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Eighteenth-Century Studies 36.4 (2003) 607-610

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Fourteen Hundred Years of Irish Women Writers

Maureen E. Mulvihill,
Princeton Research Forum

Angela Bourke, Siobhán Kilfeather, Maria Luddy, Margaret MacCurtain, Geraldine Meaney, Máirín Ní Dhonnchadha, Mary O'Dowd, and Clair Wills, eds. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. Irish Women's Writing and Traditions. VolumesIV and V(County Cork: Cork University Press, 2002). Volume IV, Pp. li + 1490. Volume V, xlii + 1711. Two-volume set. $250.00 cloth.

Faugh a ballagh!Clear the way for Irishwomen writers. In giving over the editorial reins of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing in 1991 to a capable team of eight Irishwomen scholars, Seamus Deane and his editorial associates, Andrew Carpenter and Jonathan Williams, have done something truly important for Irish studies. Students, teachers, scholars, librarians, antiquarian specialists, and generalists now have in two hefty (yea, biblical) volumes of 3200 [End Page 607] pages a reliable first canon of the indigenous writings and traditions of Ireland's women, circa 600 to 2001. The voices of some 900 Irishwomen are heard in these pages. Moreover, the volumes' eight editors and forty-nine contributing editors have organized the books into eight large thematic sections, whose contents are richly interdisciplinary. (Why even an Irishman knows better than to bicker with this.)

Field DayIV and V are not compendia of merely poetry and ancient lore; one finds here collations of writings which effectively critique the complex issues that led to the clangor of Ireland's bloody history—issues relating to politics, institutions, and Anglo-Irish relations. Volume IV offers thematic groupings on Sovereignty and Politics, Courts and Coteries, Nonconformist Women, Sexual Expression and Genres, the Erosion of the Heterosexual Consensus, and (an especially outstanding section) Religion, Science, Theology and Ethics, 1500-2000, edited by Margaret MacCurtain. Volume V gathers selections under such headings as Political Writings, circa 1500-1850; Women and the Economy, circa 1170-1850; Women and Emigration from Ireland from the Seventeenth Century; Education in Ireland before 1800; and Women's Writing, 1700-1900. Because of the editors' skillful organization of a massive amount of material, readers can appreciate the origins and persistence of certain subjects, genres, and traditions in Irish writing and culture, as well as their changing characteristics over many turbulent centuries, an astounding feat by any standard.

Prior to this big publishing event, scholars of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Irish women writers were limited to original source-materials represented in three large information venues. First in the print medium, there were such earlier anthologies as Pillars of the House: An Anthology of Verse by Irish Women from 1680 to the Present, edited by Angeline Agnes Kelley (Dublin: Attic Press, 1988; rpt., Dublin: Wolfhound/Merlin Publishing, 1998); Ireland's Women: Past and Present, edited by Katie Donovan, A. Norman Jeffares, and Brendan Kennelly (New York and London: Norton, 1994); Verse in English from Eighteenth-Century Ireland, edited by Andrew Carpenter (Cork University Press, 1998); and, for the predictable, canonical figures, the three-volume Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry, No. Ireland: Field Day Publications, 1991; New York: W. W. Norton, 1991). Also in the print medium were two successful reference works which supplied essential "thumbnails" on the more familiar Irishwomen writers, namely, Robert Hogan's Dictionary of Irish Literature (Greenwood Press, 1979; 2d ed., 1996) and the second edition of An Encyclopedia of British Women Writers, edited by Paul and June Schlueter (Rutgers University Press, 1998). In the electronic medium, scholars could access "data sets" of the primary writings in EIRData, a mighty omnigatherum compiled and managed by Bruce Stewart (University of Ulster, CountyColeraine, Derry, Northern Ireland), Director of the Princess Grace Irish Library of Monaco. But only now in the opening years of the new millennium do we have all of these essential writings brought together in only two volumes. Let us consider what this very Irish team of editorial scholars has wrought.

The principal strength of Field DayIV and V is its staggering coverage. The editors have assembled a thoughtful thematic organization of 1400 years...


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