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Late Nineteenth-Century Ireland’s Political and Religious Controversies in the Fiction of May Laffan Hartley

Helena Kelleher Kahn

Publication Year: 2005

In her novels and short stories, May Laffan Hartley (1849–1916) depicts the religious and political controversies of late nineteenth- century Ireland. Helena Kelleher Kahn reintroduces us to Laffan’s vivid, witty fiction, rich in political and social commentary. Laffan did not offer clear-cut approval to one side or the other of the social and religious divide but weighed both and often found them wanting. She adds a missing dimension to the Irish world of Wilde, Shaw, Moore and Joyce. A woman of the age subtly embroiders the acute challenges and divisions of middle-class Ireland. As Kahn says, “she chose to write about the alcoholic ex-student, the impecunious solicitor, the farmer or merchant turned politician, and their often resentful wives and children. On the whole her world view was pessimistic. Rural Ireland was a beautiful intellectual desert. Dublin was a place to leave, not to live in.” This account of her life and work will be of interest to students of Anglo-Irish literature and history, as well as women’s studies.

Published by: ELT Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. xiii-ix

I owe many thanks to many people for their help with every stage of this book: first to Sister Declan Power who put the idea of it into my head; then to Professor Tom Dunne of University College Cork who enabled me to make it a reality; also to Helen Davies and the staff of the Boole Library, U.C.C., in particular the staff of the Special ...

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pp. 1-12

The attempt to research the life and works of a forgotten Irish Victorian writer does require some explanation and justification. My explanation is, first of all, that the identity of the writer May Laffan Hartley, although she wrote anonymously, was known to me. She was a friend and first cousin of my father’s mother, who herself died be fore my birth. Some ...

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CHAPTER 1. Origins and Early Years

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pp. 13-42

The questioning and challenging disposition in May Laffan, which drew her towards controversial themes, had its origin in a divided inheritance. She was the child of a religiously mixed marriage. Her father, Michael Laffan, came from a Catholic family in Tipperary; her mother, Ellen Sarah Fitzgibbon, came from a newly converted Church of ...

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CHAPTER 2. Adult Life and Works

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pp. 43-71

The world presented to us by the novels and stories of May Laffan is almost unique to her, that world of the Irish middle class in the second half of the nineteenth century. Other story tellers had written of peasant life or the trials of the gentry; but she chose to write about the alcoholic ex-student, the impecunious solicitor, the farmer or merchant turned poli-...

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CHAPTER 3. Class and Politics in Hogan MP

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pp. 72-110

May Laffan’s first and most successful novel, Hogan MP, was published by Richard Bentley in London in the spring of 1876, when its author was twenty-seven. A satirical novel, it may be fairly compared with two other much better known novels also dating from the last quarter of the nineteenth century: Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live ...

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CHAPTER 4. Class, Identity and Education in Miss Ferrard

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pp. 111-136

The second of May Laffan’s four novels, The Honorable Miss Ferrard, was first published by Richard Bentley & Son in 1877. It was reviewed in the same year by the Saturday Review, a politically conservative journal noted for the severity of its views on contemporary literature.1 The anonymous review was on the whole favourable: ...

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CHAPTER 5. Conflicting Values, Class and Religion in Christy Carew

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pp. 137-168

Laffan's third novel, Christy Carew, was published by Holt in New York in 1878, and by Macmillan in London in 1880. It seems to have been reviewed less extensively than were her other books, and even the anonymous reviewer in The Cabinet of Irish Literature disposes of it in a few lines: "In Christy Carew, which is the last book of the authoress has pro-...

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CHAPTER 6. Stories of Poverty and Hope

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pp. 169-196

Nineteenth-century Ireland was visibly a very poor country, even when the famine had removed from it the poorest rural group. Accounts of travels in and visits to Dublin, the provincial cities and the scenic countryside make that plain.1 The extent of this poverty could not be glossed over or ignored; it permeated not only factual writings about Ireland, ...

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CHAPTER 7. A Political Allegory of Fenian Ireland?

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pp. 197-226

In the course of a letter to George Grove, editor of Macmillan's Magazine, about her short story "Weeds," May Laffan referred to other work which she had in hand: "I am busy with a new story of the same class of Irish—but of a different sort & showing different & better feelings." 1, It seems certain that the new story referred to was Ismay's Children, the last of ...

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pp. 227-231

May Laffan’s writing life, as we have seen, finished in the early 1880s, and this timing no doubt had some responsibility for the swift descent of her work into obscurity. The literary revival directed by W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and their associates, which also began in the 1880s, found plays and poetry more effective than the novel at ...


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pp. 232-270


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pp. 271-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780944318324
Print-ISBN-13: 9780944318188
Print-ISBN-10: 0944318185

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 1 map
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 607773219
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Late Nineteenth-Century Ireland’s Political and Religious Controversies in the Fiction of May Laffan Hartley

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Subject Headings

  • Laffan, May. -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Religion and politics -- Ireland -- History -- 19th century.
  • Ireland -- In literature.
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