Jane Barlow (1856-1917)

[pseuds. “Antares Skorpios” and “Felix Ryark”;] b. 17 Oct., Clontarf, Co. Dublin, daughter of Rev. James William Barlow, later vice-provost of TCD (d.1913) and Catherine [nee] Disney [see note]; well-read in French and German and travelled widely in Europe, and also to Greece and Turkey in her twenties; lived most of her life in “The Cottage”, a substantial thatched house in Raheny, Co. Dublin; wrote ballads and tales of peasant life in Ireland [var. west of Ireland], chiefly about Lisconnel and Ballyhoy [now Dollymount]; her poetry collections include Bog-land Studies (1892); The End of Elfintown (1894), Ghost-Bereft (1901), a narrative poem; The Mockers and Other Verses (1908); Doings and Dealings (1913); Between Doubting and Daring (1916); reputedly admired by Swinburne; issued Irish Idylls (1892), short-story sketches in which Lisconnel is said to stand ‘in the common light of day, a hard fact with no fantastic myths to embellish or disprove it’; ran into 9 editions; for T. W. Rolleston she was comparable to Carleton;
a second series appeared as Strangers at Lisconnel (1895), to be followed by Maureen’s Fairing and Other Stories (1895); Mrs Martin’s Company and Other Stories (1896); A Creel of Irish Stories (1897); From the East unto the West (1898); From the Land of the Shamrock (1900); By Beach and Bog Land (1905); Irish Neighbours (1907), and Irish Ways (1909); her novels in the same vein were Kerrigan’s Quality (1894) and The Founding of Fortunes (1902), the tale of an impoverished youth from a bog-cabin home who gets rich by devious means; joined with Lady Gregory, Hyde, “AE” [George Russell], W. B. Yeats, and others in ‘An Appeal from Irish Authors’ (Freeman’s Journal, 13 Dec. 1904; in The Irish Times, 5 Jan. 1905), protesting the Dublin Corporation’s decision about the Hugh Lane Gallery;
received D.Litt from TCD and contrib. to National Literary Society; much read in England and America but increasingly scorned by the literary revivalists in Ireland, George Birmingham and Yeats both excluding her from story-collections; d. 17 April, at St Valerie [a substantial early Victorian house], on the Dargle nr Bray - where she moved with her siblings after their father’s death in 1913; an obituary appeared in The Irish Times (18 April 1917); there is a portrait by Sarah Purser. ODNB JMC CAB DIW DIB DIL KUN DIH SUTH FDA OCIL

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  • Bog-land Studies (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1892), and Do. [enl. edn.] (London: Hodder, Stoughton 1893); Do. [another. edn.] (1894);
  • The End of Elfintown (London: Macmillan 1894);
  • Ghost-Bereft (London: Smith, Elder 1901);
  • The Mockers and Other Verses (London: George Allen 1908);
  • Doings and Dealings (London: Hutchinson 1913);
  • Between Doubting and Daring (Oxford: Blackwell 1916).
Short fiction
  • Irish Idylls (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1892; 5th edn., 1895), viii, 284pp.;
  • The Battle of the Frogs and Mice, rendered into English by Jane Barlow, pictured by Francis D. Bedford (London: Methuen 1894) [priced £125 at Picclick - online; accessed 10.08.2018].
  • Maureen’s Fairing and Other Stories (London: J. M. Dent; NY: Macmillan 1895), and Do. [rep. edn.] (NY: Books for Libraries Press 1972);
  • Strangers at Lisconnel: A Second Series of Irish Idylls (London: Hodder & Stoughton; NY: Dodd, Mead 1895);
  • Mrs Martin’s Company and Other Stories (London: Dent 1896), xii, 218pp.;
  • A Creel of Irish Stories (London: Methuen 1897; NY: Dodd, Mead 1898);
  • From the East unto the West (London: Methuen 1898) [incls. stories “Her bit of money” and “A long furrow”]
  • From the Land of the Shamrock (NY: Dodd, Mead 1900; London: Methuen 1901);
  • At the Back of Beyond (NY: Dodd, Mead and Company 1902) [see Haathi Trust copy - online];
  • By Beach and Bog Land (London: T. Fisher Unwin 1905);
  • Irish Neighbours (London: Hutchinson & Co. 1907), viii, 342pp.;
  • Irish Ways (London: George Allen 1909; rep. 1970);
  • Mac’s Adventures (London: Hutchinson & Co. 1911) [“A Luncheon Party”, “A Formidable Rival”, “Mac’s Way’s and Means”, “Some Jokes of Timothy”, “A Wedding Gown”, “The Field of Frightful Beasts”, “The Aunt of the Savages”, “An Invincible Ignoramus”] - see Victorian Novels online; accessed 10.08.2018.]
  • Doings and Dealings (London: Hutchinson & Co. 1913).
  • Kerrigan’s Quality (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1894);
  • The Founding of Fortunes (London: Methuen 1902), 335pp.
  • A History of a World of Immortals without God: translated from an Unpublished Manuscript in the Library of a Continental University, by Antares Skorpios (Dublin: William McGee; London: Simpkin, Marshall 1891).
  • See also A Strange Land (London: Hutchinson 1908), by “Felix Ryark” [pseud.; poss. also by her father Rev. James Barlow].
Note: Fr. Stephen Brown calls A History of a World of Immortals without God (Dublin: William McGee; London: Simpkin, Marshall 1891) a work of Utopian sci-fi concerning the planet Venus which is often attrib. to Jane Barlow but was actually written by her father, Rev. James Barlow. Brown also remarks that Mac’s Adventures and Mice and Men [recte The Battle of the Frogs and Mice] appears to be by her father (Brown, Ireland in Fiction, 1919).
  Anne Van Weerden writes to RICORSO that Mac is a character in a story with frightful beasts in From the East to the West (1898) and that The Battle of the Frogs and Mice was “rendered into English” translated by Jane Barlow. (The online links above have also been supplied by Anne Van Weerden.)

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Worldcat lists:
  • Irish Idylls - 37 edns. between 1892 and 1984 in English held by 429 libraries worldwide
  • A Creel of Irish Stories - 16 edns. between 1897 and 1984 in English held by 268 libraries worldwide
  • Irish ways - 9 edns. between 1909 and 1970 in English held by 222 libraries worldwide
  • Strangers at Lisconnel. A second series of Irish idylls - 12 edns. between 1895 and 1984 in English held by 185 libraries worldwide
  • Bog-land Studies - 17 edns. between 1892 and 1992 in English held by 150 libraries worldwide
  • Maureen’s fairing, and other stories - 13 edns. between 1895 and 1984 in English held by 146 libraries worldwide
  • The End of Elfintown - 8 edns. between 1894 and 1992 in English held by 117 libraries worldwide
  • From the Land of the shamrock - 6 edns. between 1900 and 1984 in English held by 82 libraries worldwide
  • Kerrigan’s quality - 9 edns. between 1894 and 1984 in English held by 79 libraries worldwide
  • The Founding of Fortunes - 8 edns. between 1902 and 1984 in English held by 61 libraries worldwide
—See Worldcat online; accessed 31.10.2011.

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  • Katharine Tynan, ‘Jane Barlow’, in Memories (London 1924), pp.291-95 [chap.]
  • W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival: Its History, Pioneers and Possibilities (London: Paternoster Steam Press 1894), p.146 [see extract];
  • W. B. Yeats, Commentary on a list of ‘Thirty Best Irish Books’, in Dublin Daily Express (27 Feb. 1895 ) [Wade, ed., Letters, pp.246-51; p.248; see extract];
  • W. J. Paul, Modern Irish Poetry (Belfast Steam Printing Co. Ltd. 1897), Vol. II, p.108 [see extract];
  • J. M. Synge, “The Old and New in Ireland”, in The Academy and Literature (6 Sept. 1902), rep. Collected Works, ed. Alan Price (London: OUP 1966), [Vol. II: Prose], pp.383-86, p.383 [see extract];

See also sundry remarks under Commentary, infra.

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Jane Barlow is cited in the papers of Katherine Tynan - viz.

‘It must have been February or March, and outside the windows of the long, spacious drawing-room [...] the sky was cold grey. It was a beautiful room, with an organ at the end. That alone speaks for the spaciousness of it. There were portraits on the walls, many pictures and books, a piano, bibelots of one kind or another, the things a cultivated mind and taste gathers through the generations. There was a glorious fire, and everywhere there were growing violets and lilies of the valley; hyacinths perhaps. The room was sharply sweet. [...] The house was very silent except sometimes when the father played the organ. He must usually have been absent in the daytime, – at Trinity College probably, where he had become Vice-Provost. [...] The walls were brown-panelled, sometimes hidden in books. Mr Barlow was an omnivorous reader of novels. At the stair-head, outside the drawing-room door was that particular and attractive portion of the library. We always went away with armfuls. [...] There was always a little time when she and I were alone in her room upstairs, under the thatch, when we talked quietly of our secret and sacred things. It was a dim, long room full of a girl’s and a woman’s treasures.’

—Quotation supplied by Anne van Weerden on Email - 17.1.2018.

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W. P. Ryan, The Irish Literary Revival: Its History, Pioneers and Possibilities (London: Paternoster Steam Press 1894), remarks: ‘Jane Barlow’s Irish Idylls are a luminous index to young Irish authors of that world of appealing humanity which is still to be found by observant eyes in Irish local life ... When Rolleston was editing the Dublin University Review her first poem came to him anonymously. He was at once struck with its power, but the “brogue” did not wholly pass muster. Several such pieces were afterwards given to the world in Bogland Studies (1892). Irish writers whose early attempts are scorned of some critics may take courage from the example and fate of this first offering. United Ireland welcomed it, and saw its promise; but several critics could make nothing of it. They shrugged their shoulders over the ‘brogue’ and the whole form, confessed their inability to read it, and cast it away. Afterwards when Irish Idylls made a stir, and the ‘studies’ were brought up again on the strength of it they found less frosty audience. Miss Barlow now finds herself amongst our foremost writers, with every encouragement to go on and prosper. She lives at Raheny, Co. Dublin, where her father (a TCD man) is vicar. (Ryan, p.146). [Incl. note to the effect that Barlow disparages the brogue in Irish literature as unnatural in her Preface to Lisconell [sic] and is praised by others for avoiding it.]

W. J. Paul, Modern Irish Poetry (Belfast Steam Printing Co. Ltd. 1897), Vol. II, contains a biographical sketch in which her home in Raheny is described as ‘a cottage with a thatched roof and quaint little windows peeping out amnong the climbing roses that cover it. Its antiquity is attested by its mud walls - a genuine bit of Irish architecture.’ Further: ‘Miss Barlow herself is a slender young woman, with somewhat of humility and shyness in her manner. For society she has no inclination; hers is one of those natures that strikes its deepest roots at home’. Paul relates that she sent “Walled Out; or, Eschatology in a Bog” to the Dublin University Magazine, and that the editor was obliged to advertise for the author. Paul remarks, ‘No one, since Carleton, has depicted the Irish peasant with his manysided character, so natural and so real as she. It is surprising how attractive and fascinating this homely and unpretentious class of Irishman becomes when described by the hand of genius. He rises before us and relates the story of his joys and sorrows. As he does so, one can almost fancy they hear the tone of his voice. She is full of sympathy for her subject. She writes of Ireland animated by a desire to show the actual life of the people in its mingled humour and pathos. That she has done so with success every reader of her character-sketches, with any knowledge of the subject, will readily admit.’ (p.108).

W. B. Yeats: Yeats wrote: ‘... I have regretfully excluded Miss Barlow’s Irish Idylls because, despite her genius for recording the externals of Irish peasant life, I do not feel that she has got deep into the heart of things.’ (Commentary on his list of thirty Irish best books, in Dublin Daily Express, 27 Feb. 1895; Letters, ed., Wade, pp.246-51; p.248; see further under Emily Lawless and W. B. Yeats). George Birmingham also excluded Barlow’s Irish Idylls from a collection he edited.

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J. M. Synge “The Old and New in Ireland”, in The Academy and Literature (6 Sept. 1902), rep. Collected Works, ed. Alan Price (London: OUP, 1966), [Vol. II: Prose], pp.383-86: ‘Ten years ago, in the summer of 1892, an article on Literary Dublin, by Miss Barlow, author of Bogland Studies and some other charming work, appeared in a leading English weekly. After dealing with Professor Mahaffy, some other Irish writers, and the periodicals of Dublin, she summed up in these words: “This bird’s eye view has revealed no brilliant prospect, and the causes of dimness considered, it is difficult to point out any quarter of the horizon as a probable source of rising light.” / No one who knows Ireland and Irish life will be likely to charge Miss Barlow with lack of insight, although when she wrote the literary movement which is now so apparent was beginning everywhere through the country’ (p.383).

Dominic Daly, The Young Douglas Hyde: The Dawn Of The Irish Revolution And Renaissance, 1874-1893 (Dublin: Irish University Press 1974), cites Hyde’s diary entry of 8 Feb. 1893, in which Hyde meets Jane Barlow, the self-effacing ‘incognita’ and friend of Sarah Purser. (p.160.) In a footnote, Daly quotes W. B. Yeats’s account of Barlow in The Bookman (Aug. 1895): ‘She is master over the circumstances of peasant life, and has observed with a delightful care no Irish writer has equalled, the coming and going of hens and chickens on the doorstep, the gossiping of old women over their tea, the hiding of children under the shadows of the thorn trees, the broken and decaying thatch of the cabins, and the great brown stretches of bogland; but seems to know nothing of the exultant and passionate life Carleton celebrated, or to shrink from its roughness and its tumult’ (Daly, op. cit., p.221).

Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar: A Study Of The Works And Days Of William Carleton, 1794-1869 (London: Sheed & Ward 1947; rep. Dublin: Talbot Press, 1972): ‘The black shadow spreads out over the century and over the writers of the century. Jane Barlow who, according to T. W. Rolleston, closely resembled Carleton, and who, as far as Irish fiction was concerned, helped at the deathbed of the nineteenth century, found for her imagination and her art a small village of poor people in a western bog. The bogland around Lisconnel was lonely, but it was, in a sombre fashion, colourful. “Heath, rushes, furze, ling, and the like have woven it thickly, their various tints merging, for the most part, into one uniform brown, with a few rusty streaks in it, as if the weather-beaten fell of some huge primaeval beast were stretched smoothly over the flat plain. Here and there, however, the monochrome will be broken: a white gleam comes from a tract where the breeze is deftly unfurling the silky bog-cotton tufts on a thousand elfin distaffs; or a rich glow, crimson and dusky purple dashed with gold, betokens the profuse mingling of furze and heather blooms; or a sunbeam, glinting across some little grassy esker, strikes out a strangely jewel-like flash of transparent green.”’ [Cont.]

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Benedict Kiely, Poor Scholar [...] (rep. edn. 1972): ‘Jane Barlow called that book of stories about Lisconnel by the name Irish Idylls (Hodder & Stoughton, 1892) and Ireland is one of those odd countries in which it is almost always possible to uncover something of the idyllic. But even in Jane Barlow’s coloured land the bog could turn grey and stiffen with frost, the cut wind could blow blighting, corrupting blackness into the seed-potatoes on which life in Lisconnel depended. Faces could lengthen and heads shake, superurtious minds draw omens from the flickering white flights of sea-grills over the bog, from the gloomy croaking and flapping of passing herons, from “the long trains of wild duck, scudding by like trails of smoke.” A man, distraught with famine-fever, could bolt himself and his children into the cabin while the woman of the house went searching for food; and when she returned her husband was too weak to answer her battering at the door. In the morning he and his children were dead in the cabin, the mother dead outside on the ground, and in Lisconnel they said her tormented spirit battered night after night on the closed and bolted door. (Irish Idylls, n.p.; Kiely, op. cit., p.136.)

Patricia Boylan, All Cultivated People: A History of The United Arts Club, Dublin (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1988), makes reference to her support for the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery in 1905 (p.7). Also notes that she was published by Rolleston as editor of Dublin University Review (p.10), and quotes Winifred Letts’s sketch of her: ‘I see Jane Barlow, in a wind-blown cloak; a spirit just made tangible in slender form and pale colouring, austere, shy, delicately strong; an exquisite poet ..’ [from Knockmaroon] (pp.108-09).

J. W. Foster, Irish Novels 1890-1940: New Bearings in Culture and Fiction (Oxford UP 2008): ‘One can see a tentative departure in this direct [i.e., a newly inaugurated Irish fiction that avoids the revival’s project of ‘recovery of the Irish peasants as real human beings’] in Irish Idylls (1892) by Jane Barlow, daughter of a Reverend Vice-Provosts of Trinity [2] College Dublin. This was a very popular set of stories in which the Connemara peasant is portrayed respectfully and fairly knowledgeably (the speech pattersn and idioms are there, even if rather unlocalised), though the note of condescension is impossible to miss, likewise the feeling that the Victorian eloquence of the storyteller is itself civilising, as it were, her quaint subjects, despite a textural density of prose that confers its own respect on its subjects.’ (pp.2-3.) [Cont.]

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J. W. Foster (Irish Novels 1890-1940, 2008) - cont. ‘Rehearsal did not deepen her fiction into a pervasive sense of social malaise of some remediable kind. IN the opening sketch of Irish Ways (1909), Barlow identified three popular Irelands she was eschewing: pitiable Ireland, sentimental Ireland, and glamorously Celtic Ireland. She offered instead a fourth Ireland, what we might call uniquely ineffable Ireland, its “atmosphere, elusive, impalpable, with the property of lending aspects bewilderingly various to the same things seen from different points of view” (Irish Ways, 1911 Edn., p.3.), an Ireland essentially beyond the range of real reform, even if desirable.’ In Irish Ways only one practical step might be taken toward alleviate the penury of the west of Ireland: mobile lending libraries, around which she builds one story, “An Unseen Romance”. Barlow turned - I almost said “reverted” - to what she knew thoroughly, life in the country house, in such a novel as Flaws (1911).’

Obiter dicta: Foster speaks of the ‘all too realistic minor gentry’ in this ‘dull and interminable novel’ which proves that ‘Barlow was at home solely at the precise distance from her characters she maintained in her peasant stories.’ (p.3.)

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Anthologies: Daniel Karlin, ed., The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse (London: Penguin 1997), incls. Jane Barlow - with 8 other Irish poets: William Allingham, Edward Dowden, William Larminie, James Clarence Mangan, George William Russell [AE], John Todhunter, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats ... amidst tens of English poets.

Belfast Public Library holds 15 titles including Mrs Martin’s Company; The Mockers and Other Verses; Maureen’s Fairing; Irish Ways; Irish Idylls; Doings and Dealings; Kerrigan’s Quality; Mac’s Adventures; The Ghost Bereft; The Founding of Fortunes; A Creel of Irish Stories; From the East to the West.

See also the Wikipedia entry on Jane Barlow - online; accessed 09.02.2018.

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Hugh Lane Gallery (1): Barlow joined with S. H. Butcher, Augusta Gregory, Douglas Hyde, Somerville & Ross, Emily Lawless, George Russell, and W. B. Yeats in ‘An Appeal from Irish Authors’ (Freeman’s Journal, 13 Dec. 1904), protesting against the corporation judgement on Hugh Lane’s [Municipal] gallery.’ (See Adrian Frazier, ‘Paris, Dublin: Looking at George Moore Looking at Manet’, in New Hibernia Review, 1, 1, Spring 1997, pp.19-30.)

Hugh Lane Gallery (2): See Alan Denson, Letters from AE (London: Abelard-Schuman 1961), p.54, giving details of the same letter in the papers of George Russell (Dec. 1904), printed in The Irish Times (5 Jan. 1905), appealing for donations to the value of £30,000 or £40,000 to purchase a collection of paintings ‘chosen by experts from the Staats-Froves and Durand-ruel Collections, and admitted to be the finest representation of modern French art outside Paris’, currently showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy; signed by Barlow, with Gregory, Butcher, Hyde, Somerville, Martin Ross, Lawless, Yeats and Russell (“AE”).

Bio-dates: Anne van Weerden (Utrecht Univ., NL) notes that the Church of Ireland records attest to her birth-date in 1856 (formerly 1857 on this website) and has emended the Wikipedia entry to that effect. She also remarks that A History of the World of Immortals without God (1891), a sci-fi novel about the planet Venus, was written by her father and suggests that A Strange Land (1908) was by him also. (Email correspondence, Dec. 2017-Feb. 2018.)

Note: James William Barlow, Catherine’s eldest son and Jane Barlow’s father, was rebuked by the Church of Ireland [Archbishop Whately] for rejecting the doctrine of Eternal Punshment. Van Weerden’s research shows that this theory (stance?) was probably coloured by the attempted suicide of his mother Catherine [née] Disney who was the first love of William Rowan Hamilton [q.v.] but was forced into marriage with Barlow Snr. by her family. Catherine’s suicide attempt was made in Carlingford in 1848 and she died in 1853. Katharine Tynan speaks of James William Barlow’s ‘ecclesiastical ban’ as ‘a shadow over the house’ in the chapter about Jane Barlow in her Memories. [Information supplied by Anne van Weerden -17.10.2018.]


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