ACIS Logo Gunshots, Shipwrecks, and Linen Chests: Feminist Depictions of the Rebellion of 1798

The Rebellion of 1798 was fought and represented on masculine terms‚ as a brotherhood of United Irishmen that made a female ideal, Hibernia, its silent, eroticized symbol. In line with this, Siobhan Kilfeather has argued that the atrocities of 1798 resulted in a re-entrenchment of traditional Burkean values about women’s domestic, passive virtues in early nineteenth century novels. In this paper, however, I argue for another cultural pattern in relation to 1798, in which the rebellion became, in some instances, a fictive, imaginative event for the construction of a feminist, politicized character. Starting with a pre-98 novel, The Triumph of Prudence Over Passion by Elizabeth Sheridan (1781), then looking at two post-rebellion novels, Sarah Isdell’s The Irish Recluse (1809), and most importantly the Michael Banim’s Croppy, a Tale of 1798 (1828), I trace how these works both feminize the Rebellion (in some cases, problematically) and exploit it as a framework for feminist expression. Each text formulates a feminist individual or “deep character” in response to demonstrations of collective male armament or combat, reversing the typical paradigm of voyeurism in Irish national tales. As these female characters become spectators of 1798, they also become deep, psychological individuals in line with a developing Irish novelistic tradition. Finally, I argue that Croppy offers the most vivid visualization of this novelistic process, when a woman hiding in a linen chest traverses the battlefields and spies on British informers suggesting that domestic things, like women, circulated subversively in the male domain of rebellion, challenging an androcentric perspective on 1798.

Published on: April 2, 2020