Mary Anne Sadlier's Literary Influences

It is significant that Sadlier, although best-known for her Catholic books, appears to have written mostly romances and historical works before marrying James. The slant of his publishing house or his perception of the market for Irish literature may have led her to redirect the focus of her writing. Indeed, Mary Anne Sadlier received literary advice from a wide variety of male publishers and journalists, and frequently wrote her books on their request. One of her first and best-selling novels was written at the suggestion of editor Orestes Brownson in the January 1850 edition of his Quarterly Review, in which he called for someone to write a story for boys. Patrick Donahoe, editor of the Boston Pilot, responded by offering a $50 prize and serialization in his magazine. Brownson judged the contest and awarded the prize to Sadlier for Willy Burke, or the Irish Orphan in America, claiming it heralded the birth of a new literary genre: "A new literature, equally popular, but far more Catholic and healthy, is beginning to make its appearance among us" (Fanning, 538). Willy Burke also appeared in McGee's American Celt. Two other publishers, in addition to Donahoe, issued it in book form in 1850, but Donahoe retained the copyright, reprinting it in 1851 (Lacombe, Frying Pans, 101). It sold 7,000 copies within the first six weeks alone; and, like most of Sadlier's novels, was in print throughout the rest of the century (Anna Sadlier, 331). Willie Burke was Sadlier's first American tale, but her first novel, The Red Hand of Ulster; or, The Fortunes of Hugh O'Neill, had been published in 1850 on the front page of the Pilot before being issued as a book. Donahoe used The Red Hand of Ulster, Sadlier's first long work of fiction, to advertise for subscribers in December, 1849, promising that the next month's edition would include "an Irish Prize Tale of thrilling interest, written especially for the Pilot" (Fanning, 115). McGee, who wrote heavily on the "schools question" in the 1850s, suggested the idea for The Blakes and Flanagans, serialized in his American Celt in 1850 (Lacombe, Frying Pans, 101) and published in book form in 1855 (Blain, 939). The Toronto Bishop de Charbone hailed The Blakes and Flanagans as "written with a pen of gold." Sadlier also wrote Bessy Conway on request, after Rev. Isaac Hecker, founder of the Paulist Fathers and a publisher in his own right, suggested she draft an instructive tale for Irish serving girls, and wrote Aunt Honor's Keepsake in 1866 on the instigation of Dr. Silliman Ives, in the interest of creating support for the Catholic Protectory, a charitable organizations. Catholics such as Ives and Sadlier were concerned that Protestant benevolent associations such as the Juvenile Delinquent Society were proselytizing to Catholic boys, and wished to raise enough money to establish alternative Catholic institutions. Anna Sadlier writes that her mother's book was "hailed by the Catholic press at the time, and by those chiefly interested, as a most effective ally in the good cause (Anna Sadlier, 331). Upon closer examination of Sadlier's novels, however, we will see that most of Sadlier's work actually contain multiple narratives. While Sadlier's male colleagues had one goal in mind for her writing, it appears she had additional goals of her own.