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Irishness, Professional Authorship and the "Wild Irish Girls"of L. T. Meade
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L. T. Meade is one of the most prolific and most forgotten writers Ireland has ever produced. The daughter of a Church of Ireland rector, Meade left her native County Cork in her twenties in order to pursue the pen in fin-de-siècle literary London. She found significant fame as the author of at least 280 books, plus innumerable short stories and pieces of journalism. Most of her novels were aimed at girls, a readership that her popularity and ubiquity across the literary marketplace from the 1880s onwards helped to shape—one newspaper even dubbed her "The Queen of the Girls' Book Makers." Titles such as Polly: A New Fashioned Girl (1889), A Princess of the Gutter (1895), A Girl in Ten Thousand (1896), and Dumps: A Plain Girl (1905) give a sense of the nature of her writing for girls—spirited, girl-centred and highly marketable. Her staggering industry allowed her to write prolifically across a large number of other genres as well, including sensation, romance and crime. She even appears to have invented some subgenres of her own. In her pioneering study of girls' culture, The New Girl (1995), Sally Mitchell argues that Meade stands as the first purveyor of the medical mystery with her "Stories from the Diary of a Doctor," cowritten with Robert Eustace and published in the Strand from 1893 onwards alongside Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series. Such dedication to quantity and versatility, however, has garnered Meade an unfortunate place in literary posterity.

Despite the impressive number of girls' books she produced during her lifetime, and the significant popularity she enjoyed among this readership (she was voted favourite writer by Girl's Realm in 1898, a girls' magazine), critical engagement with Meade has largely been limited to a small number of Victorian children's literature specialists. More recently her contribution to crime fiction has begun to be recognised and interestingly it is in this area that Meade has probably received the most positive treatment from critics thus far. In Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siècle (2008), Elizabeth Carolyn Miller argues that Meade's "feminist perspective" enabled her to address "pertinent feminist questions about gender, body, image and visibility far more explicitly than Conan Doyle." Miller's acknowledgement of Meade's feminism is not reflected, however, in the majority of discussions of her books for girl readers. Instead, many critics of children's literature situate Meade as a writer of formulaic, conservative and ultimately forgettable juvenile fiction. Although her plots frequently draw upon new social and educational opportunities available to modern girls, critics such as Kimberley Reynolds have suggested that Meade's fiction ultimately perpetuates and even "revitalises" the image of the Angel in the House for impressionable young readers. J. S. Bratton has been particularly dismissive of Meade: "Her rate of production, around six books a year, meant that she developed methods of putting together stories from given motifs, characters, incidents and emotions, used as counters to be moved about at will." For Bratton, this formulaic approach ensures that "any protracted reading of L. T. Meade leaves one with a sense of distaste bordering upon indignation at the writer's attitude to both reader and material." In the introduction to his 1998 reprint of Meade's The Detections of Miss Cusack, Douglas G. Greene articulates a particularly strident retort against the quality of her girls' fiction, despite his championing of her crime fiction: having "read one or two" of Meade's girls' books, Greene assumes that "no one would ever think of reviving them today" and suggests that "the bookdealers who list their Meade titles on the web might better use them as ceiling insulation or as combustible material on a winter's night." This article challenges such representations of Meade and her work for girls through a discussion of her Irish origins and her popularisation of the "Wild Irish Girl" figure in her girls' fiction. It seeks to approach her work for girls with the same seriousness with which her crime fiction has recently been considered.

Such dismissals of the literary value of Meade's work are not unprecedented: in his 1899 essay...

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