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    Florence and the Machine: female authorship, popular culture, and technological modernity in Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan’s Florence Macarthy (1818)

    Lawrenson, Sonja ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2821-6386 (2021) Florence and the Machine: female authorship, popular culture, and technological modernity in Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan’s Florence Macarthy (1818). Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780-1840 (24). pp. 76-93. ISSN 1748-0116

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    Abstract

    While the critical establishment baulked at the rapid expansion of the literary marketplace in the early nineteenth century, Lady Morgan’s Florence Macarthy boldly declared its allegiance to the precariously feminised domain of popular romance. Embracing its own synthetic and syncretic modernity, Morgan’s seventh novel revels in the spectacle, sensation and simulation so vociferously denounced by reviewers of her earlier works. Moreover, in its self-reflexive scrutiny of the material processes of Romantic literary production, Morgan’s fiction interrogates its own position within an increasingly commercialised and mechanised publishing industry. In asserting the centrality of such commercial and mechanical modernity to Morgan’s aesthetic, this article departs from previous scholarly discussions of her oeuvre. It argues that Florence Macarthy’s engagement with Irish politics is not anchored in antiquarian retrospection but instead emerges out of an effervescent literary marketplace in direct competition with new arenas of spectacular entertainment. Thus, rather than promote a supposedly atavistic and anachronistic cultural nationalism, the surface narrative’s flirtation with the romance of Irish antiquity is continually disrupted by an underlying acknowledgement of the competing literary, political and historical narratives at play within the national tale. Synchronising and synthesising these competing discourses for the popular reader, Florence Macarthy registers the hybridity of its own romance as a distinctly modern yet sophisticated form of mechanical reproduction that cannot be dismissed as the mere automatism of an antiquarian reflex.

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