The Macksey Journal


Scholars have long considered the Victorian satirical magazine Punch to be a window into the opinions and sensibilities of its predominantly middle-class English audience. Not only did the publication humorously comment upon life in Victorian England, but it often captured aspects of the colonial tension felt between England and its closest overseas colony, Ireland. Although much scholarly attention has been given to the figure of the Irish man in the Victorian periodical press, very little has been written on contemporary depictions of his feminine counterpart, the Irish woman. The omission is curious as the Irish woman represents an interesting figure for study. While the English stereotypes of Irish men in the nineteenth century were preoccupied with Irish male physical appearance—violent, animalistic, subservient—the Irish woman, in the eyes of their English draughtsman, dangerously belied a single archetype, I argue in this paper, precisely because her appearance did not always indicate her Irishness. Therefore, in order to identify the Irish woman’s nationality, artists in Punch often aligned Irish women to certain stereotypes of Irish behavior or used them to subvert the expectations of middle-class values. When appearance alone was not enough to classify the Irish woman, supposedly Celtic and feminine actions, attitudes, and sympathies dominated contemporary characterizations. The study of these depictions of Irish women in Punch reveals larger assumptions and anxieties that the average middle-class English public harbored towards Irish women.