Friday, February 3, 2017

Madwomen in the Attic #3 Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan)

Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan) was born on December 25th in Dublin in the early 1780s. She was always rather elusive about the exact year of her birth. Her father was actor-manager Robert Mac Owen who changed his name to Owenson. although he was Irish, Owenson spent much of his youth in London and so he met and married an English girl Jane Hill before the two travelled to Dublin to settle permanently. Robert Owenson set up a theatrical company in Dublin and Sydney and her sister Olivia spent a great deal of time there. Sydney was mostly educated at home with her sister, they lived on Dame Street in her early childhood but after her mother's death in 1789 her and her sister were sent to private schools around Dublin and then moved to Sligo were their father was working as an actor. There was some financial problems for the family and when Sydney was in her teens she had to accept work as a governess with the Featherstone family of Bracklyn Castle. Sydney blossomed at this point as she had an opportunity to show off her skills; she could sing, dance and play the harp. It was there that Sydney began to write. She published a volume of poetry and a collection of verses for Irish melodies in the early 1800s. She then decided to write a novel, she was an admirer of Fanny Burney and she published St Clair (1804) and The Novice of St Dominick (1806) with much success. It was her third novel however The Wild Irish Girl (1806)  which made her a household name. This book displayed Sydney's passion for Ireland and her patriotic fervour. She used her celebrity to extoll the virtues of Ireland's traditions and history. The Missionary; An Indian Tale followed and numbered Percy Bysshe Shelley amongst its admirers. She also wrote an opera and some proposals on Women's education. Sydney joined the household of John Hamilton 1st Marquess Abercorn and married the family's surgeon Sir Thomas Charles Morgan in 1812. O'Donnell (1814) is widely considered her best work and was praised by Sir Walter Scott. Books on France and Italy were praised by Byron for their authenticity but harshly reviewed elsewhere. Sydney was adept at capturing the ordinary life of the poor and she returned to examining Irish life with Absenteeism (1825) and The O'Briens and The O'Flahertys(1827).
Sydney was awarded a pension by Lord Melbourne for her services to literature, the first women ever to receive such an award. She again asserted her feminist views in Woman and her Master (1840). She began work on her memoirs with Geraldine Jewsbury but they were unfinished at her death in 1859. In 1839 the Morgan's moved to London and Sydney was buried in Brompton Cemetery.
A prolific writer, as well as novels, poetry and non fiction she produced numerous tracts and pamphlets.
A lively and entertaining member of numerous literary circles she was never afraid to poke fun and many of those who reviewed her harshly were caricatured in her fiction.
There is a bust of Sydney in The Victoria and Albert Museum and there is a plaque on Kildare Street in Dublin marking one of her homes.

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