Elizabeth Griffith

Life
?1720-1793; m. Richard Griffith [infra], c.1752; co-author with him of Letters betwen Henry and Frances (1757), in which the Irish placenames removed from the first edition were restored in others; also wrote novels incl. The History of Lady Barton (1771), translations, and plays. ODNB OCIL

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Commentary
G. C. Duggan, The Stage Irishman (1937), In Elizabeth Griffith’s The Platonic Wife (published 1765), an Irish servant, Patrick, shows moral fibre in preventing an abduction. The plays ends with his being rewarded, ‘Patrick will carry it into his own country and that itself would be a help to poor Ireland, for everyone has a pluck at it and would be glad to take all they can get from it, and nobody never gives it nothing at all.’ The epilogue is topical, in the period when the tax on Irish butter in England had just been lifted: ’Now to abolish all monopoly,/and furnish out a choice and full supply/Take advantage of a late decree/Make ‘t legal to import a quantity/Of Irish wit – like butter – duty free.’ Neither of her two other plays have Irish characters. NOTE lengthy ODNB entry on Elizabeth Griffith in British contexts; she appeared at Smock Alley in 1749-1750.

 

Joseph Th. Leerssen, Mere Irish and Fior-Ghael (Amsterdam, 1986), Mrs Griffith, The Platonic Wife (1765) contrasts the Irish servant patrick’s loyalty with the perfidy of the French chambermaid Fontange. Patrick serves Mr. Frankland, Fontange serves Emilia. Fontange betrays her mistress to Frankland, but Patrick reveals his evil intent, and is promised a joyful repatriation as fitting reward. [Joseph Leerssen , Mere Irish & Fíor Ghael, 1986, p.151]

Siobhán Kilfeather, ‘Origins of Female Gothic’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, 1, 2 (Autumn 1994), pp.35-45, begins with references to Griffith’s The History of Lady Barton (1771), whose heroine’s misfortunes are regarded as possessing ‘all the relentlessness characteristic of gothic fiction’. (p.35.); notes that adulterous passion and horror feature largely in this epistolary novel, in which an young Englishwoman Louisa recently married to an Irish gentleman, Sir William Barton, who insensitive and jealous; meets a Lord Lucan, man she much prefers, during a near shipwreck on the boat-journey to Ireland. (p.39); notes that the narrative discriminates the foreignness of the Irish and their connection with Catholic Europe as well as political questions of Milesian genealogy (p.40); mysterious stranger comes to her bedchamber; exposed to blackmail from brutal Col. Walters, who also abuses his tenantry through absenteeism; quotes, ‘The tears streamed insensibly from my eyes, and so much dimmed my sight, as to make it doubtful whether the figure I then say of Lord Lucan, walking by the canal, was real or visionary.’ (Vol. 2, p.24); a friend, Fanny Cleveland, similarly involved with Lord Hume, her unfaithful lover; Kilfeather remarks, ‘the problem of how to use Ireland as a setting without becoming enfeebled or paralysed by its dependant status is first resolved by the gothic and historical novelists, who discover in it a place to raise questions about lawlessness and legitimacy.’ (p.41); Clermont [see also under Maria Regina Roche, Maria Edgeworth, and Edmund Burke];

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References
B. G. MacCarthy, The Female Pen, Women Writers and Novelists 1621-1818 (Cork UP 1944), ‘The Oriental Novel’ [Chap. IX]; Siobhán Kilfeather, ‘Origins of the Irish Female Gothic’, in Bullán, I, 2 (Autumn 1994), pp.35-46; espec. 38ff. [on History of Lady Barton].

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