in microform;
- point users to relevant online databases and research guides on the Libraries’ Home Page;
- link users to finding aids, tutorials and subject specialist pages.
Brief Explanation of Online Library Catalog and Searching
The Libraries’ online catalog Quest holds records for each title owned by the Libraries. Titles can be accessed by various methods including author, title, subject, keyword and other less used means such as ‘local collection name’. Library of Congress subject headings, which allow subject searches for material when exact titles and authors are not known, are not included in the online records for many works of literature listed in Quest. Rare and valuable works by Irish women writers in the stacks of the O’Neill Library remain hidden unless a researcher knows specific authors and titles or browses the stacks and comes upon them. The works can remain invisible to the wider world of scholars who rely upon online searching of databases and catalogs for the unearthing of resources. However, a search by ‘local collection’ name can retrieve records that are included in the collection. Moreover, a special note can be added to the online record.
a) Local Collection
Performing a basic search in Quest, selecting ‘Local Collection Names’ in the ‘Search Type:’ field and using Irish Women Writers in the ‘Search For:’ field [example] will yield a browse screen that lists the local collection name and the number, 50+ [example].
Clicking on the listing will bring you to a results screen [example] where you can see that there are over 700 records in Quest for titles by Irish women writers, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The records are listed in reverse chronological order.It is possible to ‘Jump to record’ number 625 and view records for works published much earlier. Names of women authors that might otherwise remain invisible to researchers now come to the light because of what the ‘local collection’ and accompanying search parameters offer.
b) Research Guide Irish Women Writers, Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries
Biographies: This section includes many older biographies as well as current. The older Irish biographies list some of the women and provide very interesting facts that will not be found in current biographies. It is also quite interesting to compare the language in a biography by E. Owens Blackburne or Justin McCarthy and one prepared by a contemporary editor in one of the Field Day volumes. The effusive, almost poetic description of a portrait of Mary Tighe, author of Psyche, in E. Owens Blackburne’s Illustrious Irish Women is a case in point. In the older works the authors are describing peers or people who lived in almost contemporary times and the cultural attitudes, descriptive language used and criticism offered provide an interesting historical record. Indeed, we find many ‘desperate housewives’ among the entries. Countess Blessington, for example, lived a life of luxury in England and abroad until her husband passed away and resources from land holdings in Ireland dried up during the famine. The Countess was forced to auction off precious possessions. In fact, it is believed that Thackeray based his auction scene in Vanity Fair on the auction held to sell off Countess Blessington’s valuables. It is also thought that Thackeray based his heroine in Vanity Fair on the Countess, who having been a governess at home in Ireland used her charm and wit to make her way into London society. The introductions to each of the biographies are valuable. Some include editors’ beliefs about canon formation, issues in criticism of women’s writing, ease or frustration with being published or with pursuing a career as a professional writer as well as overviews of historical time periods.
Bibliographies: As with the biographies, the section includes older as well as current resources. The older, Irish bibliographies list some of the women’s writings and give very interesting facts about them that will not be found in current and/or the more comprehensive and general British biographies.
General Surveys/Critical Editions: General surveys offer broad historical views and, in some cases, are rich sources for author names and works. Critical editions offer authoritative editions of texts along with, in some cases, the results of contemporary research. Harriet Kramer Linkin’s 2005 The Collected Poems and Journals of Mary Tighe includes texts never before published with an interesting history of the publication of Mary Tighe’s most well-known work, Psyche and more.
Literary Anthologies: This section lists only a selective representation of many anthologies held by the libraries. More may be added upon evaluation. Once again, older works are listed with the more contemporary to give researchers the option of examining different styles and editorial choices. The Libraries own many old anthologies, including deluxe editions that feature copies of paintings or other portraits of the featured authors, or graphics from their works.
Online Literature Collections: British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries is a valuable database. The following is a brief excerpt from the diary of Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan, author of The Wild Irish Girl:
In the hour when I first drew breath, and felt life's first inaugural sensation -- pain, the world took part in the hour and the day. It was the festival of humanity, of peace and good will to man, of love and liberty and high distinction to woman, of glory to the motherhood of nations -- the accomplishment of the first desire of her, who was created, not born; the desire "to be as gods, knowing good from evil" -- the head and front of human science. I was born on Christmas Day; in that land where all holy days are religiously celebrated, as testimonials to faith, and are excuses for festivity -- in "Ancient ould Dublin."
The British and Irish Women’s Letters and Diaries database has much other relevant material. The database CELT also points to many useful sites. One is Bibliography of Nineteenth Century Irish Literature. A listing for Eva Gore-Booth is available with two full-texts of works: Religious Aspects of Non-Resistance (1915);
The Death of Fionavar from The Triumph of Maeve (1916).
In Nineteenth Century Fiction we come upon Somerville and Ross (Edith Oenone Somerville and Violet Florence Martin), who wrote, among other topics, about life on an Irish estate during the mid to late nineteenth century. Full-text of The Real Charlotte, the pair’s most critically acclaimed novel is available.
Literature Online also a valuable database for locating works by and about Irish women authors. For example, along with full-texts of works by Lady Wilde, this database features works about her.
It is also possible to see a list of all of the author’s work in any genre. If we browse the bibliography we find Lady Wilde’s Jacta alea est originally published in The Nation, 29 July, 1848. Researchers who are interested in reading this can search the BC Libraries Irish Serials database and see whether or not it is held. In fact, a search reveals that a copy of the edition of The Nation is held on microfilm in the O’Neill Library.
The selected sites vary in offerings. Creators of many sites are compiling full-text versions of women’s writings along with resources such as online journals, bibliographies and criticism. Most offer very easy searching and good organization. For example in Celebration of Women Writers, it is possible to click on a desired century and get a list of authors. This site also offers a blog.
Emory Women Writers Project offers students the experience of editing their own texts.
It also offers a research guide, useful bibliography and interesting links – one to some
full-text journals of the nineteenth century.
There are numerous resources available to scholars and Boston College students are fortunate to have access to primary works, books and periodicals as well as electronic resources for gathering many other resources to support research in this area. The creation of the local collection in Quest, along with the special ‘local collection note’ added to relevant records as well as the research guide provides access to such valuable resources.
Manager, Circulation Services, O'Neill Library
Bibliographer, Irish Studies
Another outcome of the research project is the creation of an exhibit in the O'Neill Library lobby and an online component to the exhibit. Collaboration between Ms. Williams, Frances Bates, Conservation Specialist, and Sadie
Northway, Web Designer, resulted in the highlighting of five Irish women writers and examples of how they influenced well-known male writers of the time.
O'Neill Library Exhibit Lesser Lights or Major Literary Influences?