Mary Devenport O'Neill: writing the Free State

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Pomeroy, Laura Mernie
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University College Cork
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This thesis explores Mary Devenport O’Neill’s (1879-1967) writing in its contemporary aesthetic contexts and considers its role in the culture of the Free State in the 1930s and 1940s. There has hitherto been no extensive examination of Devenport’scomplete work. I ask how her writing and artistic status within her social milieu represents her cultural and political position, or more specifically, how women’s creativity manifested itself within a predominantly masculinist nationalist system. Devenport’s roles as poet, playwright, hostess of a literary salon and wife of education minister and author Joseph O’Neill placed her at the centre of intellectual debate during the years of the Irish Free State. Her poetry and verse-plays appeared in Irish literary magazines throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s, most regularly in The Dublin Magazine, as well as being broadcast on Radio Éireann and performed by the Abbey Theatre and Lyric Theatre. Her single volume of poetry, Prometheus and Other Poems (1929) was published by Jonathan Cape, and she also collaborated with her husband on a verse-play. I have used contemporary sources -- letters, memoirs, and archives -- to assemble information about Devenport’s cultural associations, as well as her aims and ambitions. I establish her strategies for aesthetic, intellectual and ideological articulation in her writing, analysing her as a distinctively modernist poet, noting influences and parallels from modernist writing internationally. I examine Devenport as a woman writer and consider how her writing may be seen as a precursor for some later Irish women’s work. This case study of Devenport’s writing also draws on contemporary feminist discussion and methodological approaches to previously neglected women’s writing. Throughout, my analysis shows how Devenport’s work is aesthetically significant in its own right and merits far wider dissemination than it has yet received.
Irish women poets , Irish literature , Feminist literary history , Irish women playwrights , Women's writing in the Irish Free State , 1930s & 1940s poetry , Modernist Irish writers
Pomeroy, L. M. 2016. Mary Devenport O'Neill: writing the Free State. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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