Irish, I Dare Say: Ireland in Jane Austen's Novels

Jane has heard a great deal of [Ireland's] beauty; from Mr Dixon, I mean -- I do not know that she ever heard about it from any body else; but it was very natural, you know, that he should like to speak of his own place while he was paying his addresses -- and as Jane used to be very often walking out with them -- for Colonel and Mrs Campbell were very particular about their daughter's not walking out often with only Mr Dixon, for which I do not at all blame them; of course she heard every thing he might be telling Miss Campbell about his own home in Ireland; and I think she wrote us word that he had shewn them some drawings of the place, views that he had taken himself. He is a most amiable, charming young man, I believe.Jane was quite longing to go to Ireland, from his account of things." Emma
Jane Austen is known for her love of England. In her novels, she praises all aspects of Britain, from its beautiful countryside to its Navy and though little travelled, she patriotically preferred it above any other. In her letters, she censures the traveller who does not long for home, "I hope your letters from abroad are satisfactory. They would not be satisfactory to me, I confess, unless they breathed a strong spirit of regret for not being in England." Did this partiality to her home country extend to its nearest neighbor, Ireland? Since the invasion of the island nation by England in 1171, the relationship of the two countries had been stormy and as lately as 1799 her brother, Henry, and his militia regiment were sent to Ireland to maintain the peace after the riots staged in 1798. By 1801, both the British and Irish parliaments had passed the Act of Union which merged the Kingdom of Ireland and the Kingdom of Great Britain to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In this way, Ireland became part of an extended United Kingdom, ruled directly by the London Parliament. This did not, however, mean that all Englishmen considered the countries as one. When Jane wrote Emma in 1816, talkative Miss Bates comments that, “it very strange to be in different kingdoms, I was going to say, but however different countries". Is this the musing of an old woman not used to a new political system or Jane Austen’s own thoughts on the partnership? A Civil war in the 1920’s finally created a sovereign nation for Ireland. At last, the nations were, once again, two Kingdoms.
“I have made up my mind to like no novels really but Miss Edgeworth's, yours, and my own.” Jane Austen to Anna Austen Lefroy September, 1814
One can read through Jane Austen’s songbooks and letters and know that she had a partiality for Irish music and Irish writers.Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849), an Austen family favorite was a transplanted Englishwoman who wrote such novels as Belinda andCastle Rackrent. Another Irish novelist read by the family was Sydney Owenson (1776- 1859). Jane, however, could not give her the same wholehearted approval, writing to Cassandra in January, 1809, “To set against your new novel, of which nobody ever heard before, and perhaps never may again, we have got "Ida of Athens," by Miss Owenson, which must be very clever, because it was written, as the authoress says, in three months. We have only read the preface yet, but her Irish Girl does not make me expect much. If the warmth of her language could affect the body it might be worth reading in this weather.” Owenson had begun her career by writing words to fit old Irish tunes, setting a new fashion in poetry. Her novel, Wild Irish Girl made a name for herself as a controversial author and “ardent champion of her native country, a politician rather than a novelist, extolling the beauty of Irish scenery, the richness of the natural wealth of Ireland, and the noble traditions of its early history.” It was no doubt this warmth of expression that Jane Austen referred to. Thomas Moore(1779 -1852) was another author that Jane Austen would, no doubt have been familiar with. An Irish poet, singer, songwriter, and entertainer, he is best remembered for the lyrics to The Last Rose of Summer, which he wrote it in 1805.
You scold me so much in the nice long letter which I have this moment received from you, that I am almost afraid to tell you how my Irish friend and I behaved. Imagine to yourself everything most profligate and shocking in the way of dancing and sitting down together. I can expose myself however, only once more, because he leaves the country soon after next Friday, on which day we are to have a dance at Ashe after all. He is a very gentlemanlike, good-looking, pleasant young man, I assure you. Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen January, 1796
Perhaps Jane’s warmest connection with Ireland stems from her relationship with Thomas Lefroy, nephew of her dear friend Anne Lefroy. Jane and Thomas met in late 1795 when she was 20 and carried on a flirtation for several weeks before he returned to law school in London in January, 1796. It is unclear how close their relationship was or how long it continued after Lefroy’s return to school. What is known is that he married in 1799 and carried his family back to Ireland where he eventually rose to the position of Lord Chief Justice. It is perhaps with Thomas in mind that she allows Lady Darymple to mistake Capt. Wentworth for an Irishman well, in Persuasion
"A very fine young man indeed!" said Lady Dalrymple. "More air than one often sees in Bath. Irish, I dare say."
Many scholars contend that Thomas Lefroy broke Jane’s heart. With the destruction of so many letters after her death, it is impossible to know how deeply Jane felt about the unlooked end to her hopes. Perhaps, after all, thoughts of Ireland held the sting of disappointment throughout her life.
We finished [your novel] last night after our return from drinking tea at the Great House. The last chapter does not please us quite so well; we do not thoroughly like the play, perhaps from having had too much of plays in that way lately [in Mansfield Park, perhaps], and we think you had better not leave England. Let the Portmans go to Ireland; but as you know nothing of the manners there, you had better not go with them. You will be in danger of giving false representations. Stick to Bath and the Foresters. There you will be quite at home. Jane Austen to Anna Austen Lefroy August, 1814
It is true that Austen has very little to say of the country either way in her novels. Mr. Dixon carries Miss Campbell thither in Emma, paving the way for Jane Fairfax to return to Highbury. Emma Watson’s aunt makes an imprudent marriage to an Irish Captain in The Watsons, and Lady Darymple and her daughter are happily claimed as “family connections among the nobility of England and Ireland” in Persuasion. Claiming her own advice, she may have felt uneasy about delving any further into lifestyles she knew nothing about. Further reading may be found in Ireland in the Time of Jane Austen, by Joan Duffy Ghariani. Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom made hats, bonnets and reticules in the Regency style. Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published