Life Lines: Agency and Autobiography in Sarah Curran’s Poetry

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Abstract

Sarah Curran (1782–1808) has been almost exclusively remembered as the fiancée of United Irishman Robert Emmet, executed in 1803 for treason. However, Curran merits study in her own right as part of an important but neglected circle of literary women centred around three Cork families – the Wilmots, Chetwoods, and Penroses. Supported by recent theoretical approaches to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century women’s life writing, this article examines Curran’s previously unknown, unstudied, and unpublished poems. Preserved in Wilmot and Chetwood family papers, the poems enhance heretofore limited understandings of Curran’s rich creative life and intellectual world. Curran’s unpublished poetry and the footprints she left in the early nineteenth-century Irish arts scene are significant, from her literary memorialisation by Thomas Moore and her standing in her wider social circle as a talented harpist, to her poetic and epistolary compositions honouring her personal relationships. In a final testament to her life as one devoted to creativity, Moore was inspired by her premature death at the age of just 26 to compose the still-popular ballad, ‘She is Far from the Land’ – a retelling of her story that served only to perpetuate factual inaccuracies and to shift focus onto her heterosexual relationships, defining her solely in relation to Robert Emmet. This article rehabilitates Curran as a person of great creative ability in her own right, who was recognised and valued as such in her own time by those who knew her best, and rediscovers the agency she exerted in recording her own life story in poetic form.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWomen’s History Review
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Sep 2022

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