Poet Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918) was recently the subject of a post based on the Library’s holdings in the Department of Early Printed Books & Special Collections. She is also well represented among the collections in the Manuscripts & Archives Research Library.
Shorter’s nationalism, expressed in the poetry she wrote, particularly
after the Easter Rising, was further reflected in her total rejection of John Redmond’s call for Irishmen to join the British Army during the First World War. Among her literary remains are some broadsides asking ‘Are empty fields and stricken townships to be our pay for England’s uncertain promise of Home Rule’ and ‘In 1916 we asked for Home rule and they gave us …. A grave in Flanders’. She also mocked the propagandist’s appeal for recruits to sign up for the protection of women and children by referring to the hundreds of thousands of both who died in English concentration camps during the Boer War.
There are a number of research access points into this small collection of unpublished material. The most obvious one is the abiding interest there is in seeing the creative mind at work. Shorter, as a poet, may have fallen out of favour just as Romanticism has, and to the untrained reader at least, she does not appear to be of the first rank of poets. Nevertheless that does not limit the way in which her work may be found interesting to research. The imagery she accesses to articulate her pain at the military cataclysm of 1916 and at the repeated exploitation of Irish resources for foreign purposes has its own history which feeds into a study of the effect of literature on society. Does literature reflect or shape society or both? Where does the image of the ‘uprooted tree’ which she used to reimagine revolutionary heroes come from; does it carry a specific message in a predominantly rural society? Regardless of her place in the literary canon, the drafts of an artist’s work, in which one may witness a practiced mind wrestling with a seismic cultural shift, is the raw material of much humanities research endeavour.
Another area of interest is the history of the literary remains themselves. The survival of an individual’s artistic remains, after their death, can be dependent on a number of things – benign neglect not the least of them. Sometimes these materials become part of the bereaved family’s grieving process. The papers are elevated as ‘relics’ of the deceased and the attention paid to them becomes a continuation of the respect with which the author’s work was held during her lifetime. This certainly seems to be the case with Shorter.
The drafts of her poetry and short stories were bound by her husband Clement Shorter, so that they resembled published works, with her photograph and attributions emblazoned on the spine. Turning loose pages into bound volumes elevates their status. It also makes their survival more likely because it gives them more physical dignity than they would have as a collection of loose papers. Shorter’s husband went on to privately print his late wife’s bibliography, always a vital starting point for any evaluation of an author.
Clement Shorter privately printed another item in 1923, to further honour and preserve his wife’s memory and reputation. Titled In memoriam, only twenty-five of these little pamphlets were produced which bring together memorial poems by Eva Gore Booth, Alice Furlong, W.N. Ewer, William Kean Seymour and Katherine Tynan.
Manuscripts & Archives Research Library