Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

§62 Adelaide O'Keeffe
(1776–c.1855)

Adelaide O'Keeffe was the only daughter and third child of Irish parents, the Roman Catholic dramatist and actor John O'Keeffe (1747–1833) and the Protestant actress Mary Heaphy (1757–1813). Because of difficulties in her parents' marriage, Adelaide was raised by a nurse and sent to school in London and a convent school in France. When she was twelve, she became her blind father's amanuensis. She launched her own successful writing career with the publication of her first novel in 1799, though the poetry she published in Ann and Jane Taylor's Original Poems for Infant Minds (1804) was her best-known work. She is recognized today as a significant Irish writer of children's literature. In 1798 she wrote a fictional adaptation of Genesis 21:8–46:29 entitled Patriarchal Times, or, The Land of Canaan, but it was not published until 1811. It became a critical and commercial success and was republished several times in Britain, and translated into German and French. An American edition, sponsored by a Jewish publisher, was released in 1822.14 In 1898 O'Keeffe's father, who had written over fifty popular comic operas, left the stage, and his daughter dutifully cared for him and supported him through her writing and later as a governess.

Patriarchal Times is a 600-page novel telling the story of Abraham's family and descendants, beginning with Isaac's weaning feast and ending with Israel's arrival in Egypt. O'Keeffe followed the main narrative line of the biblical story, but embellished the account by adding characters and scenes, inventing dialogue, and making use of elaborate descriptions. The seven chapters of the work are entitled "Abraham," "Ishmael," "Isaac," "Jacob," "Esau," "Joseph," and "Benjamin." Despite the male focus of the chapter titles, O'Keeffe gave female characters a prominent place in her work.

14 In e-mail correspondence Dr. Donelle Ruwe (Department of English, Northern Arizona
University) described a Jewish republication of O'Keeffe's novel in America (in a series called
"The Jewish Miscellany," entitled Patriarchal Times, or, The Land of Canaan; in Seven Books;
Comprising Interesting Events, Incidents, and Characters, founded on the Holy Scriptures, by Miss
O'Keeffe (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1848). The society published books that
portrayed Jews positively. O'Keeffe's Patriarch Times was the first book the Jewish Publication
Society published written by a non-Jew. The preface to the American edition notes that
O'Keeffe's version of the Old Testament focuses a bit too much on Christian ideas of predes-
tination.

-329-

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