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  • "A Good Quaker and a Bad Sinn Feiner":Identity Formation in Rosamond Jacob's Diary
  • Nadia Clare Smith (bio)

"I wish I could go somewhere where I wasn't known, and believed beforehand to be mad, so that my remarks might for a time at least be taken on their own merits and not discounted at once as the necessarily absurd talk of a lunatic." 1

(Rosamond Jacob, 1909)

Rosamond Jacob (1888-1960), an Irish novelist, historian, feminist, nationalist, and political activist, has been rediscovered and is currently undergoing a critical reappraisal because of contemporary interest in Irish women's history, in twentieth-century Irish women writers, and in historians and the shaping of Irish historiography. 2 She was also an important diarist, and her multivolume diary is now [End Page 124] housed in the National Library of Ireland, a place with which she became intimately familiar during her lifetime. Jacob's diary can be located within several contexts, including girls' and women's diaries, Irish Quaker diaries, and modernist writers' diaries. The Jacob diaries document both a changing Ireland in the first half of the twentieth century and the intellectual formation of a historian and novelist; they offer opportunities to compare and contrast the novels with the private writing of a lifelong diarist. This essay analyzes the Rosamond Jacob diaries in the light of contemporary diary scholarship and research on life writing by women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Diarist as Outsider

Feminism and Irish nationalism were crucial in shaping Rosamond Jacob's life as well as her self-construction in her diary. Her feminism, Irish nationalism, and opposition to British imperialism, revealed in her early diaries, indicate her resistance to the dominant gender and political ideologies current in the British Isles in the early twentieth century and situate her within a familial tradition of progressivism. She constructs herself as a misunderstood but defiant and ironic outsider as she contrasts her beliefs and actions with those of socially conventional people, and she includes a range of voices—nationalist and unionist, feminist and antifeminist, secular and religious, progressive and conservative—in dialogue as she narrates her experiences. Her sense of herself as an outsider led her to form strong bonds throughout her life with like-minded people whom she felt understood her and empathized with her. There is a recurring theme in the diary of Jacob feeling awkward and misunderstood by unsympathetic people and inadvertently or deliberately shocking others with her unconventionality. "I wish I could go somewhere where I wasn't known, and believed beforehand to be mad, so that my remarks might for a time at least be taken on their own merits and not discounted at once as the necessarily absurd talk of a lunatic," the twenty-one-year-old Jacob confided to her diary in 1909 when recounting a misunderstanding. 3 [End Page 125]

In her diary Jacob links the personal and the political, the domestic and the public, and writes herself into contemporary Irish women's history and political history as they unfold. She first revealed her views on feminism at the age of seventeen, when she recorded how two acquaintances "talked nonsense about Miss Billington and the other suffragettes." 4 Like her fictional character, Frances Morrin, Jacob "had been a suffragist ever since she was old enough to know what a vote was," 5 and many of her female relatives were suffragists as well. Her Irish republicanism, shaped by her family as well as by books and Irish popular culture, 6 was formed in opposition to the predominantly unionist Irish Protestant community of Waterford city, and she defended her views when confronted by unionist girls at school. 7 While she identified with the Irish insurgents of the 1798 Rebellion, her Waterford friends had a different politics of empathy, identifying with the militia and the yeomanry sent to suppress the rebellion. 8 An agnostic from a Quaker family, Jacob identified with other Protestant republican rebels in Irish history, especially Wolfe Tone. She later commented that "there's nothing so comfortable as republican Protestants, though Catholics may have more intriguing colours." 9 Her early religious confrontations were not with Irish Catholics but rather with...


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