Irish orphans and infant mortalities: motherhood and nationalism in George Egerton's writing

Alexandra Gray

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In ‘Irish Orphans and Infant Mortalities: Motherhood and Nationalism in George Egerton's Writing’, I interrogate George Egerton's use of orphaned women, Irishness, and infant mortality as privileged tropes in ‘A Psychological Moment at Three Periods’, ‘Gone Under’, and The Wheel of God. The orphan figures in these works suffer at the hands of the men in their lives and as a result of parental absence. They are uprooted from their homeland and some are further traumatised by the deaths of their children. Extending existing scholarship on Egerton as an Irish New Woman, this essay argues that, in all three texts, Egerton uses the fates of the orphaned women and their dead children to comment on nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish relations. It examines Egerton's ambivalence in relation to a range of Irish concerns and, by extension, her complicated identity as an Irish woman writer living in England. The orphaned women in Egerton's texts disrupt their families, communities, and nations through their, sometimes violent, rejection of the circumstances that they are faced with: forced concubinage or marriage, loss of newborn children, or loss of social standing or reputation. Without effective familial support, these characters are neither able to avoid finding themselves in compromising situations nor to cope with unfortunate or unavoidable events. This essay considers Egerton's highly nuanced rendering of the fraught relationship between England and her closest colony, arguing that her dramatisation of Irish orphan experience also served the author's broader critique of the nineteenth century's exclusionary masculine publishing tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-183
Number of pages19
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • George Egerton
  • Ireland
  • New Woman
  • infant mortality
  • maternity


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