Irish Studies, Uncategorized

Women of the Country House in Ireland – Five minutes with Maeve O’Riordan

Ahead of the launch of Women of the Country House in Ireland, 1860-1914, author Maeve O’Riordan discusses the various experiences of women among the Irish Ascendancy, from financial freedom to their own observations of motherhood.

Women of the Country House in Ireland 1860-1914 reveals the lives of the women among the Irish Ascendancy. How did you go about conducting your research for this project?

The book examines the lives of women from twelve landed families in Ireland, all of whom had a house in Munster. It explores their experiences from girlhood to old age, whether they married or not. I wanted to give space to these women’s own voices, so most of my research time was spent with the letters, diaries, scrapbooks, novels, memoirs, sketchbooks and other items written by women who either were born or married into the Irish landed class. Luckily, their descendants have shared their papers with a library – mostly the National Library of Ireland but also the Boole Library in University College Cork and other places.

With literally thousands of pages of letters written by these women preserved in these libraries, it was possible to become totally immersed in the material. The structure of the book evolved over time as the themes emerged from the surviving letters.

I hope that readers will gain a clear insight into the female experience among the class through the book. By examining women’s own voices it is possible to see how they viewed their own roles within the house. The female role was an important one to the success of the family, even though, legally, women had few rights at the time.

‘a youth and a matron suspiciously placed…with his arm encircling the motherly waist.’‘A Floggy Flirtation, 1889 –Lady Castletown’s scrapbook. Image Credit: NLI


What was the female experience among the privileged landed classes like in the mid-nineteenth century? Did it vary a lot between families?

The women in this study were all members of some of the wealthiest families in Ireland, however, even within this group, there were differences in wealth between families. For example, the estate of the Earl of Bantry stretched over 60,000 acres while the Ryan family in Tipperary only owned around 1,000 acres. Olive, the daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bantry married Lord Ardilaun – one of the richest men in Ireland or Britain – who owned the Guinness brewing empire. She had every possible comfort and a number of properties to call home, including Ashford Castle in County Mayo and Macroom Castle in County Cork.  The wives of the Ryan landlords had no such comparable wealth.

The most pronounced difference in experience, however, was within families between married and unmarried women, and women at different life stages. For example, Ethel, Lady Inchiquin, brought a dowry of £100,000 to her marriage in 1896. Throughout her married life, she acted with financial and personal freedom while remaining close to her husband. Ethel’s niece by marriage, Maud, was not as independent. After quarrelling with her mother, Ellen, in 1905, the unmarried woman was thrown out of the house and had no option to live with another sister on an allowance of £15 per month. To provide some context; in 1886, Ellen had hired a governess for Maud and her siblings on a salary of £80 per annum. Maud was completely reliant on the goodwill of her family for her financial security.

Ethel Foster, and extremely wealthy English heiress married the heir of Dromoland Castle in 1896. Their wedding was a statement of wealth and power. Read more about them in Women of the Country House in Ireland, 1860-1914 Image credit: NLI

When working on this project did you come across anything that you found particularly surprising?

There are a number of findings which surprise others when I talk about the book, particularly the fact that so many of these women were involved mothers who breastfed their babies and only relied on wet nurses in instances where they were too sick to nurse their own babies. For example, Mabel, who is depicted on the cover of the book with her son Brendan joked that he was turning her into a pagan as she could not attend church as he wanted to be constantly fed. When he was three months old she wrote that Brendan was ‘still practically a two-hours baby’ which meant ‘that the time for doing regular everyday things never seems to come’.

However, what has surprised me the most was the amount of movement across the Irish Sea on marriage. It has long been understood that many Irish landlords found English wives, but it was not known the extent to which women who grew up in Ireland ended up marrying into the English gentry and aristocracy. Of the peers’ daughters in this study, twice as many married English rather than Irish husbands. I want to examine this experience further in my future research.

How do you think Women of the Country House in Ireland 1860-1914 paves the way for further research into the history of women?

There has been a huge increase in the level of interest on women in the country house over the past few years. This book examines the female experience in a number of aspects of their lives. However, this book is only a starting point. Each one of the chapters could be expanded into longer studies of marriage, experiences of unmarried women, girlhood, political involvement, travel, social networks etc. I hope to complete some of this work, but many studies are needed before we can build a complete picture of the class at the time.

Maeve O’Riordan is Lecturer in Women’s and Cultural History at the School of History, University College Cork.

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The Legacy of Art and Feminism in the 1970s

Katy Deepwell discusses the feminist art practices explored by herself and co-editor Agata Jakubowska in All-Women Art Spaces in Europe in the Long 1970s.

The book examines all-women art spaces in the long 1970s in Europe, can you explain how it came about?

Most of the contributors met at a panel, ‘All women art spaces as heterotopias’, that Agata Jakubowska had organised at the European Arts and Modernism’s Utopia conference in 2014 in Helsinki. She had the idea that it would be productive to consider the initiatives of women artists from the 1970s in the light of Foucault’s distinction between heterotopia as an actual realised space and utopia as a projected ideal or future vision. Heterotopias are spaces which are distinctive because of how they juxtapose (even in self-contradictory forms) in a single space many other spaces or facets of society, the art world and views of culture/sub-cultures. It is this relational sense of all-women’s art spaces that the book addresses by demonstrating the diversity of those spaces created for and by women in relation to their location within society and politics as well as in their attempts to build an alternative view of culture, a separatist cultural space, a temporary corrective measure for the art world, develop a new way of living and working amongst artists in relation to society, provide a support network, bring together a group of friends or make a radical demonstration of difference, dissent and possibility. The diversity of women’s initiatives is not only tackled in relation to the distinct politics within the twelve countries in Europe (which include liberal democracies, Socialist countries and dictatorships) covered by chapters, but also in relation to the feminist and non-feminist politics of collectives and co-operation which enabled them. The book encompasses “travelling views of feminism” across continents and countries and a wide variety of attitudes to political activism and political forms of art from strong engagement to pronounced hostility. It is necessary to state that feminism does not represent one kind of politics or approach and when this diversity of political views is discussed, it is a question of examining the art and politics in the sense of different tactics, strategy and effects.

Can you describe the content of the book?

The all-women spaces are highly varied in the activities they produced and the programmes they organised in both form and substance. They include analysis of the formation of groups of artists in different models of art organisation or arts association: from VBKO, SVBK, UFPS to Cooperativa Beato Angelico and the Erfurt Women Artists’ Group. It includes how women artists organised around a single exhibition (like Kvinnfolk or the Portuguese women artists exhibition at the National Society of Fine Arts or the activities of Resjning and Store at Charlottenborg or SVBK’s work for the Feministische Kunst International) as well as the formation of groups because of protests about an exhibition (even a UNESCO Year of Women exhibition and a state-sponsored show of women) for its exclusions (Intakt, Collectif Femmes/Art and Femmes en Lutte). In the book, there are several examples of the founding of galleries (by Intakt and Art et Regard des Femmes), an art school (Schule fur Kreativen Feminismus) and galleries/ libraries/ meeting places (LaSal). Many events, meetings or symposia (like Women’s Art in Poland or Intakt) are discussed as well as the making of collective artworks, films and projects (from Fenix, Hackney Flashers or Rejsning or Erfurt Women Artists). Many exhibitions and initiatives and people are referenced in the book as exemplified by the extensive index.
Even still, the book really presents only a few case studies and makes no claims for a comprehensive history of this timeframe or geography. Depending on how you count, there are 28 countries in the EU (including the UK) or 44-50 in Europe as a geographic area or continent and there remains plenty of scope for other analyses of All-Women Art Spaces which would look at other parts of Europe or other parts of the world in this timeframe which would highlight other types of projects or women’s art initiatives. The kind of co-operation between the European colleagues who wrote the chapters within the book is not new within feminism, but it forms a mirror of the collective activity which informed the all-women art spaces which are discussed.

Did you come across anything that you found particularly interesting or surprising?

Talking to colleagues, I realised that this book probably could not have been written until now, even though it is more than 40 years since most of the activities it addresses took place. The breadth of scholarship needed to contribute to a broader understanding of these initiatives has only really been undertaken in the last two decades across Europe and many of the contributors to this book have published the key books or articles in this field in their own languages. The overall book sets the stage for transnational comparisons between local sites in different countries and looking across the book what is demonstrated is the unevenness of developments and the clear differences in women’s politics and art practices in relation to the art scene and to the politics within their own country.

What does this book represent as a contribution to feminist art histories of the 1970s?

Feminist scholars have been looking back at the legacy of feminist art practices in the 1970s in many different initiatives since the 1980s and it should be noted here that there are several waves of scholarship especially in curatorial work in the USA and in Europe which have attempted this task. However, the emphasis has generally been on individual artworks and/or artists and most of this scholarship has been organised around discussion of how exhibitions were made. This retrospective reconstruction of “oeuvres” and tendencies in feminist art is also discussed within the book and several authors draw close attention to problematising any sense of history as offering any simple coherent linear narrative between past and present.
There have been remarkably few articles and books on the collective activities of the women’s art movement in many European countries documenting these histories, outside exhibition catalogues: notable exceptions include Griselda Pollock and Roszika Parker’s Framing Feminism (1987) or Women down the Pub’s anthology Udsight/View (2004) or articles and interviews within n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal (1998-2017). The last two decades have seen many of the older women artists involved pull together as well as open their personal archives to younger generations of scholars. This book would not have been possible without the close co-operation of individual authors with the artists who took part in these initiatives and provided access to this archival material. It is richer because of this dialogue. I think that this book opens the possibility for feminist scholarship to emerge from many other countries who also have similar initiatives which need to be documented and discussed in relation to women’s art collectives, not just exhibition histories, and in relation to ideas about feminist art practices and the politics of feminism.

Agata Jakubowska is Associate Professor at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland.
Katy Deepwell is Founder and Editor of n.paradoxa: international feminist art journal and Professor of Contemporary Art, Theory and Criticism at Middlesex University, London.

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Journals, News

LUP to publish the Journal of Romance Studies from 2017

Liverpool University Press is delighted to announce that from 2017, it will be publishing the Journal of Romance Studies on behalf of the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR).

The Journal of Romance Studies (JRS) promotes innovative critical work in the areas of linguistics, literature, performing and visual arts, media, material culture, intellectual and cultural history, critical and cultural theory, psychoanalysis, gender studies, social sciences and anthropology.
One themed issue and two open issues are published each year. The primary focus is on those parts of the world that speak, or have spoken, French, Italian, Spanish or Portuguese, but work on other cultures is also included. Articles published in the journal cross national and disciplinary boundaries in order to stimulate new ways of thinking about cultural history and practice.

Anthony Cond, Managing Director at LUP, said “Liverpool University Press and the Institute of Modern Languages Research share a commitment to support the Modern Languages community.  As a leading international publisher in the field, we are delighted to partner with the IMLR in publication of the Journal of Romance Studies.”

Catherine Davies, General Editor of the journal said, “LUP is a prize-winning, top rate academic publisher. It specialises in Modern Languages publications and IMLR is proud to be associated with the press. We look forward to a flurry of activity around the promotion of the JRS and welcome LUP’s interest. Together, the IMLR and LUP will take the JRS in new and exciting directions.”

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