Lady Morgan and “dear dirty Dublin”
D 8.165-7: I'm deuced glad, I can tell you, to get back to the old country. Does a fellow good, a bit of a holiday. I feel a ton better since I landed again in dear dirty Dublin.
U 7.921: DEAR DIRTY DUBLIN
FW 7.4-5: telling a toll of a teary turty Taubling
“Dear dirty Dublin” is a favourite epithet applied today in sentimental or nostalgic reference to the city of Dublin. It is an expression that Joyce used on several occasions. Don Gifford annotates the occurrence in Ulysses:
The expression is traditionally ascribed to Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan (c1781-1859), an Irish novelist, woman of letters, and socialite, perhaps best known nowadays for The Wild Irish Girl (1806). She was the daughter of Robert Owenson, an actor celebrated on the London stage for his “stage Irish” characters. In 1812, after several years as a governess and lady’s companion, she married Thomas Charles Morgan, later Lord Morgan.1
The ascription of “dear dirty Dublin” to Lady Morgan has in recent years been called into question. Jeremy DeVito’s online notes on Jane Kavanagh’s English Women of Letters (1863) suggest that there is some doubt:
In addition James Newcomer, in Lady Morgan the Novelist, points out that Morgan’s attitude to Dublin was ambivalent, or at least liable to change depending on circumstances. He draws attention to a number of negative comments on Dublin by the novelist in her Memoirs, including:
Hugh Fitzpatrick is quite right to query the attribution to Lady Morgan when he presents a new instance of “dear dirty Dublin” in the James Joyce Quarterly, from a recently discovered manuscript letter written by James Whiteside, Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench in Ireland, on 2 April 1868.4 But he is arguably less accurate in stating that “Whiteside’s use of this phrase is among the earliest so far identified”.
A review of the material currently available shows that the expression “dear dirty Dublin” predates Whiteside by over thirty years, and suggests that it arose within Lady Morgan’s circle or comparable aristocratic circles in Britain, but does not confirm that Lady Morgan is herself responsible for it. It might be safer to regard the expression as “traditionally ascribed” to Lady Morgan, rather than certainly originating with her.
The emergence of the phrase “dear dirty Dublin”
Complex expressions such as “dear dirty Dublin” do not always arrive in the language fully formed, but rather emerge gradually as their component parts become “available” to speakers of the language.
As early as 1716 John Philips’s farce The Pretender's Flight: Or, a Mock Coronation provided an example of the irregular collocation of “dear” and “dirty”:
But this usage should probably be regarded as an outlier, unconnected to later similar uses. Although it shows both adjectives employed together, the play was not – or was only rarely – performed, and is unlikely to illustrate the birth of a new lexical unit.
The elements of “dear dirty Dublin” started to coalesce amongst the literary and social elite in the second half of the eighteenth century. The component “dear Dublin”, without the originality of “dear dirty Dublin”, is in place in the language by 1769 as a familiar epithet for Dublin:
Around the same time another stream, involving the concept that Dublin is a city with an impoverished underclass occupying an insalubrious environment, appears in Richard Griffith’s Genuine Series of Letters, between Henry and Francis (1770):
The collocation of “dear” with “dirty” begins to make its presence known as an alliterative literary trope, especially amongst the polite readers of magazine reviews. The Monthly Review for February 1770 offers:
Soon a three-word familiar expression for the capital, “dear little Dublin” (and also “dear little Ireland”), becomes a literary (sometimes patronizing) cliché, as these quotations from the late eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth demonstrate:
Lady Morgan’s France (1817) attracted the wrath of the Quarterly reviewer, John Wilson Croker. Ostensibly a history of the Bourbon restoration, the book was criticized for factual errors and political bias. Whilst attempting to demonstrate her European credentials, she found herself lambasted for Whiggism and insularity. More criticism came from William Playfair, in his France as it is, not Lady Morgan’s France (1819):
Playfair’s text was published in the same year that Lady Morgan was writing to her sister Lady Clarke:
The Freeman’s Journal relives some of Lady Morgan’s solecisms in commenting on Playfair’s caustic critique of her France:
Lady Morgan’s ambivalent attitude to Ireland and her increasing public profile as a literary figure in Ireland make her a prime candidate for the ascription of authorship of the expression “dear dirty Dublin”, even if she may not have coined it herself. The component parts of the expression were widely circulating in the polite conversation of the upper classes of the time, and she was a likely magnet for the phrase. But at this time there was is no evidence for the existence of the expression itself.
Further texts from the period show the elements of the expression “dear dirty Dublin” in action:
Lady Charlotte Bury shared a publisher, Henry Colburn, with Lady Morgan. It was Colburn who, in 1828, offered Lady Morgan a house in London, so that his author could be closer to her British public. Lady Morgan refused. The Freeman’s Journal heard about the offer:
In the following year Lady Morgan returned to Dublin after her latest travels, as recalled almost fondly many years later in her Memoirs:
The evidence would seem to show that although Lady Morgan was familiar with the collocation of “dear” and “dirty” as part of the koiné of her upper-class circle, she does not appropriate the expression “dear dirty Dublin” to herself. Given her keen eye for publicity and self-marketing, she would almost certainly have done so had she coined it herself.
The earliest known source to cite Lady Morgan as the originator of the expression “dear dirty Dublin” is the Irish Quarterly Review in July 1859, three months after Lady Morgan’s death. In this, William John Fitzpatrick presented an extensive biography of Lady Morgan, including an ascription:
This was reprinted as a book, and was widely cited at the time. It does not actually say that Lady Morgan coined the expression, but that might easily be understood. It is not clear that Fitzpatrick has any authority for saying that Lady Morgan coined the phrase. Fitzpatrick also wrote biographies of others in Lady Morgan’s circle.
But well before 1859 the expression was claimed for another public personality, the actress Fanny Kemble. Lady Morgan’s father had been an actor, and the families knew each other. There was plenty of opportunity for confusion. In 1864 the Dublin University Magazine regards “dear dirty Dublin” as Fanny Kemble’s expression:
But it seems that Fanny Kemble spoke of “dear, nasty Dublin” in her Journal for 1832 (published three years later in 1835):
“Dear dirty little Dublin”, in which the expression is expanded to accommodate “dear little Dublin”, is cited anonymously in the Freeman’s Journal for 1834, as if it were a phrase of some long standing:
Dear dirty Dublin
Polite conversation in the 1830s teemed with “dear dirty” and related expressions (not associated with Lady Morgan):
It was not unusual for this collocation to appear in the New Monthly Magazine, for which Lady Morgan and others of her circle wrote. The conjunction of “dear” and “dirty” seems to have been associated with the slightly affected conversation of the upper-classes in general, and by later popular opinion with Lady Morgan herself.
But where and when is the expression “dear dirty Dublin” first attested?
The earliest reference so far discovered occurs in the first, magazine, publication of Charles Lever’s picaresque novel The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer, in the Dublin University Magazine of November 1837:
When the novel was published in book form in 1839 this passage of chapter 9 is omitted, but the expression has moved to the start of chapter 12:
The hero continues to hum a street ballad which he “heard shortly after my landing”:
Lady Morgan is present in the background of Lever’s novel. Thackeray described Dubliners as the "car-drivingest, tay-drinkingest, say-bathingest people in the world" (Paris Sketch Book, 1840, p. 204), but Lady Morgan herself used the expression “tay-drinkingest” in her novel Florence Macarthy, first published in the New Monthly Magazine of 1 January 1819, p. 532, and the longer expression is often cited both with and without reference to her elsewhere.
Julia Donovan observes that Owenson admired Lever:
But it would be dangerous to regard this as evidence that Lever believed that Lady Morgan was responsible for coining either “dear dirty Dublin” or the “car-drivingest” rigmarole, but rather that Lever’s popular novel succeeded in bringing together a number of expressions that were associated with her literary and social circle.
By now similar expressions are commonplace:
There are too many references to “dear dirty Dublin” not ascribed to Lady Morgan in the early days of the expression to allow us to claim confidently that she was responsible for its coinage. This was a story that began to take hold after her death, as myth overtook reality, and the force of her popular legacy caused later writers to ascribe to her an expression that in all probability arose within her social class if not within her circle, but not from Lady Morgan herself.
Almost thirty years after her death she becomes, like Oscar Wilde, the source of a number of expressions which she did not create herself. The Preston Guardian of 1887 exemplifies this confusion nicely (and with a certain editorial distance):
Leerssen. "Owenson, Sydney (Lady Morgan)". Dictionary of
Irish Biography. (ed.) James McGuire, James Quinn. Cambridge,
United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2009. (http://dib.cambridge.org/viewReadPage.do?articleId=a5972)
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