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  • Hannah Lynch and Narratives of the Irish Literary Revival
  • Kathryn Laing

In June 1896, the Freeman’s Journal published a brief account of a series of literary lectures delivered in Paris by Miss Hannah Lynch, followed by a transcription of her lecture on “The Irish Peasant: Fact and Fiction.” It was prefaced with the observation that “One may not always agree with Miss Lynch’s judgements, but her criticisms, free and at times perhaps extravagant, are always brilliantly and pointedly delivered.”1 The author, Hannah Lynch (1859–1904), a former executive member of the Ladies Land League, a writer of short stories and satirical sketches, New Woman and the author of Land War fiction, travel writing, translations, and literary criticism, was most assuredly not afraid to make judgements.2 [End Page 42]

Sweeping aside Douglas Hyde and Standish O’Grady on the basis that “the development in folk-lore or in the historical romance” will not interest French audiences, Lynch identified a female-centered canon to be of more relevance for her audience:

Instead we will examine the value of Irish local atmosphere and characters revealed in Miss Jane Barlow’s really charming and masterly “Irish Idylls” and in the Honourable Emily Lawless’s highly polished literary stories, “Grania” and “Hurrish”. These are undoubtedly the best stories the young school of Irish Celts has produced.

(IPFF 5)

With these claims, Lynch placed herself in direct opposition to W. B. Yeats’s devastating criticism of Lawless in 1895, when he declared that she was “in imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature.”3

Lynch’s remarks about the still inchoate and emergent “Celtic Renaissance” culture of this period were not her first observations on the matter. She had also written two earlier satirical pieces, “A Dublin Literary Coterie Sketched by a Non-Pretentious Observer” (1888) and the short story, “My Friend Arcanieva” (1895), published anonymously and then pseudonymously in the Dublin Evening Telegraph and Macmillan’s Magazine, respectively. The real-world models for her satires were Katharine Tynan’s Whitehall salon and the Contemporary Club, literary coteries that attracted and promoted some of the most prominent figures in what became the dominant movement within what Lynch identified as the “young school of Irish Celts,” now generally known as the Irish Literary Revival.4 In both “My Friend Arcanieva,” where the eponymous self-proclaimed Russian exile integrates himself into Dublin coterie culture before being recognized as an imposter, and in “A Dublin Literary Coterie,” Lynch exposes snobbery, parochialism, insular self-regard, and in particular, the marginalization of women as features of these nascent Revivalist gatherings. That Lynch might have been a less-than-admiring observer of this new coterie culture and some of its emerging attitudes and ideas is suggested in the fiction she had already published during the mid 1880s, in which she scrutinizes themes, ideals, and [End Page 43] places later idealized by coterie members—masculinity and the heroic, for instance, as well as the mythical Irish West.5

Considered together, these Dublin-based satires and her Paris observations mark out an illuminating ambivalence in Lynch’s attitude toward the shifting cultural and literary landscape of the early “Celtic Renaissance” period. Yet her ambivalences foreground broader possibilities for revisiting our understanding of the early Revival, and identify characteristics that came to dominate and arguably, to narrow, that landscape at the very point those characteristics were starting to emerge.

By 1896, Lynch was more or less settled in Paris. Her writing had been shaped by early, and often painful, engagements with national and gender politics of late nineteenth-century Ireland (especially through her membership in Anna Parnell’s short-lived Ladies Land League) as well as by the multicultural and transnational perspectives generated by European education, travel, and residence. Giving her lecture as an exilic Irish writer and her insistence that “the foreign student of modern English literature be formally introduced to the Irish share in what has been called the Celtic Renaissance,” Lynch does not include herself among that school. However, her political activism in the early 1880s as an executive member of the Ladies Land League placed her at the heart of the earliest stirrings of Revivalist culture. Lynch’s...


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