- Gendering an International Outlook:Irish Women Writers in the Nineteenth Century
"Oh, countrymen! oh, patriots! oh, friends!"Ye cry to one another. Echo lendsHer voice—but answering time as yet no answer sends.(Charlotte Grace O'Brien, "France," 1877)
Alice Stopford Green's and Charlotte Grace O'Brien's careers in the late Victorian London periodical press, as seen through their contributions to the Nineteenth Century, are a neglected element of Irish transnational cultural production. As writers engaging in internationally focused highbrow journalism, they were tangential to the traditional orientation of Irish national narratives, yet their place at the heart of one of Britain's most influential monthly journals enabled them to articulate a vision of social injustice as a means of challenging some of the hegemonic and gendered discourses of the day. Their pieces transcended boundaries, not only between Ireland and England but also, on a broader scale, between Irish and world affairs. Pivoting on issues of emigration and empire, the articles they published throughout the 1880s and 1890s convey a sense of social conscience and responsibility that informed the wider worldview of the Nineteenth Century, as well as influencing currents of British intellectual debate. Green's and O'Brien's public interventions in political and current affairs, moreover, represent a shift in the accepted narrative of late Victorian women's careers in journalism. Their presence in London's publishing scene and their pioneering work on victims of transatlantic migrancy and the Boer War were a highly visible form of investigative reporting. In their periodical writings, they counteracted notions of Irish provincialism (still evident at this time in the cartoons of Punch, for instance) and brought questions of gender to bear on issues of serious political and national [End Page 504] import. A consideration of these women writers, then, involves placing them in the context of both Irish literary developments and the British periodical market during the late nineteenth century in order to understand the varieties of borders—geographical, gendered, and journalistic—that they worked to undercut.
W. T. Stead, writing as a champion of female journalists in 1892, advised aspiring applicants that "if [they] are to get on in journalism, or in anything else, they must trample under foot that most dishonouring conception of their work as mere woman's work."1 The methodology espoused here by Stead was, in F. Elizabeth Gray's words, one front of the broader phenomenon of "women journalists' search for new sources of recognition and new forms of identity through their writing for periodicals."2 Green and O'Brien fulfilled this criterion by cultivating distinctive voices in their respective Nineteenth Century articles. Through the social and political activism of these pieces, both women sought a public profile for their work, a task that was beset by challenges amid the late Victorian explosion in periodical enterprises. Writing anonymously for Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine in June 1893, another Irish littérateur in London, Charlotte O'Conor Eccles, described how in attempting to find a break on Fleet Street "one is horribly handicapped as a woman. A man meets other men at his club; he can be out and about at all hours; he can insist without being thought bold and forward; he is not presumed to be capable of undertaking only a limited class of subjects, but is set to anything."3 O'Brien and Green may have been cushioned somewhat from the urgent material needs of Eccles, but her experience points to the frustrations inherent in the construction of a professional identity as a woman writer within the elite press.
For Irish women, especially, access to influential networks and the ability to socialize in the right circles were crucial for success in the publishing world. Operating at a remove from the male-dominated political discourse of the day, these women faced challenges that testify to the contingencies of periodical writing. Both Green and O'Brien relied on contacts within political and journalistic spheres: O'Brien's humanitarian articles were defended in Parliament by Charles Stewart Parnell, for instance, while Green was in regular correspondence with the Colonial Office regarding her South African visits. These institutional networks provided an important...