Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

'Talk Talk Talk ... ': Virginia Woolf, Ireland and Maria Edgeworth

Academic journal article Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies

'Talk Talk Talk ... ': Virginia Woolf, Ireland and Maria Edgeworth

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article considers Woolf's only visit to Ireland and her attitude to the country as revealed in her diary and in a review of a book about Maria Edgeworth. She considered the fault of the Irish to be their loquaciousness. Her diary reveals her belief that Irish literature had declined since Dean Swift. Woolf, both in her twenties and when she visited Ireland in 1934, revealed a certain antipathy to the country. She asserted, for example, that the Irish propensity to talk had prevented the production of literature of any quality after the eighteenth century. In the 1909 review, Woolf, while criticising the author of a book about Maria Edgeworth, attacks Edgeworth herself. But her words imply that she had not read Maria's Irish novels. Bloomsbury's 'snobbery' and Woolf's Feminism throughout the essay are evident in her implicit criticism of the way that Edgeworth sacrificed love for duty. In dismissing Edgeworth's achievement, Woolf betrays a degree of ignorance that is worth considering.

Key Words: Woolf, Edgeworth, Swift, talk, superficial, Land Question.

Many writers and critics, over the years, have cited the Irish propensity to 'talk'--a notable, recent example being Brian Friel's Translations (1980). But certain English writers, notably Virginia Woolf, have adopted a more negative and critical attitude towards Irish articulation perceiving it to be hindrance to literary creativity. Woolf, who visited Ireland only once, from 30 April to 8 May 1934, certainly concluded that the Irish talked too much but also implicitly claimed that, as a result, they produced no literature of merit after the demise of Jonathan Swift--but was she right?

Woolf's diary reveals an initial impression of Ireland that was hardly auspicious, she viewed it as "A mixture of Greece, Italy & Cornwall; great loneliness; poverty & dreary villages ... " (Bell and McNeillie 1982: 209). The Woolfs stayed with Elizabeth Bowen at Bowen's Court, at Farahy, near Kildorrey, County Cork. Quentin Bell's account of the trip suggests that it was somewhat boring recounting that in "At the end of April they took a fortnight's holiday in Ireland; it was pleasant, though wet and on the whole uneventful" (Bell 1973: 177). Bell seems to hint that his aunt's views on Ireland were probably influenced--at least in part--by such vulgar, even 'touristic', considerations as the state of the weather. The weather may have been bad and the company at Bowen's Court--which included the "baboon Conolly & his gollywog slug wife Jean ... " (Bell and McNeillie 1982: 210) with "their gorilla faces" (Bell and McNeillie 1982: 211)--not much better, but this article will argue that Woolf's attitude to Ireland, ultimately negative, will be better understood if more serious matters, ones relevant to her ideas on society and on literature, are taken into account.

At first sight, Woolf's own comments suggest that she enjoyed her brief stay in Ireland. She wrote that "its been one of our most amusing tours. If only for the talk talk talk ... " (Bell and McNeillie 1982: 216). In fact, it seems to have been 'talk' that made the deepest impression on her. Though it should be noted that Oscar Wilde had made a similar observation archly commenting that "We are a nation of brilliant failures, but we are the greatest talkers since the Greeks" (Yeats 1977: 135). At this point, Woolf presents 'talk' in a positive way. The same appears to be the case when, on a social visit to Adare, she was much impressed by both the verbal dexterity and longevity of Mrs. Ida Fitzgerald to whom "Talk is ... an intoxicant" (Bell and McNeillie 1982: 213). She "talked till 11 & wd. willingly be talking now ... " that leads Woolf to ask "Why arent [sic] these people the greatest novelists in the world?" (Bell and McNeillie 1982: 213). The most obvious inference from this question is that Woolf did not consider the Irish to be the greatest novelists in the world. …

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