One of my minor scholarly ambitions is one day to write a short history of big-haired lady Classicists, from the seventeenth century onwards. But one of the reasons that this may be a more challenging exercise that it sounds is that it is sometimes hard to tell whether lady Classicists have big hair or not, given their fondness for being painted wearing large military helmets in the style of the Roman goddess Minerva.
I mentioned this to someone in Celtic Studies the other day, and she observed that lady Celticists in centuries gone by also liked to pose for portraits in flowing Celtic costumes. So there may be a significant comparative dimension to make the project a bit more complicated and interesting than I’d initially anticipated.
But I was interested in the remark about lady Celticists for another reason, which is that I’m a first cousin, six times removed, of Charlotte Brooke–not the international fetish model, but the distinguished eighteenth-century lady Celticist. And so the question immediately poses itself: did she have big hair?
Well, it seems that it’s quite a tricky question. I can’t find any images of her in any of the places you might expect to find one–in the catalogue of the National Portrait Gallery, on her Wikipedia page, in the ODNB, or in the front matter of reprints of her major work. And I’m told that although there was a likeness made of her in the eighteenth century, no-one seems to know what happened to it, whether it survived–or, crucially, whether it recorded a lady Celticist with big hair or not. So the mystery persists.
Anyway: all that is really just a long and frivolous introduction to say that while I was scratching around looking for Charlotte Brooke-related material on the web–and finding along the way that she has her own roundabout in Co. Longford!–I learned that there’s a gorgeous new-ish edition of her major work, Reliques of Irish Poetry (1789), edited by Lesa Ni Mhunghaile, and a copy arrived in the post the other day. And it’s very good indeed: really well done, and I’m going to learn a lot from it.