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Lesser Lights OR Major Literary Influences?
Introduction    ||   Tighe  ||    Owenson   ||   Persse   ||   Somerville and Ross


Hundreds of Irish women wrote during the last two centuries. They wrote in the English and Irish languages, some writing in both. Women wrote in all genres and for a myriad of reasons, to support themselves, to have literary lives, to create great works of fiction, poetry or plays. This display of portraits, brief biographical sketches and critical editions of works by Irish writers Mary Tighe, Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), Somerville and Ross, and Lady Gregory represents writers from the opening of the nineteenth through to the early twentieth century. The writings of the authors depicted represent various genres, including poems, novels, travel writing, essays and plays. Mary Tighe The Collected Poems and Journals of Mary Tighe - Harriet Kramer Linkin lived most of her life in the eighteenth century, but her works were not published until the early nineteenth century. Indeed, several of her poems have been published for the first time in the 2005 Kramer Linkin book listed beneath the biographical sketch for Tighe. Sydney Owenson was a contemporary of Mary Tighe. They were members of the same literary circles and one of Mary Tighe’s letters is an invitation to Owenson to visit her, apologizing that the visit would have to take place in Tighe’s sick room. Lady Gregory was a close friend of Violet Martin’s sister and was an acquaintance and reader of the work of Somerville and Ross (Violet Martin). Their publications span the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. Lady Gregory’s work spanned the later years of the nineteenth century and she continued writing into the 1920s.

Landscape prints by such artists as Jonathan Butts, William Ashford and a print of an oil painting by Edith Somerville are Lady Morgan, the Life and Times of Sydney Owenson - Mary Campbellused to set the biographical text in the Romantic, sometimes Gothic era, reflected in much of the authors’ writings. Each biographical sketch is meant to give a glimpse of personal biographical details, formative influences and a look at how each author inspired, supported or influenced male authors who came to be included in the canons of literary traditions while the women authors were sometimes disregarded, neglected or forgotten. Some of the texts on display* reflect a rediscovery of these writers, and signal how new scholarship on these writers is bringing their literary worth to light. Many of the texts in the display are first or very early editions.

The aim of the exhibit is to bring the women and their work to life, stressing their talents and their impact upon writers of their own generations. Many scholars are looking afresh at the lives and works of these five women authors, and at other women authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It is becoming increasingly evident that these writers rather than being ‘Lesser Lights’ were ‘Major Literary Influences.’

The O’Neill Library holds books and microfilm copies by and about well over one hundred women that fall into this time period. For more resources on Irish Women Writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, see the Research Guide: Irish Women Writers or the general bibliography [PDF].

* See "Works Cited" at the end of each page.

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Updated: February 7, 2006
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