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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News

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018

This International Women’s Day we’re paying homage to the contribution of women to academia by celebrating the work and achievements of our female authors. To capture the spirit of the event, we’ve put together a selection of interviews and original pieces by our female authors alongside the women’s studies titles to watch in 2018…

 

Irish Medical Education and Student Culture, c.1850-1950

Photograph from L.E. McLoughlin (ed.) Courtesy of the RCSI Heritage Collections. (http://www.rcsi.ie/heritagecollections)

Save the Womanhood! 

Samantha Caslin

Coming April 2018

Save the Womanhood! is a fascinating new history of promiscuity, prostitution and the efforts of local social purists to ‘save’ working-class women from themselves.

‘Do Not Forsake the Instruction of Your Mother’

Editor of Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination, Marjorie Lehman, discusses the volume’s role in disentangling motherhood from idealized notions of the Jewish family and stereotypes of the Jewish mother.

Women’s Literary Networks and Romanticism

Edited by Andrew O. Winckles and Angela Rehbein

This ground-breaking collection explores eighteenth-century women arguing that networks not only provided women with access to the literary marketplace, but altered their relations to each other, their literary production, and the broader social sphere.

In Our Time with Celeste-Marie Bernier

In an illuminating interview, Pictures and Power author Celeste-Marie Bernier joined Melvyn Bragg and the In Our Time team to discuss the life and work of Frederick Douglass. Find out what happened when we caught up with her here too!

All-women art spaces in Europe in the long 1970s

Edited by Agata Jakubowska and Katy Deepwell

This book brings together essays about women artists-only exhibitions, festivals, collective art projects, groups and associations. Exploring the idea of heterotopia and feminism as a travelling concept, specific collaborations and initiatives are discussed from across Europe during 1968-1984.

Irish Medical Education and Student Culture, c.1850-1950

Author Laura Kelly discusses the roles of women and religion in medical student culture, and how the student experience differed from that of modern day students.

Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries

Edited by Julie Vandivere and Megan Hicks

Virginia Woolf and Her Female Contemporaries helps us comprehend the ways that the women writers and artists contributed to and complicated modernism by contextualizing them alongside Woolf’s work.

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Jewish Studies, News

What’s Next for The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization and LUP?

Liverpool University Press is delighted to announce an exciting new partnership with The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. We asked Connie Webber, Managing Editor at the Library, to tell us more about the Library and its plans for the future.

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization was founded in 1965 by Louis Littman, in memory of his father, how has the press grown and developed since its establishment?

Louis Littman founded the Library as a charitable endeavour and a true act of love. He had no knowledge of publishing but was strongly committed to the task he set himself, and he worked tirelessly to achieve his aim. For some twenty-two years, until his untimely death in 1987, he personally approached authors to write for him on the subjects he considered important, and took an interest in how the research and writing progressed. He was very much a gentleman publisher, and in many ways he was a pioneer-before he established his Library there was very little publishing of academic books in Jewish studies; indeed there was very little academic Jewish studies! It was partly due to him that the field grew as it did. In the thirty years since Louis Littman’s death, the Library has developed beyond his wildest dreams: now publishing up to ten books a year for a readership spread around the world, it has come to be recognized as a leader in the publication of academic books in Jewish studies, even though the field itself has grown very considerably in the meantime.  Its prestige is due not only to the reputation of its authors but also to the professionalism of its editorial, design, and production team, who are unstinting in their efforts to produce first-class books. Through a charitable foundation, the Littman family continues to make it possible to invest significant resources into all stages of the publishing process, including the translation of important works of scholarship from other languages. Littman’s success has been due to a combination of vision and a dedication to quality, coupled with the availability of funding to make it all possible.

What do you look for in a new book project?

Following the guidelines laid down by Louis Littman, we aim to publish works that will stand the test of time and be considered definitive in their area. We seek solidly based research that offers new insights while being accessible to the educated non-specialist as well as to scholars, and to non-Jews as well as to Jews. All proposals are carefully peer-reviewed to ensure that each book makes a real contribution to the field. Positive reviews, awards, and professional accolades all attest to the success of the endeavour.

 Do you have any particular favourites from the Littman series? Are there any books on the list that you would recommend to someone encountering the series for the first time?

It’s very difficult for me to choose favourites from the list. It’s a list that has built up over fifty years, covering a very wide range of subjects. Similarly it’s not easy to recommend where one should start. The Littman Library is a veritable treasure trove: it’s a question of what one is interested in. There are books on liturgy, history, philosophy, mysticism, and theology; on women’s studies, cultural studies, and art history; on the Sephardi world and the Ashkenazi world (including the annual Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, with 29 volumes published to date); there are biographies and works of literature, including translations of classic works.

Finally, The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization was founded with the mission to explore, explain, and perpetuate the Jewish heritage, how can the partnership with Liverpool University Press help to further the success of this mission?

Our decision to partner with Liverpool University Press stemmed from the conviction that this partnership would give us access to a much wider market, thanks to their experienced sales and marketing team, and particularly to the various electronic marketing platforms on offer for print editions. Another major factor is sure to be the new Littman E-Library, making our books available for the first time in digital form. That was a long-cherished hope of ours, but something that was beyond our ability to achieve on our own. We were impressed by LUP’s dedicated, experienced, and enthusiastic team, and by the accolades they have received from the industry. We feel confident that we will work well together towards a long, fruitful, and mutually beneficial partnership.

To welcome the arrival of Littman at Liverpool University Press, we are offering 40% off all available titles from 6th-10th March. Use code WELCOMELITTMAN on our website.

 

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