Iota [Kathleen Caffyn]


Life
?1855-1926 [née Kathleen Caffyn; Mrs Mannington Caffyn; pseud. “Iota”]; b. Co. Tipperary; ed. England and Germany by governesses; trained as nurse at St. Thomas’s, London; m. Stephen Mannington, a surgeon, in 1879; lived in Australia, where her husband wrote his successful Milne and I (1889), and A Poppy’s Tears (1890); sensationally successful with A Yellow Aster (1894), dealing with love, marriage, and free-thought in fashionable setting;
 
issued Children of Circumstances (1894) has a married hero who falls in love with a London social worker, discussions between the three parties ensue, and the wife nobly arranges for her rival to take over after her death; A Comedy of Spasms (1895); A Quaker Grandmother (1896), another female tract; Poor Max (1898), with a dominant wife and a weak, artistic husband;
 
issued Anne Mauleverer (1899), a [so-called] wildly feminist novel, in with the emancipated half-Irish heroine, sculpturess and horse-woman advises the King of Italy on horses, and adopts the child of the man she loves, whom she nurses at his death; Caffyn shows a preference for Irish heroines; her recreations incl. horse-riding and watching polo; member of ladies Army and Navy Club. SUTH OCIL OCIL

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Works
Novels
  • A Yellow Aster (1894);
  • Children of Circumstances (1894);
  • A Comedy of Spasms (1895);
  • A Quaker Grandmother (1896);
  • Poor Max (1898).
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Contribs. incl. “The Red Spirit” (signed “Iota”), in Pic Nics from the “Dublin Penny Journal”, Being a Selection from the Legends, Tales, and Stories of Ireland, which have Appeared in the Published Volumes of the Dublin Penny Journal […] (Dublin: Philip Dixon Hardy [… et al. 1836), pp.[245]259; [as Mrs Mannington Caffyn], ‘Lenchen’, in By Creek and Gully, Stories and sketches mostly of Bush Life, ed. Lala Fisher (London: Unwin 1899).

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Criticism
See Gail Cunningham, The New Woman and the Victorian Novel (1978).

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References
John Sutherland, The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction (Longmans 1988; rep. 1989), call her ‘one of the most powerful, if soft centred, of New Woman novelists’. A separate entry on The Yellow Aster (1894), characterises it as one of the most popular of the New Woman novels and summarises the plot: Waring children, Gwen and Dacre, brought up as stern agnostics; the local rector Mr. Fellowes, employed to illustrate the folly of religion, has the opposite effect of fanning her spirituality; she marries aristocrat Humphrey Strange, and separates lovelessly after the birth of a boy; couple reconciled as he lies at death’s door from strain; slangy, free-talking heroine affronted some reviewers. Entry on Poor Max (1898) describes a variation on New Woman formula, in which Judith, the Irish wife of Jewish Max Morland, married after whirlwind courtship at Ballybruff, becomes involved with another man when reduced to insecurity by her artist husband’s impulsive generosity; at his death from diphtheria, she leaves her loves for a rich debauchee, with ‘every vice that Max hadn’t’, looking after her own interests. Iota’s usual wispy obliquity. See also ‘New Woman Fiction’ (Sutherland, op. cit., p. 460), in which she is associated with George Egerton and Sarah Grand as one of the leading exponents of the genre.

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Eggeling Books (Catl. 44) lists As Mrs Mannington Caffyn, ‘Lenchen’, in Lala Fisher, ‘By Creek and Gully, Stories and sketches mostly of Bush Life, told in Prose and Rhyme by Australian Writers in England (Unwin 1899), an orig. short story.

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