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Emily Lawless Biography

(1845–1913), Grania, Hurrish, Maelcho, With the Wild Geese

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

Anglo-Irish novelist, poet, and biographer, daughter of the 3rd Baron Cloncurry, born in Co. Kildare and educated privately. While her success as a writer brought her public prominence and close connections with the British government, her personal life was one of suffering. The suicides of her father and her two sisters, coupled with her intense disillusionment with the development of a strong Home Rule movement in Ireland, drove her to England, where she lived in seclusion until her death. Lawless's most renowned novel, Grania (1892), uses the Aran Islands as a romantic setting while portraying political conflict during the Land War of the late nineteenth century. Although a loyalist, Lawless consistently expressed her belief in the need for land reform in Ireland and her work was recognized by Gladstone as essential to his own understanding of the ‘Irish Question’. Her fictional portrayals of local conditions, particularly in her novel Hurrish (1886), and her consciousness of a distant and uninitiated audience, connect her to the Anglo-Irish literary tradition of William Carleton and Maria Edgeworth. Indeed, her biography of Edgeworth, published in 1904, is symptomatic of the fact that she was only ever at ease with Ireland's past and found its desire to reject a colonial identity extremely discomforting. Lawless's finest work concerns the past, such as her novel Maelcho (1894), and With the Wild Geese (1902), a collection of verse whose form and content derive from an imagined history of Ireland. Thus, her significance for twentieth-century literature is assured by her influence upon the preoccupations of the Irish literary renaissance (see Irish Revival).

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