Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan)
The cover photo of my book from New York Public Library
In her 1807 lyrical collection, Lay of an Irish Harp, Sydney Owenson uses the iconic imagery of a harp to scrutinize the resonating cry for enlightened human consciousness shortly after the Act of Union 1801 has been enforced. She illustrates the harmonics of human intellect surrounding the Irish message of perseverance in times of hardship and indignity suffered when human rights are ignored, using rhythmic structure within her poetics and iconic allusions through intricate semiotic fusion of philosophy and history. According to her memoirs, Owenson’s aspiration was as follows:
...to make my native country better known, and to dissipate the political and religious prejudices that hindered its prosperity…Neither lovers, friends, nor flatterers, ever turned my attention from the steady, settled aim of my life-- and that was to advocate the interest of my country in my writings…
When enlightenment merely reflects the ignorance of cultural bias, the abrasive consciousness of society suppresses creative exploration and moves into a mire of lost intentions and spiritual limitation. Owenson begins a personal quest to enlighten her contemporaries of a plausible if not impossible endeavour for the Irish and the British to maintain a semblance of harmony in Ireland. She uses the aural traditions of harp music and the power in lyrical structure to express innovative concepts through the traditional aural experiences of narratives and music. Kate Bowan and Paul Pickering remark:
Music is central to the formation of identities whether national, ethic, religious, or political as it can by virtue of being a social activity, include or exclude, and is open to countless reshaping and re-articulations in various contexts.
Thus, Owenson’s literary works demonstrate an iconic vision in the midst of dissonance, as she focuses her reading audience’s attention on discordant elements within nineteenth century Irish society that need transformation. (Excerpt from my paper, read at the Association for Franco-Irish Studies conference in Dublin, Ireland, 2012)