Sydney, Lady Morgan

Last updated

Sydney, Lady Morgan
BornSydney Owenson
25 December 1781 (?)
Either Dublin, Ireland or the Irish Sea
Died14 April 1859 (aged about 78)
London, United Kingdom
Resting place Brompton Cemetery
Pen nameGlorvina
OccupationNovelist, governess
Nationality Irish, British
Notable works The Wild Irish Girl (1806)
Spouse Thomas Charles Morgan (m. 1812)

Sydney, Lady Morgan (néeOwenson; 25 December 1781? – 14 April 1859), was an Irish novelist, best known for The Wild Irish Girl (1806), a romantic, and some critics suggest, "proto-feminist", novel with political and patriotic overtones. Her work, including continental travelogues, sparked controversy and faced censorship. She counted Percy Bysshe Shelley and by Lord Byron among her defenders.


Early life

Sydney Owenson was the daughter of Robert Owenson, alias MacOwen, and Jane Hill. Robert Owenson was an Irish Catholic and a professional actor, noted for his comedic performances. He had been raised in London, and while in England he met and married Jane Hill, the Protestant daughter of a trader from Shrewsbury. In 1776 Owenson and his wife returned to Ireland for good. The couple settled in Dublin and Owenson earned a living by performing in theatres around Dublin, Drumcondra, and Sligo. Around 1778 the couple gave birth to Sydney, who was named after her paternal grandmother. The exact date of Sydney's birth remains unknown; one of Sydney's idiosyncrasies was that she was prone to be elusive about her actual age. Later in life, she would claim that she was born on 25 December 1785, a fabrication she maintained to such an extent that even on her death certificate there is no certainty about her age, stating that she was "about 80 years". [1]

Sydney spent the earliest years of her childhood at the Owensons' home at 60 Dame Street in Dublin with her mother Jane and sister Olivia. Sydney was primarily educated by her mother, but she also received tutoring from a young boy named Thomas Dermody, a local prodigy whom their father had rescued from poverty. Her mother died in 1789 when Sydney was about ten years old, and her father sent her and her sister away to private schools to finish their education. Sydney spent three years at a Huguenot academy at Clontarf and then attended a finishing school in Earl Street, Dublin. After completing school Sydney moved with her father to Sligo.

In 1798 the Owenson family was experiencing some financial hardships and Sydney was forced to leave home in search of employment. She was hired as a governess by the Featherstones of Bracklyn Castle, County Westmeath. In this environment, she blossomed into an avid reader, a capable conversationalist, and an unabashed performer of songs and dances. It was at this period in her life that she began her writing career.


Lady Morgan, stipple and line engraving by Robert Cooper, 1825, after Samuel Lover Lady Morgan.jpg
Lady Morgan, stipple and line engraving by Robert Cooper, 1825, after Samuel Lover
Italie, t. 2, 1821 Sydney Morgan - Italy. 2, - 1821.jpg
Italie, t. 2, 1821

She was one of the most vivid and hotly discussed literary figures of her generation. She began her career with a precocious volume of poems. She collected Irish tunes, for which she composed the words, thus setting a fashion adopted with signal success by Thomas Moore. [2] Her novel St. Clair (1804), about ill-judged marriage, ill-starred love and impassioned nature worship, in which the influence of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (specifically his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther ) [2] and Jean-Jacques Rousseau was apparent, at once attracted attention. Another novel, The Novice of St. Dominick (1806), was also praised for its qualities of imagination and description.

But the book which made her reputation and brought her name into warm controversy was The Wild Irish Girl (1806), in which she appeared as the 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. Given the moral and intellectual strengths of her heroine, the novel's embodiment of Irish nationhood, Glorvina, it has also been described as "proto feminist". [3] [4] In Catholic and Liberal circles she often referred as Gloria or Glorvina..

Patriotic Sketches and Metrical Fragments followed in 1807. She published The Missionary: An Indian Tale in 1811, revising it shortly before her death as Luxima, the Prophetess. Percy Bysshe Shelley admired The Missionary intensely [5] and Owenson's heroine is said to have influenced some of his own orientalist productions. [6]

Miss Owenson entered the household of John Hamilton, 1st Marquess of Abercorn, and in 1812 — persuaded by Lady Abercorn, the former Lady Anne Jane Gore — she married the philosopher and surgeon to the household, Sir Thomas Charles Morgan, but books continued to flow from her facile pen.

In 1814 she produced her best novel, O'Donnell. She was at her best in her descriptions of the poorer classes, of whom she had a thorough knowledge. Her elaborate study (1817) of France under the Bourbon Restoration was attacked with outrageous fury by John Wilson Croker in the Quarterly Review , the author being accused of Jacobinism, falsehood, licentiousness, and impiety. [7] Her heroines were violently removed from what Croker considered their proper sphere as "a useful friend, a faithful wife, a tender mother, and a respectable and happy mistress of a family". [8] Owenson took her revenge indirectly in the novel Florence Macarthy (1818) —translated into French by Jacques-Théodore Parisot—, in which a Quarterly reviewer, Con Crawley, is insulted with supreme feminine ingenuity. [9]

Italy, a companion work to her France, was published in 1821 with appendices by her husband. It was proscribed by the King of Sardinia, the Emperor of Austria and the Pope, but Lord Byron bore testimony to the justness of its pictures of life. [10] The results of Italian historical studies were given in her Life and Times of Salvator Rosa (1823). Then she turned again to Irish manners and politics with a matter-of-fact book on Absenteeism (1825), and a romantic novel with political overtones, The O'Briens and the O'Flahertys (1827). From William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, Lady Morgan obtained a pension of £300. During the later years of her long life she published The Book of the Boudoir (1829), Dramatic Scenes from Real Life (1833), The Princess (1835), Woman and her Master (1840), The Book without a Name (1841), and Passages from my Autobiography (1859). [11]

Sir Thomas died in 1843, and Lady Morgan died on 14 April 1859 (aged about 82) and was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London.


Blue plaque at Lady Morgan's former home on Kildare Street, Dublin Lady Morgan blue plaque, Dublin.jpg
Blue plaque at Lady Morgan's former home on Kildare Street, Dublin

Before her death in 1859, Lady Morgan enlisted the help of her friend Geraldine Jewsbury to help write her memoirs. The two had originally met in 1853 when Jewsbury newly arrived in London. Lady Morgan became friends with Geraldine and helped her live a single life while in London. When Jewsbury wrote her friend's memoirs, she spoke of Lady Morgan's kindness and friendship in which she showed to Geraldine. [12]

Bust of Lady Morgan by David d'Angers David d'Angers - Lady Morgan.jpg
Bust of Lady Morgan by David d'Angers

Lady Morgan's autobiography and many interesting letters were edited with a memoir by William Hepworth Dixon in 1862.

There is a bust of Lady Morgan in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The plaque identifying the bust mentions that Lady Morgan was "less than four feet tall."

Another bust by David d'Angers is exhibited in his museum in Angers (France).


For a full list see Ricorso. [13]

Related Research Articles

This article contains information about the literary events and publications of 1818.

This article contains information about the literary events and publications of 1812.

This article contains information about the literary events and publications of 1811.

Claire Clairmont Mary Shelleys stepsister, mother of Byrons daughter 1798–1879

Clara Mary Jane Clairmont, or Claire Clairmont as she was commonly known, was the stepsister of the writer Mary Shelley and the mother of Lord Byron's daughter Allegra. She is thought to be the subject of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Geraldine Jewsbury English novelist and book reviewer

Geraldine Endsor Jewsbury was an English novelist, book reviewer and literary figure in London, best known for popular novels such as Zoe: the History of Two Lives and reviews for the literary periodical the Athenaeum. Jewsbury never married, but enjoyed intimate friendships, notably with Jane Carlyle, wife of the essayist Thomas Carlyle. Jewsbury's romantic feelings for her and the complexity of their relations appear in Jewsbury's writings. She also encouraged other people, such as Walter Mantell, to try new things.

Thomas Jefferson Hogg 19th-century English barrister and writer

Thomas Jefferson Hogg was a British barrister and writer best known for his friendship with the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Hogg was raised in County Durham, but spent most of his life in London. He and Shelley became friends while studying at University College, Oxford, and remained close until Shelley's death. During their time at Oxford they collaborated on several literary projects, culminating in their joint expulsion following the publication of an essay titled "The Necessity of Atheism". They remained good friends, but their relationship was sometimes strained because of Hogg's attraction to the women who were romantically involved with Shelley.

<i>Quarterly Review</i> British literary and political periodical

The Quarterly Review was a literary and political periodical founded in March 1809 by London publishing house John Murray. It ceased publication in 1967. It was referred to as The London Quarterly Review, as reprinted by Leonard Scott, for an American edition.

<i>The Wild Irish Girl</i>

The Wild Irish Girl; a National Tale is an epistolary novel written by Irish novelist Sydney Owenson in 1806.

Jane Welsh Carlyle Scottish writer

Jane Welsh Carlyle was a Scottish writer. She did not publish any work in her lifetime, but she was widely seen as an extraordinary letter writer. Virginia Woolf called her one of the "great letter writers," and Elizabeth Hardwick described her work as a "private writing career."

Robert Owenson (1744–1812) was an Irish actor, author and father of Lady Olivia Clark and novelist Sydney, Lady Morgan.

<i>Frankenstein</i> 1818 novel by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is an 1818 novel written by English author Mary Shelley. Frankenstein tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who creates a sapient creature in an unorthodox scientific experiment. Shelley started writing the story when she was 18, and the first edition was published anonymously in London on 1 January 1818, when she was 20. Her name first appeared in the second edition, which was published in Paris in 1821.

Percy Bysshe Shelley English Romantic poet (1792–1822)

Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets. A radical in his poetry as well as in his political and social views, Shelley did not achieve fame during his lifetime, but recognition of his achievements in poetry grew steadily following his death and he became an important influence on subsequent generations of poets including Robert Browning, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Thomas Hardy, and W. B. Yeats. American literary critic Harold Bloom describes him as "a superb craftsman, a lyric poet without rival, and surely one of the most advanced sceptical intellects ever to write a poem."

<i>St. Irvyne</i>

St. Irvyne; or, The Rosicrucian: A Romance is a Gothic horror novel written by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1810 and published by John Joseph Stockdale in December of that year, dated 1811, in London anonymously as "by a Gentleman of the University of Oxford" while the author was an undergraduate. The main character is Wolfstein, a solitary wanderer, who encounters Ginotti, an alchemist of the Rosicrucian or Rose Cross Order who seeks to impart the secret of immortality. The book was reprinted in 1822 by Stockdale and in 1840 in The Romancist and the Novelist's Library: The Best Works of the Best Authors, Vol. III, edited by William Hazlitt. The novella was a follow-up to Shelley's first prose work, Zastrozzi, published earlier in 1810. St. Irvyne was republished in 1986 by Oxford University Press as part of the World's Classics series along with Zastrozzi and in 2002 by Broadview Press.

Thomas Charles Morgan

Sir Thomas Charles Morgan was an English physician and writer with an interest in philosophical and miscellaneous subject matter. His wife was the novelist Lady Morgan.

Mary Shelley English writer (1797–1851)

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was an English novelist who wrote the Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818), which is considered an early example of science fiction. She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin and her mother was the philosopher and feminist activist Mary Wollstonecraft.

Margaret King Irish writer

Margaret King (1773–1835), also known as Margaret King Moore, Lady Mount Cashell and Mrs Mason, was an Irish hostess, and a writer of female-emancipatory fiction and health advice. Despite her wealthy aristocratic background, she had republican sympathies and advanced views on education and women's rights, shaped in part by having been a favoured pupil of Mary Wollstonecraft. Settling in Italy in later life, she reciprocated her governess's care by offering maternal aid and advice to Wollstonecraft's daughter Mary Shelley and her travelling companions, husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and stepsister Claire Clairmont. In Pisa she continued the study of medicine which she had begun in Germany and published her widely read Advice to Young Mothers, as well as a novel, The Sisters of Nansfield: A Tale for Young Women.

<i>The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein</i> 2007 book by John Lauritsen

The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein is a 2007 book written and published by John Lauritsen, which defends the unorthodox hypothesis that the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, not his wife Mary Shelley, is the real author of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). The book also argues that the novel "has consistently been underrated and misinterpreted", and that its dominant theme is "male love."

Anne Fuller was an Irish novelist in the Gothic genre. She was one of the earliest women writers of Gothic fiction.

Anne Ireland

Anne "Annie" Elizabeth Nicholson Ireland pseud. Mrs Alexander Ireland was an English writer and biographer.

Clarke, Lady Olivia, was a poet and Irish dramatist, best known as the author of The Irishwoman, a comedy in five acts


  1. Morgan, Sydney Lady (14 June 2019). The Wild Irish Girl. Amazon Digital Services LLC - KDP Print US. pp. Publisher's note. ISBN   978-1-0725-4480-7.
  2. 1 2 Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Morgan, Lady"  . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
  3. "Lady Morgan - Irish Paris". Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  4. Attridge, E.; Tenniel's, John (2014). "Examining Glorvina as Hibernia : the Gendered Implications of The Wild Irish Girl Emelia Attridge Class of 2013 Research for Distinction in the Field of English Literature". S2CID   13369508 . Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  5. Belanger, Jacqueline E. (2007). Critical Receptions: Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan. Academica Press,LLC. p. 126. ISBN   978-1-930901-67-4.
  6. Shelley, Percy Bysshe (2012). The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley. JHU Press. pp. 365, 403, 893. ISBN   978-1-4214-1109-5.
  7. Croker, John Wilson (1817). "Review of France by Lady Morgan". The Quarterly Review. 17: 260–286.
  8. Croker, John Wilson (1809), "Review of Ida of Athens", Quarterly ReviewI , 52.
  9. Newcomer, James (1990). Lady Morgan the Novelist. Bucknell University Press. pp. 57–58. ISBN   9780838751770.
  10. "Sidney Owenson [Lady Morgan] (?1776-1859)". Retrieved 4 February 2022.
  11. "Review of Passages from My Autobiography by Sydney, Lady Morgan". The Athenaeum (1629): 73–75. 15 January 1859.
  12. Clarke, Norma (1990). Heights: Writing, Friendship, Love: The Jewsbury Sisters, Felicia Hemans, and Jane Welsh Carlyle. London: Routledge.
  13. "Sidney Owenson [Lady Morgan] (?1776-1859)". Retrieved 4 February 2022.

Further reading

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Lady Morgan at Wikimedia Commons