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Monday 30

Letters of Distinction: Somerville and Ross

Novelist and journalist Martina Devlin discusses the fascinating letters from Somerville and Ross to their literary agent in the early 1900s. 


Letters from Somerville and Ross to their literary agent show how ‘The Irish R.M.’ authors were not just talented writers, but business-minded – quick with suggestions about how their books should be marketed in the crowded marketplace of the early 1900s.

They took their craft seriously but also wanted to earn a living from it. Key to that was their lengthy collaboration with one of the first literary agents, Mr. J.B. Pinker of London, who was on the receiving end of a stream of letters from two extremely determined ladies.

They never lost their sense of fun, and as well as reminding him about royalties due, Mr Pinker was inundated with invitations to go hunting or buy horses from them. He may have been agent to luminaries including Henry James and Joseph Conrad, but it’s easy to see he met his match in the irrepressible Somerville and Ross.

In addition, Edith pursued opportunities as a children’s author and illustrator, and worked on two of her own. The first, The Discontented Little Elephant, is now a collector’s item, and Pearse Library has one of the copies. Martina will discuss the jungle animal storyline, and striking images from Edith’s paintbrush.

Novelist and journalist Martina Devlin is engaged in PhD work at Trinity College on Somerville and Ross – literary collaborators who have been described as the mothers of the Irish short story. Her books include About Sisterland, The House Where It Happened and Ship of Dreams. Her latest book True: Stories About Ireland’s Iconic Women is due out in October 2018. It includes a story about Edith Somerville and Violet Martin.


National Library of Ireland, Kildare Street Dublin 2,


April 30 at 6:30 pm




Booking not necessary
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