Hannah Lynch (1862-1904)

b. Dublin, 25 March 1859, ed. as Catholic; her f. died young and her mother Anna Theresa [née] Calderwood - having had 11 girls with him - remarried James Cantwell, proprietor of Star and Garter hotel at 16 D’Olier St., the scene of a nationalist salon; sent to school in England; worked as governess for the Hancock family in Mayo; joined Ladies’ Land League, and was closely associated with Fanny Parnell being counted an executive member of the League; wrote stories “A Dublin Literary Coterie Sketched by a Non-Pretentious Observer” (1888) and “My Friend Arcanieva” (1895) - both for William O’Brien’s United Ireland; moved to London, taking with her the type-font of the United Irishmen after its suppression in Jan. 1882 [query]; settled in Paris in 1896, acting as Paris correspondent for the Academy; published United Ireland from Paris; lived in Spain, Greece - speaking Greek - and France;
wrote travel books, translations, and novels including Through Troubled Waters (1885), her first novel, dealing with the true-life murder of two daughters of a Galway land-owner to clear his sons’ line to inheritance; drawing criticism for its realism which the United Irishman saw as catering to English stereotypes; gained literary distinction with George Meredith: A Study (1891); issued a novel, The Prince of the Glades (1891), called a tale of the Fenians and centred on a character based on Anna Parnell [as Camilla Noyes]; also Daughters of Men (1892), a melodrama, and Rosni Harvey (1892) - the latter two both set in Greece; gave public lecture on Irish writers in Paris, 1896, citing only women; was also a supporter of Emily Lawless against W. B. Yeats, who excluded her from anthologies and called Yeats's work ‘highly polished stones’;
issued Jinny Blake (1897), the story of an idealistic new woman’s girlhood; also An Odd Experiment (1897), the story of a woman who morally reclaims her husband’s mistress and sets up a domestic threesome; issued Clare Monroe: Autobiography of A Child (1899), orig. published in Blackwood’s Magazine, 1898-99, an account of an abused Catholic girlhood in Dublin, purportedly dictated by the narrator Angela to Lynch; hospitalised in Margate,1903; died at at 60 Rue de Breteuil in Paris, on 9 Jan. 1904, of a stomach condition; she applied for and received support from the Royal Literary Fund at various times; she was the subject of a literary portrait in Harper’s Bazaar in 1857 (‘the most gifted woman Ireland ever produced’).

Lynch in Barcelona 1890s
Hannah Lynch in Barcelona during the late 1880s or early 1890s (copyright Michael Counahan)

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  • Defeated: A Tale [Beeton's Christmas Annual] (London: Ward, Lock & Co. 1885]), 188pp. [containing also two original drawing room plays ... by C. J. Hamilton ... [&] R. André].
  • Through Troubled Waters: A Novel (London: Ward, Lock & Co. [1886]), [2], viii, 460, [14] p. ; 8º. 188pp., 8°.
  • The Princes of the Glades: A Novel, 2 vols. (London1891), 8°.
  • Rosni Harvey: A Novel, 3 vols. (London: Chapman & Hall 1892), 8°.
  • Daughters of Men: A Novel (London: William Heinemann 1892), 380pp.
  • Denys D’Auvrillac: A Story of French Life (London 1896).
  • Dr. Vermont's Fantasy and Other Stories (London: London : J.M. Dent & Co. 1896), 334pp., 8°/19cm.
  • Jinny Blake: A Tale (London: J. M. Dent & Co. 1897), 316pp., 8°.
  • An Odd Experiment (London: Methuen & Co., 1897), 285pp.
  • Clare Monro: The Story of a Mother and Daughter [Milne's Express Ser.] (London: J. Milne [1896]), 8°, and Do. [reiss.] (1900), 183pp.
  • [as anon.,] Autobiography of a Child (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons 1899), vi, 299pp., 8° [ NSTC 0028770].
  • George Meredith: A Study (London: Metheun & Co. 1891), x, [2], 170pp., ill. [1 lf. of pls.; port.], 8°.
  • trans., The History of Florence under the Domination of Cosimo, Piero, Lorenzo de' Médicis, 1434-1492, by F.-T Perrens Vol. 1, (London: Methuen & Co. 1892), viii, 475pp., 23cm.
  • trans., The History of Florence from the Domination of the Medici to the Fall of the Republic: 1434-1531, by F.-T. Perrens ... Translated from the French by Hannah Lynch (London: Methuen & Co. 1892), xii, 475, [1]pp.. 8°.
  • trans., The Great Galeoto. Folly or Saintliness. Two plays done from the verse of José Echegaray into English prose by H. Lynch (London: John Lane 1895), xxxvi, 1896), 4°.
  • Toledo: The Story of an Old Spanish Capital, by Hannah Lynch, illustrated by Helen M. James [Mediaeval Town Ser.] (London: J. M. Dent & Co. 1898), viii, 311pp., ill. [pls., front. port.; fold. plan], 18cm.; Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Dent 1903), 17cm.
  • French Life in Town and Country [Our Neighbours Ser.] (London: Dawson 1901), 8°, and Do. [2nd. edn.] (London: George Lewnes 1901), ill., 260pp.
  • trans., MediŠval French Literature, by Gaston Paris [Temple Primers] (London 1903), 15cm.
Note: The above is a full listing of attributed titles on COPAC [online; accessed 28.11.2010.]

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Major studies
  • Faith Binckes & Kathryn Laing, Hannah Lynch (1859-1904): Irish Writer, Cosmopolitan, New Woman (Cork UP [2020]), 260pp.
Articles & chapters
  • J. W. Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford UP 2008) - vide Intro., pp.12, 119, 126, 130, 206, 429, 472 [[brief mentions]; Autobiography of a Child, 29, 276-79; Daughters of Men, 110 n27, 313; French Life in Town and Country, 278, 279, 280; “The Spaniard at Home”, 278-79.
  • Faith Binckes & Kathryn Laing, A Forgotten Franco-Irish Literary Network: Hannah Lynch, Arvède Barine and Salon Culture of Fin-de-Siècle Paris, in Etudes Irlandaises, 36, 2 (Lille: 2011), pp. 157-71.
  • Tina O’Toole, ‘The New Irish Woman: Political, Literary and Sexual Experiments’, in The History of British Women’s Writing, 1880-1920, Vol. 7, ed. Holly A. Laird, London: Palgrave 2016), [pp.25-34] p.27.
The NDNB entry is by Faith Binckes [online]; there is a Wikipedia entry - online.

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Faith Binckes & Kathryn Laing, ‘Was this “the most gifted woman Ireland ever produced”?’, in The Irish Times (26 July 2019) 23.08.2019.

[...] Lynch’s writing was rooted in Ireland and in Irish history and politics. Like Lawless, her work addressed female experience in depth, sometimes provoking readers on both ends of the political spectrum. Through Troubled Waters (1885), her first full-length novel, was based on a historical scandal that she had heard about whilst working as a governess in Co Galway. It included the murder of daughters to make way for sons, and the landowning family concerned are said to have burned as many copies as they could lay their hands on. But the novel also attacked the moral authority priests wielded over their rural congregations, featuring the pulpit denunciation of an innocent village girl. This infuriated United Ireland, which accused Lynch of trading in crude stereotypes aimed at an English readership. Given her history with the paper, she was in no mood to accept the criticism. The editor knew, she wrote, that she had intended the book for an Irish publisher and audience. Of course she was a patriot, but she should not be asked “to prove my patriotism at the expense of truth”

Lynch continued to place Irish women at the heart of her work, but as a self-described “vagabond” and “restless wanderer” it was inevitable that her writing should come to reflect her cosmopolitanism. She had been educated in England and in France, lived for some time in Greece, and had a sister residing permanently in Spain. Lynch used these locations - and many others - in her travel writing, and in her novels and short stories blended her experiences with scenarios familiar from the New Woman literature of the period. In these books, her heroines explore their Irishness, and their gender, with others similarly liberated by mobility.


See online; accessed 2308.2019.

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Jaki McCarrick, ‘The cleverest pen: Rediscovering one of the major female writers in the Irish canon’, in Times Literary Supplement (6 March 2020) - review of Faith Binckes & Kathryn Laing, Hannah Lynch (Cork UP [2020]) [with postcard port. copyright Michael Counahan - as supra.]

‘Who was Hannah Lynch, and why should you want to learn more about her?’ Faith Binckes and Kathryn Laing answer their own question boldly in Hannah Lynch 1859-1904, the first critical study of Lynch’s life and work: for them, she was, as the journalist Frances Low claimed, the ‘first of modern Irish writers’. This book comes a decade after Binckes wrote the entry about her for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. It identifies why she was forgotten, and makes a persuasive case for remembering her.

Laing and Binckes open with Lynch’s birth in Dublin in 1859 into ‘an atmosphere of rebellion’. She and her siblings were involved in campaigning for Irish independence from an early age. She was sent away to be educated in England, and later employed as a governess for the Handcock family in County Mayo; she would move back to London in 1880 to attend music college (taking with her the broken-up type of the proscribed newspaper United Ireland). These were the beginnings of what was to be a peripatetic and radical life.

Out of that crucible, female (political) agency emerged as one of the key themes of both Lynch’s fiction and her non-fiction. In her journalistic work for Macmillan’s Magazine (pseudonym: E. Enticknappe), she railed against the increasingly male direction of the Celtic Revivalist movement. In the Freeman’s Journal in 1896, she praised Irish women’s writing over men’s, proposing ‘a canon of female revivalists against that being established by W. B. Yeats’. Like many Irish writers, she felt ‘compelled to write from self-imposed exile’; she eventually settled in Paris, where she reviewed contemporary French novels and was notably quick to condemn in them any sign of antisemitism or nationalism - the ‘morass of hate invented by nationalism and the Ligue de la Patrie Française’ - in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair (her own earlier nationalism seems to have been a concern for Irish independence specifically, rather than the reconstruction of Irish cultural identity). Her reviews could be acerbic in the Dorothy Parker vein. Of Oscar Wilde, she wrote: ‘I have to admit that I enjoyed Lady Windermere’s Fan almost as much as if it had been a first-rate work’. In her Paris Letter of March 1898: ‘Mr [George] Meredith has said that a woman may be judged by her estimate of her sex. I judge the moral and intellectual fibre of a male writer by his estimate of women’. Such pieces were apparently widely read and appreciated. The American journalist Katherine De Forest described them as the work of a writer ‘said to be the most gifted woman Ireland ever produced’.

Lynch could be equally sharp in her fiction. In “Defeated”, a novel-length story published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual in 1885: ‘If two noble lords, neither English nor owning an acre of land in the country, were to amuse themselves by shooting each other somewhere between Donegal and Cork, there should surely appear leading articles next morning holding Ireland responsible for the deed’. Her well-received short story collection Dr Vermont’s Fantasy and Other Stories is much discussed by Binckes and Laing. It explores ‘a range of sympathetic emotional attachments that exist between nations, friends and lovers’, and from the excerpts included here would seem to have a distinctly melancholic tone. In the title story, which concerns a man planning to lead his colleagues into a group suicide, Lynch writes: ‘The worst of us, you see, have our heroic moments, only it often happens that, like Dr Vermont’s, they pass unnoticed in the dark’.

This study pays particular attention to Lynch’s travel writing, about Spain and Greece especially, and her best-known novel: the partly biographical Autobiography of a Child (1899). Originally serialized in Blackwood’s Magazine alongside Heart of Darkness, Lynch’s novel was perceived at the time, like Conrad’s novella, as a subversive attack on Empire. The ‘meanest little rascal I knew’, the narrator notes, was an ‘admirable hypocrite and bully’ - one bound to be a ‘future pillar of the British empire’. An obituary called it her masterpiece, albeit one that ‘has never won the recognition it surely will’.

So why was Hannah Lynch forgotten? Binckes and Laing suggest that ‘recent scholarship ... has identified a distinctive mode of fin-de-siècle Irish realism in texts of this period, a counter narrative to the revivalist aesthetics promoted by the Dublin coterie cultures Lynch satirised later in the decade’. She was clearly out of step with the work emanating from her homeland. Also, although she was lauded for her non-fiction, Lynch seems to have found it harder to interest publishers in her fiction, despite her voguish New Woman protagonists. The breadth of her interests in this sense perhaps worked against her; she was too political and too ‘Irish’ (or later, internationalist) to appeal strongly in England, and not nationalist (or male) enough to be celebrated by the Revivalist movement in Ireland. George Meredith (about whom Lynch wrote a critical study in 1891) wrote of her novel The Prince of Glades that ‘the task of creating interest in Fenianism would try the cleverest pen’. In addition, as Frances Low’s obituary had it, Lynch’s ‘outspoken criticism upon Irish matters and especially upon Irish politicians, coupled with her scathing wit, made her enemies almost from her girlhood: and there was an article ... on some of the little literary gods of Dublin at that time which made for her undying enemies’.

By contrast, Binckes and Laing identify strong networks of Irish female writers and artists in Dublin, London and Paris during this period. Many of these figures are undoubtedly worthy of separate studies themselves - the kind of critical attention that some, such as Kathleen Tynan, have already received: ‘contemporaries such as Jane Barlow, George Egerton, Fannie Gallaher, Rose Kavanagh, Rosa Mulholland, Emily Lawless, Somerville and Ross, and Alice Milligan’. A line can be drawn from them to Edna O’Brien (who, Eimear McBride claims, ‘gave voice to a previously muzzled generation of Irish women’) - but it should be extended back to Hannah Lynch, too. With this clearly written and thoroughly researched study, Faith Binckes and Kathryn Laing have shed light on the role of women and female artists in the shaping of events that led to Irish independence, and contributed enormously to the ongoing revision of both Irish literary history and the Irish literary canon.

Times Literary Supplement (6 March 2020) available online; accessed 04.03.2020.

J. W. Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford UP 2008), writing on Lynch's Autobiography of a Child, 276-79: ‘Artistic ability and ambition aside, the Irish girl is still disadvantaged. This too is part of the Condition of Ireland that caught the attention of the fiction writers. Angela [the first person narrator] recalls being told of the arrival of a new baby in the house and remarks (with a curious demographic spin): “another lamentable little girl born into this improvident dolorous vale of Irish misery. Elsewhere boys are born in plenty. In Ireland, - the very wretchedest land on earth for woman, the one spot on the globe where no provision is made for her [..., &c.”’ - as given under Quotations, infra. [Cont.]

J. W. Foster (Irish Novels 1890-1940, 2008) - cont.: ‘Lynch implies that a different and harsher set of circumstances obtained among Irish middle-class Catholic families [than in Britain], and which constituted a dark crevice of Irish life she felt constrainted, as a traveller and self-taught observer, to expose to the light; I know no modern dedicated study of Irish Irish Catholic middle-class life in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. / In case we are tempted to dismiss the narrator’s remarks in Autobiography on he gorunds that she is after all a fictional persona, we need ony read a passage of [her] essay published in Blackwood's the month before the first installment of Autobiography. In “The Spaniard at Home” [1889], which includes [...] a marvellous passage on her reaction to two bullfights, she is of course particularly interested in the upbringing of girls and decides that [if] only were she content with “the wadded atmosphere of a pussy cat [...] not free to live or think for myself [...]”; she would “choose to be an over-loved Spanish girl [...] the spoiled idiot of humanity [...; &c.]”. Foster goes on to quote ‘the swelling period of the next sentence’ dealing directly with the conditions of life for Irish girls [...]”’ - as cited under Quotations, infra. [Cont.]

J. W. Foster (Irish Novels 1890-1940, 2008) - cont.: Foster calls her a travel-writer cum social anthropologist whose detailed observations encourage our willingness to accept their truth. He also notices her French Life in Town and Country, in which she remarks on the misplaced contempt of Irish women for Paris fashion, and quotes her surprise on returning to Ireland on finding that female Irish tradespeople even in small towns 'dressed daily like Solomon never waws in all his glory, with tailor-made gowns of ten and twelve guineas, with high and haught manners to bewilder a princess of the blood, the one cutting the other, Heaven only knows on what assumption of superiority, and all hastening from their counters in smart turn-outs, duly to subscribe their names to the list of the Queen's visitors. I felt like Rip Van Winkle, as if I had waked in my native land, and found everyone gon made with pride and pretension.' (French Life, p.159;; Foster, 279pp.).

Tina O’Toole, biographical notice in The Irish New Woman (London: Palgrave Macmillan 2013), Notes, p.167, n.5:
Tina O'Toole, New Irish Woman
—Available online; accessed 04.03.2020.

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The Spaniard at Home” [article], in Blackwood’s Magazine (Sept. 1898) - remarks on condition of Irish girls: ‘[...] When one studes the problems elsewhere, and sees the unmerited misery of the daughters of Ireland, the coldness, inhumanity, and selfishness of the Irish mother to her girls of every class, the monstrous way in which the girls are sacrificed to their brothers, left without edxucation that these may play the gentleman, deprived of the enjoyments and pretty fripperies of girlhood, the money that might have helped to establish them squandered by the most heartless and least sacrificing of partents on the face of the earth, and nothing left the unfortunate girls but penury and struggle and the dull old maidenhood of full and narrow Irish towns and villages, one forced by sympathy to greet the excessive devotion of the Spanish mothers and lamentable spoiling of the Spanish daughters with indulgence.’ (p.354; quoted in J. W. Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction, Oxford: OUP 2008, pp.278-79; see remarks under Foster, as supra.)

Autobiography of an Irish Girl (1899) - on the treatment of girls in Irish Catholic families: ‘[...A]nother lamentable little girl born into this improvident dolorous vale of Irish misery. Elsewhere boys are born in plenty. In Ireland, - the very wretchedest land on earth for woman, the one spot on the globe where no provision is made for her, and where parents consider themselves as exempt of all duty, of tenderness, of justice in her regard, where her lot as daughter, wife, and old maid bears no resemblance to the ideal of civilisation, - a dozen girls are born for one boy. The parents moan, and being fatalists as well as Catholics, reflect that it is the will of God, as if they were not in the least responsible; and while they assure you that they have not wherewith to fill an extra mouth, which is inevitably true, they continue to produce their twelve, fifteen, or twenty infants with alarming, and incredible indifference. This is Irish virtue. The army of inefficient Irish governesses and starving illiterature Irish teachers cast upon the Continent, forces one to lament a virtue whose results are so heartless and so deplorable. (pp.196-97; quoted in J. W. Foster, op. cit., 2008, pp.277-78; see remarks and further quotations under Foster, as supra.)

The Princess of the Glades (1891): ‘[...] the average woman, if she exercise but moderately her mind, has more occasion for discontent than even the exceptional man. To a girl, throbbing with the inconvenient consciousness of large capabilities and burning enthusiasms, the idiotic existence of the drawing room into which she is compelled at the most intolerant hour of waking youth ... is worse than a slow mental and moral death.’ (Quoted in Tina O’Toole, ‘The New Irish Woman: Political, Literary and Sexual Experiments’, in The History of British Women’s Writing, 1880-1920, Vol. 7, ed. Holly A. Laird, London: Palgrave 2016), [pp.25-34] p.27.)

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Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington: Catholic Univ. of America 1904), b. Dublin; lived in Spain, Greece, and France; novels incl. Prince of the Glades; Dr Vermont’s Fantasy; Denus D’Anvrillac; Trhough Troubled Waters, Daughters of Men; Rosni Harvey;, Jinny Blake; An Odd Experiment; Clare Monroe, and The Autobiography of a Child, which excited interest when serialised in Blackwood’s; since serialised in French Review; contributor to magazines, Paris corresponded of The Academy, and wrote ‘Toledo’ in Medieval Towns ser. and French Life in Town and Country; d. Paris, 9 Jan. 1904. JMC Selects long extract, ‘A village Sovereign’ [no source] here pp.2088-2105.

Stephen Brown, Ireland in Fiction [Pt. I] (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), b. Dublin; Through Troubled Waters (1885); Autobiography of a Child (1899); also, Dr. Vermont’s Fantasy; Daughters of Men; Jimmy Blake; Clare Monroe; a book on Toledo, and French Life in Town and Country; Prince of the Glades is a story of Fenianism. She was assoc. with Anna Parnell in the Ladies’ Land League. Note: Brown refers to Autobiography of A Child (1899) as a literary curiosity, purporting to be the life of an abused Dublin girl, dictated to Lynch - a description implicitly challenged by J. W. Foster in Irish Novels 1890-1940 (1008) - as infra.

John Sutherland, The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (Longmans 1988; rep. 1989), [life as supra]; Paris contrib. to Academy; her fiction is the vehicle for her political convictions; Through Troubled Waters (1885); The Prince of the Glades (1891), a story of Fenianism; Daughters of Men (1892), wild melodrama in Greece; Jinny Blake (1897), an idealistic new woman’s girlhood; An Odd Experiment (1897), the story of a woman who morally reclaims her husband’s mistress and sets up a domestic threesome; Rosni Harvey (1892), also in Greece. BL 10.

National Library of Ireland holds also holds Autobiography of a Child (1899), French Life in Town and Country (1901), and Toledo (1898).

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Douglas Hyde: Hyde met Hannah Lynch on 9 Dec. 1887 and listed Defeated as hers and part of his library. (See Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde, 1974, p.92.)

Namesake: Hannah Louise Lynch, author of A Study of cross-Pennine Interaction During the Neolithic (Newcastle-upon-Tyne Univ. 2007), xi, 468pp., ill., 30cm [+ CD ROM].

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