Irish Women Writers in the London Intellectual Press of the 1890s

Nora Moroney
Trinity College Dublin

A consistent theme of research on Ireland’s journalistic history has
been its localism and often-transitory nature during the nineteenth
century. While this has its merits in underlining the extent of press
activity across the country, it has also meant a paucity of research
on the tradition of Irish contributors abroad. The later decades of
Victoria’s reign saw a flourishing scene of Irish men and women
working as editors, publishers and contributors in London’s
periodicals and newspapers. Building on initial surveys from Felix
Larkin, Anthony McNicholas and others, this paper explores the
particular contribution of various female authors to late-Victorian
prestigious journals. It focuses on the Fortnightly Review, Nineteenth
Century and the Contemporary Review as nexuses for Irish women within
the metropolitan press. Authors such as Emily Lawless, Francis Power
Cobbe, Hannah Lynch and Alice Stopford Green frequently used these
journals as means of both supporting themselves financially and
consolidating a literary reputation from 1890 onward. As well as
fictional articles, their contributions reveal a broad range of
interests that echoed – and often influenced – contemporary
debates in the political, intellectual and cultural spheres. Both
Stopford Green and Cobbe, for example, used their pieces to advance
causes of social justice and gender equality. Furthermore, their
access to networks of influence was facilitated by the elevated
position that these periodicals still occupied in London’s press
scene by the close of the century.

This paper takes a two-pronged approach, addressing on one hand to
what extent these writers’ Irish identity informed their
contributions and criticism, while also considering the ideologies and
editorial practices of the journals in question. It points up the
network of Irish journalists in London’s elite public sphere at the
time, and how writers such as Lawless interacted with fellow
contributors (Gladstone and W.E.H. Lecky, for instance) both within
and beyond the periodicals’ pages. A central question is how these
cosmopolitan women negotiated gendered expectations of female writers
in the late nineteenth century, and whether the decade’s New Woman
sentiment informed or interacted with a certain national perspective.
By bringing together a selection of writers who do not necessarily
conform to the nationalist and revivalist concerns of previous
research, this paper challenges existing perceptions of the role of
women activists and journalists abroad. It ultimately aims to present
a sustained analysis of the authors’ periodical contributions and
situate them within their transnational context, reflecting recent,
more general moves in literary and journalistic history of the
nineteenth century.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900