Short Biography of Famous Owensons

'Owenson' coat of arms?

Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan),

Novelist, c1783 - 1859.

By her own account Sydney was born on 25 December 1785, but she had a flexible approach to dates.   Records indicate she was born in Dublin in 1783 although some critical contemporary sources unkindly suggest the actual year to be as early as 1775.   She was the first daughter of the actor Robert (MacOwen) Owenson .   Because of her father's profession and lifestyle, her early years were all connected to the theatre and theatrical folk.   She proved to be a bright and amusing child and was comfortable in society circles.   She attracted considerable notice wherever she went, and soon began to write rather sentimental verse.   influenced by the success of others she penned her first novel, 'St Clair, or the Heiress of Desmond', in 1804.   Although this was considered to be a rather poor imitation of 'The Sorrows of Werther', it was nevertheless translated into Dutch.   In 1805 she published the four volumes of 'Novice of St Dominick', followed by other works generally considered to be of some merit though somewhat insubstantial.

In 1806, the novel which established her name, 'The Wild Irish Girl', was published and received wide acclaim.   Although rhapsodic and sentimental, it contains descriptions of real power and has been called a work of genius.   It openly avowed 'national' sentiments which at first troubled her publishers, but it eventually ran through seven editions in two years.   The book became the subject of considerable political controversy in Dublin, where she was championed by the Liberal and Catholic party.

She also produced a short-lived opera at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, her only dramatic work.   There followed several other novels and verses which kept her name in the public domain.   She joined the household of the Marquis of Abercorn and extended her contacts and reputation in fashionable society.   The surgeon to Abercorn was Thomas Charles Morgan who devoted himself to Owenson.   Later knighted by the Duke of Richmond, he persuaded her (with support from lady Abercorn) to become his second wife and they were married 20 January 1812.

Lady Morgan continued to write quite prolifically, and secured sizeable sums from publishers.   Her books were frequently praised or pilloried by different society and political groups.   She travelled to England, France, Belgium and Italy and her work was published - and sometimes banned - internationally.   She eventually settled in England and her writing output diminished.   She died on 14 April 1859 and is buried in Old Brompton cemetery where a tomb by Westmacott was placed over her grave.   She is believed to have left around 15,000, which would be worth several million dollars today.   She had no children.

There is a bust and portrait of her in the Irish national gallery.   Other paintings are known to exist and engravings appeared in Fraser's magazine in 1838.   Apparently as she aged she held on to the image of a society lady to the extent of unintentionally parodying herself, although contemporary commentary suggests that - in her prime - she was highly attractive and vivacious, yet shrewd and with a good business head.


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