"The drb sustains a level of commentary on Irish and international matters that no other journal in Ireland and few elsewhere can reach. It deserves all the support that can be given it." X
Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

E. Œ. Somerville and Martin Ross: Female Authorship and Literary Collaboration

Anne Jamison
Cork University Press


From the Introduction

In his 1910 essay on the Renaissance dramatist Phillip Massinger, T. S. Eliot described the collaborative ethic which he believed governed the compositional methodologies of Elizabethan drama. Eliot defined this form of collaboration as 'the threads of authorship and influence', which float below the surface of the dramatic text, and concluded that in order to understand such drama, the critic must 'ponder collaboration to the utmost line'.1 This book strongly aligns itself with a very similar kind of critical pondering. Throughout history, literary critics have certainly deliberated on the nature and authenticity of the collaborative text and its authors: validating in the neo-Classical and Renaissance periods the passive scribe in thrall to a collaborating muse or God; turning with horror during the reign of the Romantics and the Victorians from the labouring collaborator's desecration of the originating hero-artist; and, more recently, effecting a minor reconciliation with multiple authorship in a world which admits to the Barthesian maxim that 'a text is not a line of words releasing a single "theological" meaning (the "message" of the Author-God), but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash'.1

This book considers a very specific and public collaboration, one which challenges from the outset the very idea of an 'Author-God' and is now recognised as one of the most well-known and successful female literary collaborations at work in the late nineteenth century.' The collaboration of Irish authors Edith CEnone Somerville (1858-1949) and (Violet) Martin Ross (1862,-1915) spanned just under three decades between 1888 and Ross' premature death in 1915. During this period, Somerville and Ross jointly published five novels, five collections of short stories and essays, four travel memoirs and numerous other periodical literature, all under the male soubriquet of 'E.CE. Somerville and Martin Ross'. The ambition of this book is, in part, to reorient traditional thinking about Somerville and Ross' partnership and rethink the collaboration beyond a purely domestic and personal affair. It will consider the ways in which Somerville and Ross' literary collaboration was a significant part of the two women's lifelong but always complex feminist ethic, as well as a professional literary partnership. This analysis of the collaboration recognises Somerville and Ross' dual authorship as a challenge to dominant nineteenth-century conceptions of the post-Romantic author as male, originary and singular. As such, this book attempts to open up ways of thinking about women's literary collaborations as a defiant cultural position within Irish and Victorian literary society more generally and, in particular, examine how Somerville and Ross' partnership significantly influenced both the gender and national politics of their writing.

Somerville and Ross were second cousins and descendants of well-established Protestant Ascendancy families in Cork and Galway. They met in 1887 and, from humble beginnings which saw the duo collaborating on a family dictionary, went on to publish their first professional novel, An Irish Cousin, in 1889 to popular and critical acclaim. The novel is written in the style of a Victorian 'shilling shocker' set on an Irish country estate. Despite its sensationalist gothic tone, however, it firmly exposes Somerville and Ross' serious and lifelong literary interest in the gender conventions of their time, as well as in Anglo-Irish society and the depiction of Irish character across a broad spectrum of class and race. Building on the initial success of their debut publication, the two authors eventually published what is now one of the most critically acclaimed Irish novels of the late nineteenth century, The Real Charlotte (1894), as well as a long-running and enduringly popular series of sporting comic short stories based around the experiences of an English resident magistrate in Ireland: Some Experiences of an Irish R.M., Further Experiences of an Irish R.M., and In Mr. Knox's Country (1899-1915). Despite the divergent tone and genre of The Real Charlotte and Somerville and Ross's Irish R.M. tales, these texts all document and interrogate the intriguing complexities of the social, cultural and gender politics in turn-of-the-century Ascendancy Ireland and, in this sense, represent the heart and drive of Somerville and Ross' entire literary oeuvre.

Somerville continued to use the dual signature after Ross' death, validating her practice by utilising the literary notebooks compiled with Ross during the latter's lifetime, as well as deriving new literary material through spiritualist communications with her dead collaborator. Somerville eventually published another fourteen books under the dual signature, including the noted The Big House oflnver (1925), but the literary partners are now largely remembered for the publications jointly produced during Ross' lifetime. Outside their literary activities, the two authors were also ardent huntswomen, farm managers, active suffragettes and, in the case of Somerville, a professional painter and illustrator.