I’m in Dublin for a couple of weeks on the trail of one Sydney Owenson, aka Lady Morgan. In the early nineteenth century she was a big deal in Dublin–celebrated author, activist for lefty political causes (especially Catholic Emancipation and Irish liberty), presider over a salon in her house on fashionable Kildare Street–but today it’s hard to find someone on the street who’s even heard of her. “She wrote The Wild Irish Girl?” I venture. She invented the genre of the national tale? She mythologized your country and popularized the image of romantic Ireland that tourists still come seeking today!
Look, here’s the plaque showing where she lived:
But I’m not even here on the trail of that Sydney Owenson. I am rooting around in the archives for the philhellenic Owenson, the one who wrote an even more wholly forgotten novel in 1809 called Woman; or, Ida of Athens. It’s a generic cornucopia of romance and travelogue, allegory of Ireland’s colonization by Britain, and (my thing), a manifesto for Greece’s independence before such manifestos became all the rage on the eve (and in the midst) of the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s . Usually Byron gets credit for starting that trend with Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, but Ida of Athens predates it by three years and even gets a jump on Byron’s Grand Tour.
Where are the lovers of Greece in Dublin?