Edith Somerville – Illustrating her Travels

Special Collections has published a number of original drawings by the celebrated writer and artist Edith Somerville (1858-1949) on our Digital Special Collections and Archives site.

These illustrations are published by permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd. on behalf of the Literary Estates of Edith Somerville and Violet Martin.

Edith Somerville and Violet Florence Martin (1862-1915) were a distinguished Irish literary partnership in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland who published under the pseudonym of Somerville and Ross. They collaborated on a number of novels and short stories that sympathetically and humorously described Irish society from an Anglo Irish ascendancy point of view. The most well known publications are the three collections of Irish R.M. tales (1899, 1908 & 1915). There were many others however, including the critically acclaimed The Real Charlotte (1894), By the Brown Bog (1913) and a number of accounts of their tours taken through Connemara, Bordeaux, Wales and Denmark.

What is perhaps less well known is that Edith Somerville was also a talented artist. She began her professional art training in Düsseldorf in 1881, she then progressed to Colarossi’s art studio for young ladies in Paris in 1884. Throughout her life, particularly during the 1880s and 1890s, she returned again and again to Paris to study and improve her art. She became an illustrator and painter of note.

‘She shook her fist in our faces at the critical moment’. Edith Somerville, MS 17.911.4b. Published in Stray-aways, 1920.

Somerville’s illustrations always accompanied her and Martin’s travel publications. Special Collections holds 40 original drawings that were intended to accompany an account of a trip that Somerville and Ross took to Denmark in 1893. In the State of Denmark was published in Stray-aways, 1920. Somerville describes the volume as a ‘series of stray studies and sketches’. The drawings are mostly in pen-and-wash, with some heightened with grey and a few in pen-and-ink. The majority contain captions intended for publication.

The illustrations are full of expression and drama, and bring the words of the two writers to life. They also vividly illustrate life in Denmark in the 1890s. There are a number of likenesses of Somerville and Ross in the collection.

Of the 40 illustrations in this collection only 15 were included in the final publication. Some of the captions included by Somerville were also changed for the final publication. Visit Digital Special Collections & Archives to see the published and many unpublished drawings. They will transport you to this somewhat forgotten tale of two independent women travelling in 19th century Denmark.

Please note the book Stray-aways can also be accessed in our Hibernica Book Collection at h 8899.S6 STRA.