Cosmopolitan complexities in Maria Edgeworth's Ennui.
Cosmopolitanism has become the subject of renewed debate as literary and cultural critics rediscover the relevance of a notion first defined by the Stoics. Edgeworth, writing in the early nineteenth century, inherited the Enlightenment cosmopolitan tradition of the "citizen of the world" ideally familiar with many nations and people, as an elite intellectual class strove to transcend narrow nationalisms and local prejudices. (3) The Enlightenment ideal has come under scrutiny for its privileged and universalist discourse, where the form of the gentleman traveler as the embodiment of cosmopolitanism has given way to recognition of other, less privileged but perhaps more genuinely transnational, figures. In recent criticism, "[r]efugees, peoples of the diaspora, and migrants and exiles represent the spirit of the cosmopolitical community" (Pollock et al. 582). Cosmopolitanism can be envisaged as embracing transnational experiences that are "unprivileged" and even "coerced" (Robbins 1). In this process of re-evaluation, the concept of plural cosmopolitanisms has become a central part of many commentaries (see Pollock et al. 584). The different cosmopolitanisms in current circulation (rooted, vernacular, Christian, feminist, to name a few) point to the fluidity of a concept that defies definition (see Pollock et al. 577) and find themselves embroiled with other contested notions such as nationalism, culturalism, and universalism.
These rediscovered debates surrounding cosmopolitanism are, I suggest, ones that Edgeworth was already exploring in her novel Ennui (1809), in particular the possibility of plural cosmopolitanisms and the transnational potential of exiles and the unprivileged. Edgeworth was well versed in the Enlightenment cosmopolitan tradition through her education; she visited Parisian salons and read the works of intellectual female salonnieres who helped spread cosmopolitan thinking across Europe's metropolitan centers. (4) Edgeworth's novel Ennui is conspicuous for the way it negotiates conflicting cosmopolitanisms in the post-French revolutionary era of the 1798 Irish Rebellion. Ennui uses the examples of Irish historical figures prominent in the rebellion to explore critically various notions of the aristocratic cosmopolitan. In another interesting twist, Edgeworth presents the Irish wet-nurse as a potentially transnational figure to weigh against other models of cosmopolitanism. Through the novel's action, Edgeworth appears invested in the notion of being rooted locally but open culturally to the transnational influences of other people and places. This ideal seems to fit Kwami Anthony Appiah's description of rooted cosmopolitanism as being a person's attachment "to a home of his or her own, with its own cultural particularities, but taking pleasure from the presence of other, different, places that are home to other, different people" (22). Edgeworth arrives at a morally-centered version of this concept as she interrogates a number of different forms of cosmopolitanism and nationalism in the novel.
One of the most interesting elements of Edgeworth's examination of cosmopolitanism in Ennui lies in her allusions to the real-life figures behind her portrayal of the novel's dominant female character, Lady Geraldine Fitzgerald. The revolutionary and cosmopolitan radical, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, and his wife Pamela have clear ties to the character of Lady Geraldine. The novel's reference to the Fitzgeralds has been briefly noted by critics, (5) but Edgeworth's use of this radical couple as models for cosmopolitanism and nationalism has been largely ignored. Lord Edward's role in the Irish Rebellion, his assimilation of French revolutionary philosophy and his status as a globetrotting cosmopolitan are of direct concern to the novel. His English-French-Irish wife, Pamela, reflects the novel's central obsession with multiple national affinities, exile, and disputed parentage in the creation of transnational identities. In addition, Edgeworth's qualified admiration for various female emigrees or quasi-emigrees suggests a critical interest in a feminine cosmopolitanism. In Ennui, Edgeworth seeks to situate Ireland centrally within a range of cosmopolitan discourses, while interrogating the consequences for Irish and Anglo-Irish identity.
The title of Edgeworth's novel, Ennui, indicates that its investigation of Irishness needs to be seen in the context of the psychological state of ennui, a symptom of a continental cosmopolitanism gone awry. The beginning of the novel depicts a world of corrupted Enlightenment cosmopolitan ideals. Instead of the "world citizen" and advocate of universal values, we are presented with the ennui-infected, extravagant, fashionably French but essentially rootless aristocrat, Lord Glenthorn. According to the central premise of Ennui, French-dominated cosmopolitanism breeds indolence, apathy, and imperialist detachment. We are told that England's aristocracy is infected with the French "disease" of ennui: "For this complaint there is no precise English name; but, alas! the foreign term is now naturalized in England. Among the higher classes, whether in the wealthy or the fashionable world, who is unacquainted with ennui?" (144). England's "higher classes" have absorbed so much French culture that the infection appears at the level of language, which has "naturalized" foreign words and concepts. Edgeworth's own linguistic competence implicates her (and her English and Anglo-Irish readers) in this elite cosmopolitan culture through the use of French phrases, which she does not translate. The concern over ennui in the novel reflects contemporary fears of the general corrupting influence of France, in particular the "French disease" of revolution. At this point in Ennui, Edgeworth appears to tap into the nationalist discourse of Edmund Burke, who portrayed France as a threatening "other" to English society. In Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), Burke claimed, "France has always more or less influenced manners in England; and when your fountain is choked up and polluted, the stream will not run long, or run clear, with us, or perhaps any nation" (70). Edgeworth is concerned with the importation of French manners and ideas, but radically reconsiders a Burkean nationalism based on blood, tradition, and cultural purity. (6) Her novel instead addresses complex forms of cultural naturalization and transnational belonging.
The story seems to be aware of naturalization as a site of competing nationalist, imperialist, and cosmopolitan discourses. In terms of nationalism, Burke claimed that England and Ireland should be united through a bond of "common naturalization, which runs through the whole empire" (qtd. in Corbett 51). Naturalization thus figures both as a means of uniting "sister" countries and as a way of absorbing nations into the imperial center. At the beginning of Ennui, the common bond of naturalization that would unite England and Ireland is threatened by absenteeism and England's domination by French cultural excesses. The ideal of naturalization as cultural appreciation and transnational belonging might be represented by the cosmopolitan Voltaire, who, writing in English, declared: "One of my strongest desires was to be naturalized in England" (qtd. in Schlereth 4). However, Edgeworth's novel portrays a society that has corrupted this cosmopolitan ideal and must instead find a way to rediscover transnational and transcultural ties.
The pathological cosmopolitanism that permeates the first part of the novel focuses on the English life of the extravagant and idle Lord Glenthorn. At one point, Glenthorn's English wife (whom he later divorces) is asked to identify some of her jewels. "'Really,' said she, 'I cannot tell. I have so many sets, I declare I don't know whether it's my Paris, or my Hamburgh, or my London set'" (151). Lady Glenthorn's inability to tell her jewels apart suggests a lack of national identification; the Glenthorns could be French, Prussian, or English as far as they have internalized the worst excesses of the European ancien regime. Glenthorn's vices too have a distinctly French flavor as he dallies with lounging (flanerie), gambling, and epicurism (147-153). Unlike Voltaire, who claimed, "In London I was an Englishman; in Germany a German" (qtd. in Schlereth 12), the Glenthorns do not exhibit a chameleon-like ability to identify with other national cultures. Rather, these characters exhibit states of psychological crisis because they have no rooted sense of their own national identity, having succumbed instead to a diseased form of aristocratic cosmopolitanism.
The doctor-sanctioned cure for ennui, we are told in the novel, is to travel abroad (144). Travelling was essential for the Enlightenment cosmopolitan, who frequented the great salons of Europe and beyond. However, Glenthorn presents us with a model of the cosmopolitan tourist as aesthetic spectator, detached from the ability to consider or appreciate the European countries he travels through: "we hurried from place to place as fast as horses and wheels, and curses and guineas, could carry us. Milord Anglois rattled over half the globe without getting one inch farther from his ennui" (144). Glenthorn's various attempts to conquer his ennui only result in imperialist gestures without extending any real connections with the people or countries with whom he comes into contact. For example, his imitative taste for Egyptian art (he buys a statue to put in his Egyptian salon) anticipates Napoleon Bonaparte's 1798 invasion of Egypt rather than any true sympathy with or understanding of Egyptians and their art.
The English aristocracy in the novel clearly lacks a sense of rooted cosmopolitanism with its necessary attachment to a particular home and culture. A rooted cosmopolitan may not feel the need to be an Englishman in England or a German in Germany, but does depend on a sense of local and national belonging in order to enjoy a wider notion of transnational community. For Glenthorn, being brought to the brink of suicide through ennui leads to his discovery of a familial and national rootedness, which will coexist alongside his European cultural upbringing. Glenthorn rediscovers his Irish nurse at his point of deepest crisis and travels to Ireland (where he is an absentee landlord), thus enacting a moral, cultural, and national education. In Edgeworth's hands, the journey from the metropolitan center to the periphery appears as a rewriting of the cosmopolitan Grand Tour. Glenthorn has to conquer his ennui, and eradicate the corrupt form of cosmopolitanism that has infected him, through his communion with Ireland and its inhabitants. Central to Glenthorn's moral education is the meeting with his nurse (who, it turns out, is his mother) and the influence of the Anglo-Irish Lady Geraldine.
Lord Edward Fitzgerald, one of the most colorful cosmopolitan characters in Irish history, serves as a model for the character of Lady Geraldine, who comes to prominence in the middle chapters of Ennui. Since Lady Geraldine Fitzgerald bears what one biographer of Lord Edward has called the "magic of the Geraldine name" (the Fitzgeralds were known as the Geraldines, so her name is doubly loaded), (7) her ties to Lord Edward's revolutionary cosmopolitanism should be examined seriously.
Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798) belonged to one of the oldest Protestant and aristocratic families in Ireland, with a celebrated history of opposition to Westminster rule. (8) Lord Edward was cosmopolitan to an extreme, dressing in the French revolutionary style and becoming an enthusiastic convert to the French Revolution. "He is turned a complete Frenchman," wrote a friend, "crops his hair, despises his title, walks the streets instead of riding and thence says he feels more pride in being on a level with his fellow citizens" (qtd. in Tillyard 158). His egalitarian beliefs led him to plot the 1798 Irish Rebellion with the United Irishmen, including planning an invasion by the French to liberate Ireland from English rule. In another sign of his revolutionary zeal, he married Pamela Seymour, a supposedly English girl who was brought up in the household of the French revolutionary leader, Philippe Egalite, Duc & Orleans. Pamela was widely believed to be the Duc's illegitimate daughter by his mistress Stephanie-Felicite de Genlis, and Lord Edward's marriage symbolized his affection for France and its revolutionary ideals. In fact, the "myth" of Pamela's origins played an important role in "creating the reputation of Lord Edward as an advanced democrat" (Elliott 25). The Fitzgeralds became symbols of both Irish nationalism (he wore green cravats and she wore green ornaments) and the French Revolution (see Byrne 137). There were even rumors that Pamela was so enamoured of the revolution that she wore a necktie drenched in the French king's blood and hummed revolutionary hymns (Tillyard 159; Bryne 130). Lord Edward, with his family history and radical connections, was seen as someone who could free Ireland from the English. In fact, he was arrested for his part in the 1798 uprising, and died in jail from his wounds.
Lord Edward exemplifies the transition from Enlightenment "citizen of the world" to Irish nationalist immersed in French revolutionary principles. As a young officer with various regiments he traveled extensively, setting out to commune with others according to Enlightenment ideals of universal brotherhood. He referred to himself as "le petit sauvage" ("little savage") in letters during his trip to Canada and was later adopted by an Indian tribe, telling his mother, "I ... am now a thorough Indian" (qtd. in Moore 125, 147). Lord Edward wished for universal values that would transcend the conflicting nationalisms and partisanships that he saw dividing England and Ireland. He recognized in native life an ideal of mutual obligation and Rousseauean natural harmony, writing that in such a life there would be "no separations of families, one in Ireland, one in England: no devilish politics, no fashions, customs, duties, or appearances to the world" (qtd. in Moore 92). After his experience of Canada, it would seem as if English and Irish parochialisms might be too narrow for the well-traveled cosmopolitan: "Ireland and England will be too little for me when I go home," he wrote in 1789 (qtd. in Moore 146).
Lord Edward's belief in universal values grew into a firm commitment to the republican principles of the French Revolution. In Paris during the first year of the French republic, Lord Edward gave his address as "le citoyen Edouard Fitzgerald" ("Citizen Edward Fitzgerald") and drank revolutionary toasts (Moore 122). He swiftly married Pamela, who had essentially become an emigree from post-revolutionary Paris. Lord Edward's revolutionary fervor led him to rediscover Irish nationalism and culture, including the Irish language and the traditional practice of lighting turf fires (Byrne 137). His radicalism and his family history of rebellion were so much in tune with popular sentiment against English rule that old prophecies were recalled "that a Geraldine would one day arise to set Ireland free" (Byrne 180). Lord Edward had turned from cosmopolitan to revolutionary nationalist.
In Edgeworth's Ennui, the character of Lady Geraldine seems to embody an attractive cosmopolitanism with her French manners, witty English phrases, and Irish nationalism. Edgeworth's readers would have easily recognized the connection between the novel's colorful character and the Fitzgeralds, whose names she bears. Lady Geraldine represents a spirited, rebellious nationalism tied to a slightly suspect cosmopolitanism that ultimately appear to be rejected in the novel, despite their evident attractions. Edgeworth's treatment of her most memorable female character reflects the ambiguity with which it appears she viewed the Fitzgeralds and their role in the Irish Rebellion. Although the Edgeworths were initially favorable towards the French Revolution, the 1798 uprising was a somber lesson to them, causing them to temporarily flee their home amid slaughter and accusations that Edgeworth's father was a French spy (see Butler 138).
Edgeworth's ambivalence towards the Fitzgeralds extended to Pamela's (supposed) adoptive mother, Mme. de Genlis. Edgeworth and her father, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, visited Mme. de Genlis in Paris in 1803 and expressed sympathy for Pamela. But while the Edgeworths had come to pay their "respects" to a woman whose educational writing they admired, Edgeworth detected "malignity" and "hypocrisy" in Mme. de Genlis and expressed reservations about behavior such as "taking her pupils at the beginning of the revolution to the revolutionary clubs-and her connexion with the Duke of Orleans, and her hypocrisy about that connexion ... and more than all the rest her own attacks and apologies [that] have brought her into this isolated state of reprobation." (9) Edgeworth's misgivings about Mme. de Genlis's behavior suggest that morality plays an important part in her critique of a revolutionary cosmopolitanism. Against the intellectual attractions of a continental mode of thinking, Edgeworth sets a critical morality, which we see at play with her characters in Ennui.
Lady Geraldine's refusal to marry the hero Glenthorn alerts the reader to something suspect in her ties to the nation. In the "national tale" genre, pioneered by Edgeworth and Sydney Owenson (Lady Morgan), the hero's marriage tended to promote allegorically the 1801 Act of Union with England. However, critics encounter difficulty with Lady Geraldine's rejection of Glenthorn and her departure from Ireland, seeing foreshadowing of later events, uncertain national allegiances, or even artistic clumsiness. (10) In fact, the ambiguity of Lady Geraldine's position is part of the point of the novel. Lady Geraldine represents the ambivalent attraction of the Fitzgeralds, with their cosmopolitanism and French connections, their Irish nationalism, wit, and rebellion. Like Lord Edward, Lady Geraldine is steeped in French manners and culture: "Her manner appeared foreign, yet it was not quite French. If I had been obliged to decide, I should, however, have pronounced it rather more French than English" (203). Lady Geraldine's foreignness is highlighted by the marked increase of French phrases in this part of the novel, indicating an import of not just language, but revolutionary and cosmopolitan ideas. Lady Geraldine is not only fluent in French, but proves her interest in French culture by reading aloud from a rather obscure book "often quoted" in Paris (228). Even the small detail of Lady Geraldine's reading material hints at her cosmopolitan affinity (its author shares the same name as the well-known salonniere, Madame de Stael) and becomes a vehicle for her egalitarian sympathies when she focuses on a passage critical of the upper-classes patronizing artists as if putting "a puppet or an ape" on show (227). In constructing the character of Lady Geraldine, Edgeworth manipulates the standard negative portrayals of Frenchwomen as "formidable conversationalists, fashion-conscious, licentious, and seduced by revolutionary ideas" (Deane 28). Lady Geraldine presents a fascinating combination of these qualities (although she is more coquettish than licentious), stressing both their attractions and dangers.
Lady Geraldine's rebellious spirit reminds us of Lord Edward, particularly with her emphasis on rejecting English culture: "O! my dear countrywomen, let us never stoop to admire and imitate these second-hand airs and graces, follies and vices. Let us dare to be ourselves!" (225). Lady Geraldine dares to reject "second-hand" English culture, but seems to have internalized French culture without acknowledging its own "second-hand" status. She denounces English cultural colonization:
Go on, my friends; go on, and prosper; beg and borrow all the patterns and precedents you can collect of the newest fashions of folly and vice. Make haste, make haste; they don't reach our remote island fast enough. We Irish might live in innocence half a century longer, if you didn't expedite the progress of profligacy; we might escape the plague that rages in neighbouring countries, if we didn't, without any quarantine, and with open arms, welcome every suspected stranger; if we didn't encourage the importation of whole bales of tainted fineries, that will spread the contagion from Dublin to Cork, and from Cork to Galway! (223)
Even "remote" Ireland is not safe from the malign influence of English dress fashions that are equated morally with "vice and folly." The "contagion" of imported fabric suggests that English imperialism in Ireland is as much an infection as French ennui was in England. The Irish even succumb to a kind of imperialist rape through English corruption of Irish "innocence." However, Lady Geraldine's separatist position of "quarantine" for Ireland sits strangely with her own personal fondness for French culture. Her high-spirited speeches about boycotting English dress patterns and shaking the "empire" of English society ladies (225) have a radical, disruptive edge. It seems as though Lord Edward's egalitarian principles and anti-imperialist republican sympathies find an echo in the novel at the level of domestic, "feminine" concerns.
Although Lady Geraldine may not be as politically radical as the Fitzgeralds, she embodies their colorful appeal. As is the case with Glenthorn, the reader finds her wit, independence, and intelligence attractive qualities. Lady Geraldine represents the honesty, candor, and affability of the cosmopolitan Protestant Ascendancy elite. Glenthorn even finds that she awakens a new moral interest in him, making him realize he has a "soul" and that he is "superior to the puppets with whom I had been classed" (226). Lady Geraldine's eventual husband, Cecil Devereux, is held up as a moral example of fidelity and honesty in the novel, despite his French airs and graces. Edgeworth appears to find these cosmopolitan characters positive and morally rewarding. This would suggest that she is at some level attracted to the aims and ideals epitomized by Lord Edward Fitzgerald.
However, Lady Geraldine's practical jokes and cruel-edged remarks make it difficult to see her as a wholly positive character. We are told that "she was not ill-natured, yet careless to whom she gave offence, provided she produced amusement" (205). Lady Geraldine's practical jokes seem to go further and become more serious than intended, particularly her trick on the credulous Miss Tracey, which suggests an unwillingness to foresee the consequences of her actions. This moral criticism has ramifications for the impetuous actions of the Fitzgeralds, I would argue. Lady Geraldine ("Frank, candid, and affable, yet opinionated, insolent and an egotist" ), represents not just the honesty and charm of the cosmopolitan Protestant Ascendancy, but also its dangerously impulsive and egotistical tendencies.
Lady Geraldine's cosmopolitanism seems somewhat suspect in her relations with the French-named poet Devereux. With his penchant for Parisian gossip and manners (228), Devereux is "one of the most fashionable young men in Dublin" (217). Lady Geraldine asks Devereux to translate a French love poem for her, using the French language with its romantic and libidinous associations to convey what the couple cannot say directly to each other. Even the fact that Lady Geraldine's coquettish manner is "more French than English" could be taken as a hint or suggestion of sexual impropriety, even though we do not see this overtly in the novel. Her love, Devereux, is presented as rather effeminate, needing his ex-rival Glenthorn's help to obtain an official post in India so he can marry Lady Geraldine. Devereux seems to symbolize what was seen in English nationalist discourse as the effete and unmanly French in his apparent powerlessness, fashion-sense, and effusion of poetic French phrases.
Lady Geraldine and Devereux marry and are hastily dispatched to India, suggesting that Edgeworth feels uncomfortable about the kind of patriotic cosmopolitanism they represent. It seems as though Edgeworth's characters (and the Fitzgeralds) are rather too cosmopolitan for their own good and, by implication, for the good of Ireland. Since Lady Geraldine embodies the imperialist mentality of the age, with her friends well and truly under her sway, India might seem a logical place to practice her imperialistic rule. As Lady Geraldine claims, "some birds cannot live in a cage," referring to herself and Devereux (228). It would seem that Ireland might be too much of a cage for these characters and their elitist cosmopolitanism. In this we are reminded that Lord Edward also felt that Ireland and England might be too small for him after his travels in America and Canada. Ireland, it appears, is not large enough for the positive ideals of cosmopolitanism that Lady Geraldine and Devereux (as well as Lord Edward) represent. Marilyn Butler suggests that the couple's civilian role in India should be read as an "optimistic alternative" in the novel, highlighting Ireland's role in the British imperial mission of "education and enlightenment" in India (Ennui 45). The cosmopolitan ideals represented by Lady Geraldine and Devereux (a continental education, poetry, wit, charm, honesty) may be given an idealistic, imaginary opening in the colonies, just as Lord Edward appeared most idealistic among the "natives" of the New World. What seems clear is that cosmopolitan ideals, which seem to imply elitism and French cultural domination, are unsuitable for the colonized Ireland of Ennui, and must be displaced onto a distant, exotic location.
O Gallchoir, in her study of Edgeworth and Mme. de Genlis, claims that Edgeworth's '"bi-partisan' politics derive in the first instance from a determination to recuperate the image of French femininity in the interests of cosmopolitanism" (213). In Ennui, Edgeworth's mixed loyalties extend to her portrayal of French femininity, perhaps less from an urge to "recuperate" the image of Frenchwomen, than from a desire to explore cosmopolitanism in all its complexities. Lady Geraldine's Frenchness reflects her attractiveness and wit but also her insolence and rebellion. In the gendered rhetoric on the French Revolution epitomized by Burke's Reflections, the Revolution of 1789 precipitated the inversion of traditional gender characteristics and the disruption of patriarchal society. On some level, Ennui replicates this discourse with the assertive, rebellious Lady Geraldine and the effeminate, emasculated Devereux. Edgeworth therefore does not set out to present a wholly positive French-influenced cosmopolitan femininity in the novel. Perhaps this is because the example of figures like Pamela Fitzgerald and Mme. de Genlis provide neither, in the first case, the favored peaceful model of union between Ireland and England nor, in the second case, an unimpeachable morality. When Edgeworth wrote in 1795 that domestic life "should be enlivened and embellished with all the wit and vivacity and politeness for which French women were once admired, without admitting any of their vices or follies" (O Gallchoir 214), it would seem that Lady Geraldine might be constructed in this ideal vein. But Edgeworth distinctly fails to do this, creating a character with the "wit and vivacity" of an ideal society Frenchwoman, but also with vices such as cruelty, egotism, and, perhaps, a whiff of sexual impropriety. Recuperating a French femininity seems less important in this novel than presenting the reader with both the attractions and pitfalls of a rebellious cosmopolitanism. In contrast, the woman Glenthorn eventually marries, Cecilia Delamere, represents a dull Irish domesticity without the "wit and vivacity" of Lady Geraldine. It is as though at the end of the novel Edgeworth turns her back on a cosmopolitan femininity embodied by French society ladies in favor of alternative models.
The Irish Rebellion, like ennui and English imperialism, is presented in terms of disease, as though it too is an infectious symptom of the "French disease" of revolution. We must not forget, either, that a French invasion force actually landed in County Mayo in August 1798, but was driven back. The linking of rebellion with France implies an un-Irish, foreign infection as insidious as ennui. We are told that the "epidemic infection" of rebellion threatened "the total destruction of all civil order" (245). Psychologically, however, revolution ("the alarms of the rebels, and of the French, and of the loyalists") figures as a partial cure for Glenthorn's ennui (248). After the rebellion is crushed, Glenthorn even claims that he suffers from similar feelings of apathy and melancholy felt after the danger and excitement of the French Revolution were over, as if domestic life were suddenly "very insipid" (249). A revolutionary cosmopolitanism, while being exciting and stimulating, thus provokes a dangerous distaste for domestic space. Being rooted in place is an important part of being a rooted cosmopolitan (in contrast with absenteeism, for example), something revolution appears to threaten. Further, ennui and rebellion ultimately stem from the same diseased source: "Perhaps ennui may have had a share in creating revolutions," speculates Glenthorn (249).
While the rebellion is swiftly put down, Edgeworth channels revolutionary sympathies through characters such as Lady Geraldine and the nurse, Ellinor O'Donoghue, and devices such as plot reversals. After the rebels have been easily outmaneuvered, any further discussion of the uprising is curtailed by the discovery that Glenthorn is in fact Irish-born since his nurse changed the sickly, English heir for her own healthy, Irish child, Christy O'Donoghue. The number of plot reversals from this point on suggests an ongoing examination of the implications of revolution at a narrative and artistic level. This is not to say that the competing and contradictory strands in the novel are the result of Edgeworth's inability to reconcile conflicting ideological positions, but rather are ways of representing Ireland to the reader in all its complexities. Glenthorn's ties to Ellinor, his nurse and mother, through blood and fostering indicate a rootedness in Irish culture that coexists alongside an English and French cultural education. Glenthorn enacts a return to his Irish roots in more ways than one, since we are told that the Glenthorns were originally called O'Shaughnessy and changed their name (and presumably their religion) in order to become Ascendancy aristocrats (160). However, unlike Edgeworth's earlier novel Castle Rackrent (1800), where Protestant Ascendancy titles and land return to strictly Irish hands, Glenthorn's Irish origins are tempered by his English and European cosmopolitan heritage.
The nurse's actions in changing Glenthorn "at nurse" perform a radical "in-between" role by creating a hero who is English by upbringing and Irish by birth, marriage, and cultural naturalization. Glenthorn not only bears a hybrid national heritage, but he is also an exile from ennui-infected England. According to Martha C. Nussbaum, cosmopolitanism has been connected with exile since the Ancient Greeks, when Diogenes suggested that being a world citizen meant being "an exile from the comfort of patriotism and its easy sentiments" (7). Glenthorn is an exile in the sense that he has already been the victim of a revolution in the servant-master relationship. Leaving a household where his servants reign like "tyrants" (166), Glenthorn arrives in Ireland practically an emigre. As an exile and later when he realizes his true origins, Glenthorn is divorced from the "easy sentiments" of English prejudice in relation to Ireland. Being an exile gives Glenthorn a more cosmopolitan outlook and a more complete picture of Ireland's complex colonial situation. As Edward Said has said, "belonging, as it were, to both sides of the imperial divide enables you to understand them more easily" (xxvii). As an Anglo-Irish writer with cultural ties to both England and Ireland (and the fact of having two audiences, English and Anglo-Irish), Edgeworth would herself have been aware of the advantages to being on both sides of the "imperial divide."
Interestingly, Glenthorn most resembles the English-French-Irish Pamela Fitzgerald in his hybrid national heritage, his exile, and his rediscovered parentage (Pamela apparently believed she had been reunited with her true parents on her introduction into the Duc d'Orleans' household; see Tillyard 145.) However, while Lord Edward capitalized on Pamela's origins to further his revolutionary purposes, the hybrid Glenthorn becomes a stable force in Anglo-Irish society. The lack of a distinct national identity and the flexibility that comes with being an exile are seen as positive qualities in Ennui, allowing the characters "the plasticity necessary to define themselves" (Gallagher 305). A cosmopolitan malleability is thus essential to the novel's pedagogical goal in promoting Anglo-Irish union and cross-cultural understanding.
One of the novel's boldest moves is to bring the peripheral figure of the Irish wet-nurse to the center in order to destabilize notions of national identity in favor of transnational belonging. Glenthorn's wet-nurse, Ellinor, travels to England to find her supposed foster-son, initiating his moral transformation and journey to Ireland. The Irish nurse's ties to her "foster" child are translated for the reader as a "stronger alliance than blood" (159). In a footnote to Ennui, Edgeworth quotes from an account of fostering in Sir John Davies's A Discoverie of the True Causes why Ireland was never entirely subdued (1612):
In the opinion of this people, fostering hath always been a stronger alliance than blood; and the foster-children do love and are beloved of their foster-fathers and their sept (or clan) more than of their natural parents and kindred.... Such a general custom in a kingdom, in giving and taking children to foster, making such a firm alliance as it doth in Ireland, was never seen or heard of in any other country of the world beside. (159)
Fostering thus radically disrupts allegiances, allowing the Irish peasant to enjoy bonds that transcend blood, clan, and national boundaries. Unlike Burke, for whom ties of blood constituted the nation, the fluid ties of breastmilk establish a radical potential to both disrupt notions of national kinship and cement "firm alliance[s]" between nations and cultures. As the title of Davies's treatise suggests, the Irish used fostering to resist becoming "subdued" by the English, a claim repeated by Edgeworth's contemporary, Samuel Ferguson. Ferguson declared that fostering was used as an anti-English activity by absorbing the early invaders into the general Irish population: "Certainly no institution could be better calculated for incorporating foreign families with the greater body of the people" (qtd. in Costello 190). Fostering as a method of naturalizing "foreign families" served to solidify Irish interests and eradicate English allegiances in the creation of cross-cultural bonds. Fostering thus plays a double-edged role in its ability to promote both subversive Irish nationalist aims and broader, transnational bonds.
In Ennui, Ellinor's actions transform the denigrated office of wet-nurse into a powerful agent for destabilizing national identity. Wet-nursing was traditionally seen as a threat to the purity of the child's morals, since a child was thought to imbibe the nurse's bad character and defects of class through her milk (Perry 196-97). In fact, the nurse succeeds in disrupting the supposed purity of the English aristocratic bloodline through swapping her own peasant-born child with that of the true heir. A Burkean discourse that relies on clear distinctions of class, race, and nationality is thus challenged by the actions of a woman in one of the lowest class positions, who sells her body's milk in order to feed her family. Edgeworth's own footnote gives an example of a nurse who traveled from Ireland to Italy to see her aristocratic foster-son, Thomas Fitzmaurice, and warn him that his Irish estate was in danger (159). We can read this nurse's journey as a subversive political statement, particularly since Fitzmaurice was involved in rebellion against the English (Ennui, Notes, 354-55). Like this radical nurse, Ellinor voices some of the strongest Irish nationalist statements in the novel; she thinks it a disgrace, for example, that the Glenthorns changed their Irish allegiance and "stooped to be lorded" as Protestant earls (160). But I would hesitate to consider Ellinor's maternal role, as Julie Costello does, "as subversive a force in Ennui as political intrigue and rebellion" (174). It seems to me that while Ellinor does represent subversion, she also embodies a radical alternative. The wet-nurse challenges the model of the cosmopolitan gentleman traveler: she crosses national borders physically to reclaim her child and disrupts national identities by producing cosmopolitan, hybrid offspring. Edgeworth assigns to women the important roles of both challenging the colonial relationship and creating transnational identities. In Katie Trumpener's words, Edgeworth presents fostering as "transcultural reconciliation" with Ellinor mediating between "a cosmopolitan aristocracy and an indigenous population" (214; see also Trumpener 193-241). Since Ellinor's maternal ties encourage the transcendence of national and cultural boundaries, we are invited to speculate whether the true cosmopolitan is not the aristocrat, but rather the underclass wet-nurse.
In their Essay on Irish Bulls (1802), the Edgeworths include an anecdote that further points to the wet-nurse's importance in constructing identity. The supposed Irish bull, "I hate that woman, for she changed me at nurse" (21), is in fact an anecdote in French, English, Spanish and Ancient Greek literature, suggesting that the wet-nurse's role in engineering social identity crosses national and historical boundaries. The Edgeworths are at pains to point out the disruptive effect of such an action on a person's "consciousness," leading to their conclusion about the subject of this supposedly Irish bull:
When he arrived at man's estate, his own consciousness could not reach to the time when the act of changing at nurse was performed; consequently there was no continuity of identity between the infant who was changed at nurse, and the man who hated the nurse for perpetrating the change; ergo, the Irishman could not confound that which did not exist as to him, viz. Identity. (23-24)
The Edgeworths' witty case for a fluid and discontinuous identity between infancy and adulthood opens up a space for creating new social allegiances. Since a stable identity does not exist for the adult swapped at nurse, he can forge a new identity through educational or cultural experiences. So while the wet-nurse deprives her charge of a secure (national) identity, she instead creates new, fluid identities that might be used in transcending national and sectarian differences.
Critics such as Homi K. Bhabha have played an important part in reevaluating the role of exiles, migrants, and the underclass in relation to cosmopolitanism. In his examination of "vernacular" cosmopolitanism, Bhabha points to "a cosmopolitan community envisaged in a marginality" rather than traditional views based on universalism (195). He writes, "It is precisely this border--narrower than the human horizon--that attracts me; this space that somehow stops short (not falls short) of the transcendent human universal, and for that very reason provides an ethical entitlement to, and enactment of, the sense of community" (195). It is arguable that Ellinor's actions in Ennui occupy this sub-border zone and pass under the radar, as it were, of the dominant colonial discourse, opening up a space of cosmopolitan potential and genuine community. From the moment Ellinor appears in the novel, she brings a welcome dose of loyalty, sincerity, and warm, human concern. As Glenthorn claims, "she seemed to be the only person upon earth who really cared for me" (157). Her simple Irish utterances carry more moral weight than glib French and English phrases, suggesting a moral re-evaluation of the vernacular tongue. Ellinor's cosmopolitanism thus provides an alternative and nonviolent model of resistance in comparison with, say, the rebellion of Lord Edward, since her actions forge transnational bonds that also reinvigorate allegiance to community and nation.
The allegorical union that takes place at the end of the novel between Glenthorn and Cecilia indicates a repudiation of certain models of cosmopolitanism. Edgeworth seems to reject the aristocratic and rebellious cosmopolitanism of Lady Geraldine, and by implication, that of Lord Edward and Pamela. Although these figures have appealing qualities, they do not promote Irish stability. The allegorical conventions of Edgeworth's novel require a domestic heroine who has not assimilated foreign airs and graces or naturalized French words into her speech. Cecilia Delamere, despite her Normanized name, is a heroine of domestic virtue. She declines to use fancy French phrases or espouse radical views, with the result that her bland speeches may ring in Glenthorn's memory but probably not in the reader's. Unlike the colorful Lady Geraldine, Cecilia is simply "amiable and charming" (321). Her virtue lies in her patience as she waits years for Glenthorn to prove himself at the bar and earn her hand in marriage. The novel appears to be indicating that, at a political level, passivity and patience may be more acceptable for Ireland than rebellion and revolution. Meanwhile, Glenthorn has to earn his position in society through hard work as a barrister, molding himself into the professional class and thus fully eradicating his misplaced aristocratic cosmopolitanism. Yet while Edgeworth pays tribute to the discourse of domesticity in choosing Cecilia as Glenthorn's Irish bride, the wit and sparkle that we saw in Lady Geraldine (and by implication, Lord Edward) is not lost on the reader, and we are surely meant to find the latter a more attractive character.
In the final revolution of the novel, Glenthorn nobly gives up his title and castle to his foster-brother and "true" heir, Christy O'Donoghue, who has been brought up as a blacksmith. However, the ill-educated O'Donoghue is unable to control his family's profligacy, and the castle burns down. Glenthorn's moral actions in relinquishing his estate prove that he is "every inch" a gentleman (290), a status he has earned through his moral education in Ireland combined with his prior gentlemanly training. One of the benefits of Glenthorn's being changed at nurse, and something that the Edgeworths implied in their suggestion of the discontinuity of identity from infants to adults, is the potential to develop character through education. Tellingly, O'Donoghue returns Glenthorn's books saying they are "of not as much use as I could wish to me" (306). Whatever O'Donoghue's rightful status by birth, he has been deprived of an education that would allow the former blacksmith to develop an alternative identity as Earl of Glenthorn (his only useful act is to mend the locks on the door, for which he is ridiculed). Education is a key component for Edgeworth in creating a cosmopolitan identity, as Wohlgemut notes ("Maria Edgeworth" 647-50). This is probably why Ellinor hurriedly dies after revealing her radical role in the child exchange plot, since she is clearly incapable of reforming her untidy and "savage" housekeeping (200). Glenthorn needs to break with Ellinor's unreformed, superstitious, and "savage" ways in order to re-educate and naturalize himself within the Anglo-Irish professional class.
At the end of the novel, an Irish cultural heritage is simply not enough to create an effective subjectivity as the "white" colony of Ireland heads for a new partnership with England. In fact, Mrs O'Donoghue's extravagance in entertaining anyone who acknowledged her descent from the kings of Ireland indicates that profligacy is not restricted to the European aristocracy (309). Glenthorn's cosmopolitan upbringing, tempered with his rediscovered Irish attachment and new moral insight, creates a rooted and moral cosmopolitan identity. The fact that Glenthorn regains his title and property through yet another name change, by adopting Cecilia's name of Delamere (she is conveniently heir-at-law to the Glenthorn estate), reflects a fluidity of identity essential in creating transnational and transcultural ties. The novel finally appears to reject the naturalization of a French-dominated cosmopolitanism exemplified by Glenthorn's aristocratic persona and by Lady Geraldine (and Lord Edward). Instead, cosmopolitan naturalization occurs across national boundaries through cultural education, emotional ties, and a moral awakening. Glenthorn, who successfully naturalizes Irish and Anglo-Irish culture, is able to do this thanks to his hybrid national identity and cosmopolitan upbringing.
In Ennui, the allegorical union between England and Ireland can be seen as a negotiation of competing modes of cosmopolitanism. Edgeworth's novel presents us finally with a moral vision of a rooted cosmopolitan: one who is attached to a national and local culture but who has a broad transnational vision tied to moral values of honesty and hard work. Given the importance of cosmopolitanism to Edgeworth's writing, her novels need to be read alongside not just other Irish writers, but other Europeans. Edgeworth was familiar with the work of the cosmopolitan emigree Germaine de Stael, for example, whose Corinne, ou, l'Italie (1807) equates a heroine of hybrid national origins with the nation, while promoting the union of northern and southern Europe. (11) Edgeworth's Leonora, Madame de Fleury, Emile de Coulanges, Ormond, and (briefly) Helen explore the influence of French culture, while the Irish novel The Absentee is, again, concerned with hybrid national origins. Edgeworth's Ennui thus seeks to renegotiate the peripheral role Ireland occupied not just in relation to England but also to Europe. She also rewrites the role of women and the underclass in occupying active roles in the creation of cosmopolitan identities. Edgeworth's novels thus need to be seen in a wider context that centers Ireland and its women (writers as well as wet-nurses) in the production of transnational belonging.
UNIVERSITY OF OREGON
(1) See (O Gallchoir and Wohlgemut, "Maria Edgeworth."
(2) Critical discussions, from different standpoints, of Edgeworth as a "colonialist" writer include those of Corbett, Deane, Dunne and Tracy.
(3) Thomas Schlereth is particularly useful for the Enlightenment context of cosmopolitanism. Martha C. Nussbaum, inspired by the Stoics and Immanuel Kant, updates the argument for global citizenship.
(4) See Edgeworth's letters in Colvin. ed: and also O Gallchoir. For Edgeworth's life, see Butler, Maria Edgeworth.
(5) Marilyn Butler calls the link "a bold move" ("Introduction" 43), while Brian Hollingworth sees the connection in the context of Anglo-Irish legitimacy (129-130).
(6) Wohlgemut reads Edgeworth against a Burkean nationalist discourse, emphasizing Edgeworth's investment in cultural and cosmopolitan education ("Maria Edgeworth" 645-50).
(7) Byrne (11). The name "Geraldine" originates from the Gherardini family who arrived in Ireland from Florence in the 12th century.
(8) For example, Lord Edward's ancestor Thomas Fitzgerald was beheaded in 1534 along with five relatives for his opposition to Henry VIII of England. The most recent biography of Lord Edward is Tillyard's.
(9) Letter to Mary Sneyd (1803), Colvin (102), Edgeworth's italics. For a detailed examination of Edgeworth's involvement with Mme. de Genlis, see O Gallchoir.
(10) Butler sees Lady Geraldine's refusal to marry Glenthorn as anticipating his rejection of his title, and refers to Edgeworth's "mannered, artificial plotting" ("Introduction" 43). See also Tracy (27-31).
(11) Edgeworth wrote in a letter of 1808 that she was "dazzled with the genius and provoked by the absurdities" of Mme. de Stael's Corinne (qtd. in Butler 210). Correspondingly, Mme. de Stall was "charmed" with Ennui (Butler, "Introduction" 2). See also Wohlgemut "What do you do with that at home?"
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--. '"What do you do with that at home?': The Cosmopolitan Heroine and the National Tale." European Romantic Review 13 (2002): 191-97.
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|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2005|
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