George Egerton (1859-1945)


Life
[née Mary Chavelita Dunne; later Mrs. Golding Bright;] b. 14 Dec. 1859, Melbourne, Australia, eld. dg. of Irish army officer, Cpt. John J. Dunne, and his wife Isabel George, a Welsh woman; raised in New Zealand where she witnessed Maori war, and later in Chile, Wales, Ireland, and Germany; mother d. 1875; f. appointed governor of Nenagh and Castlebar prisons, but cashiered for debt; educated in Ireland and Germany in Catholic schools at the expense of relatives, 1875-77; wished to be an artist but trained as nurse; briefly employed in London hospital;
 
worked in New York, 1884-86; returned to Ireland and sacted as travelling companion to Charlotte Whyte Melville and her second husband, Henry Higginson (d.1889, of alcohol; eloped to Norway with Higginson, 1887; settled in England; influenced by Ibsen; left Higginson and moved to London, 1888; published in The Yellow Book;. m. Canadian novelist George Egerton Clairmonte (an ‘idle destitute Canadian’), 1891; settled in Ireland with him at Millstreet Co. Cork, where she wrote “The Marriage of Mary Ascension”; issued influential New Woman stories as Keynotes (1893), with cover by Aubrey Beardsley; incls. account of her relationship with Knut Hamsun, to whom it is dedicated;
 
had affairs with John Lane and others; moved to London as cause celèbre; trans. Hamsun’s Hunger (1894), had child with Egerton but divorced, 1895; m. Reginald Golding-Bright, drama-critic and literary agent, 1901 [var. 1907]; became drama agent to G. B. Shaw and Somerset Maugham revisited Ireland, 1926; Discords (1894), incl. ‘A Psychological Moment: The Woman’; further collections, Symphonies (1897) and Fantasies (1898); The Wheel of God (1898), autobiographical account of life as young woman-journalist in New York; trans. Hamsun’s Hunger (1899); Flies in Amber (1905) incl. “The Marriage of Mary Ascension”, a tale of parental and clerical bullying in middle-class Ireland; ‘Mammy’ and some other stories giving accounts of prostitution in Dublin. DIW OCEL SUTH KUN OCIL

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Works
Fiction
  • trans., Knut Hamsun, Hunger (London: Leonard Smithers & Co. 1899);
  • Keynotes (London: Shand, Elkin Mathews & John Lane [Bodley Head] 1893), with dust-jacket by Aubrey Beardsley; Do. [1st US edn.] (Boston: Robert Bros. 1894) (viii), [9]-192pp.;
  • Discords (London: John Lane & Elkin Mathews 1894) [2nd edn.] (viii), 253pp.;
  • Symphonies (London: John Lane/Bodley Head 1897), stories;
  • Fantasias (London: John Lane/Bodley Head 1898);
  • with Agnes Castle, Marshfield the Observer and The Death Dance [stories, 1st ed.] (Macmillan 1900), 356pp.,
  • Rosa Amorosa: The Love Letters of a Woman (London: Grant Richards 1901);
  • Flies in Amber (London: Grant Richards 1905);
See also My Merry Rockhurst [1st ed.] (Smith Elder 1907), 311pp., hist. novel, The Lost Iphigena [society novel, 1st ed.] (Smith Elder 1911), 316pp., Love Gilds the Scene (Smith Elder 1912), 39pp.
Modern editions
  • Terence de Vere White, ed., A Leaf from The Yellow Book: The Correspondence of George Egerton (London: Richards Press 1958), 184pp.,
  • Janet Madden-Simpson, ed., Woman’s Part ... Short fiction by and about Irish Women 1890-1960 (Dublin 1984) [incls. “Virgin Soil,” about a young woman destroyed by her ignorance of the physical side of marriage].
  • Keynotes and Discords (London: Virago 1995), 253pp.

See also Joan Smith, ed., Femmes de Siecles, stories from the 90s, women writing at the end of two centuries (London: Chatto & Windus 1992), incl. George Egerton “A Nocturne”.

Reprints
  • The Marriage of Mary Ascension: A Millstreet Love Story [rep. story] (Aubane Hist. Soc. 2011), 29pp.

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Criticism
  • Tina O’Toole, ‘George Egerton’s Transgressive Fictions’, in “Irish Women Novelists 1800-1940” Spec. Iss.], Colby Quarterly, 2 [Special Issue, ed. Anne Fogarty] (June 2000) pp.145-56;
  • Tina O’Toole, ‘The Irish Aspect of the New Woman Question: The Work of George Egerton’ [conference paper], Munster Women Writers Conference, hosted by Dept. of English, Univ. College, Cork/NUI, 20-22 July 2001 [website].
  • Scott McCracken [essay on Egerton], in Gender and Colonialism, ed. Timothy R. Foley, Lionel Pilkington, Sean Ryder &Elizabeth Tilley (Galway UP 1996), q.pp.
  • Tina O’Toole, ‘Unregenerate Spirits: The Counter-Cultural Experiments of George Egerton and Elizabeth Bowen’, in Irish Women Writers: New Critical Perspectives, ed. Elke d’Hoker, et al. ([Intern.] Peter Lang 2011), q.pp.
See also Heather Ingman, A History of the Irish Short Story (Cambridge UP 2009) - paired with W. B. Yeats; incls. a reading.

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General sources, Ernst Foerster, Die Frauenfrage in de Romanen englischer Schriftstellerinnen der Gegenwart [Egerton, Mona Caird and Sarah Grand] (Marburg 1907); John Gawsworth, Ten Contemporaries: Notes toward their Definitive Bibliography (London: Earnest Benn 1932); Gail Cunningham, The New Woman and the Victorian Novel (1978); Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own (1984); see also memoir of George Egerton in Austin Clarke, Penny from the Clouds (1968).

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Commentary
Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own (1984), bio-note, 1860-1945; story-writer and novelist, pseud. George Egerton [and listed here as such]; b. Australia, raised in Ireland; oldest of 6 children of ex-army officer; Catholic; ed. at school, twice married, one son; first book, Keynotes (1893). ‘George Egerton’s bitter short stories’ (ibid, 30); ‘GE wrote that “marriage becomes for many women a legal prostitution, a nightly degradation, a hateful yoke under which they age, mere bearers of children concieved in a sense of duty, not love”’ ([“Virgin soil”, in Discords, London 1895] ibid, 189); ‘engaged in a kind of quarrel that, according to Yeats, leads to rhetoric but not poetry’ (ibid., 193); ‘qualities of wish-fulfillment and incoherent rebellion [...] another advanced woman of the nineties who never developed sufficiently as an artist to sustain her first celebrity [...] considered her art “of less importance” than her “life as a woman”’ [A Keynote to Keynotes, in Ten Contemporaries, ed. John Gawsworth (London 1932); published by “Petticoat [John] Lane”; Keynotes parodied as “She-notes” in Punch; gives account of the genesis of the book: ‘I would use situations or conflicts as I say them with a total disregard of man’s opinions, I would unlock a closed door with a key of my own fashioning’ [‘A Keynote’, in Ten Contemporaries, 1932]; a review by T. P. Gill suggesting that her stories might lead to masturbation (the passage is quoted in T. de Vere White, A Leaf from the Yellow Book, London 1958); the story “The Spell of the White Elf” contains a statement on the ‘congenital [feeling] of smouldering enmity, ay, sometimes physical disgust to men ... a kind of kin-feeling to the race-dislike of white men to black’ (in “Keynotes” in Keynotes & Discords, London 1893); in Discords, those feelings are much more central to the stories; in “Gone Under” a harrowing story of a woman whose lover arranges to have their illegimate child murdered by the midwife, the heroine ... commits suicide; in “Wedlock” a woman murders three step-children because separated from her own by her husband; in “Virgin Soil” a thinly-disguised tract against the absence of sex education, the daughter is only safe from the demands of the husband to whom her mother has given her when he is pursuing the cook, ‘my whole body revolts at his touch’; deals with the struggle between husbands and wives, though sometimes veiled as a battle between mothers and daughters; she wrote, ‘I was intransigent, a bad seller of myself ... the long book was not my pidgeon.’ Showalter draws heavily on Terence de Vere White, op. cit.; see also Wendell V. Harris, ‘Egerton, Forgotten Realist’, Victorian Newsletter (Spring 1968), pp.31-36.

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John Sutherland, Victorian Fiction, Longmans 1988), ‘New Woman Fiction’, in which she is associated with ‘Iota (Kathleen Caffyn) and Sarah Grand as leading exponents of the genre (p. 460).

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Quotations
Dem priest ...: ‘The priests don’t encourage independence in women; when they lose this hold they’ll lose their hold on humanity. A farmer’s wife in country parts of Ireland would find it difficult to draw money without her husband’s signature, the fools! And no Zulu strikes a harder bargain for cows with his prospective father in law than the average Irishman for the girl’s dowry. They are huckstered and traded for, and matches made up for them, just the same as they bargain for heifers at a fair. The fortune is handed over to the husband to use as he pleases, and the priests get an ample percentage on it.’ (‘A Psychological Moment: The Woman’, in Discords, 1894; quoted by Mary O’Donoghue [conference paper], at “New Voices”, IFC, Dublin Feb. 1999.)

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Dem hetairai ..: ‘In London (probably not now in Dublin) the brazen advertisement and audacious effrontery of the hetairai … in the capital of the most moral county in the world, would challenge belief. Dublin, at all times the most narrow and provincial of towns, with a foreign garrison note, rang with their doings. Satin gowns or orange, scarlet or azure, worn with a daring hat at four in the afternoon in Grafton Street, were usual’ (“Mammy”, from Flies in Amber, 1905; quoted by Mary O’Donoghue in paper at “New Voices” conference, IFC, Dublin Feb. 1999.)

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Notes
Kith & kin: an obituary notice of her father, contributed by James Coleman to The Irish Book Lover , Vol. I, No. 9 (April, 1910), refers the ‘well-known author, artist, sportsman and soldier’Further: b. Queen’s Co. 1837 ed. Clongowes and continent; entered army ; served all over the world,; wounded in the Maori War; secretary to Isaac Butt; appt. Gov. of Castlebar Gaol; passed last years nr. London; ‘[a]n ardent Nationalist [...] nursed by O’Connell and [...] intimate with Parnell.’ Published How and Where to Fish in Ireland [1886 & 7 edns.] as “Hi Regan”; also Here and There Memories, by H.R.N. (1896), ded. to Butt. Cites George Egerton as eldest dg.; omits mention of his being cashiered.