Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English, 1830-1890: from Catholic Emancipation to the Fall of Parnell’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. I [Chap. 11], p.449-99 [here p.466ff.]

Part 2

Note: The copying of this chapter has been undertaking to facilitate the efficient transfer of quotations and references to author-entries in RICORSO. The chapter is reproduced in its totality in view of its signal wealth in bibliographical detail especially as regards the publishing history of 19th century Irish fiction.


Reading England, writing Ireland: Lever, Le Fanu and Riddell
The career of Charles Lever (1806-72), which spanned thirty-five years, offers valuable insights into the emergence of the professional Irish novelist in the mid-nineteenth century. From a Dublin middle-class family, Lever was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and studied medicine at Gottingen and Louvain; he worked as a dispensary doctor for five years in Portstewart, Derry, before moving to Brussels in 1837 where he built up a successful medical practice. The first instalment of his Confessions of Harry Lorrequer appeared in the DUM in February 1837, and single-volume publication - by Dublin firm Curry - followed in 1839. The novel, described by Lever himself as a ‘volume of anecdote and adventure’, and comprising a series of loosely connected episodes, is an Irish Tom Jones, its picaresque series of adventures ranging from Dublin to England, France and Germany, and featuring duels, elopements, mistaken identities and a Falstaffian comic creation in the character of Arthur O’Leary. By the novel’s end, Harry, a military subaltern who has been posted to Ireland in the wake of the Peninsular wars, has become heir to an English estate and private secretary to the viceroy of Ireland. The story’s success was such that instalments continued in the magazine for some months following the book’s publication, while the prefatory epistle to the 1839 volume drily promises a further volume, ‘to be entitled “Lorrequer Married?”’.

The military novel, with which Lever is most frequently associated, had already become popular through the work of his friend William Maxwell, author of Stories of Waterloo (1834) and Tales of the Peninsular War (1837), and whose fore-mentioned Wild Sports of the West (1832) was a significant influence on Lever’s early work. The popularity of Lever’s second novel, Charles O’Malley, the Irish Dragoon (1841), written during his years in Brussels, consolidated his reputation as “Harry Rollicker”, the author of rollicking Irish novels. Their commercial popularity also earned Lever the title of “Dr Quicksilver”, and in October 1843 William Carleton authored a deeply critical, unsigned review in The Nation in which he accused Lever of ‘selling us for pounds, shillings, and pence’. [48] Charles O’Malley, while retaining qualities of the picaresque, is a much grimmer novel; unlike Harry Lorrequer, whose military aspects are confined to garrison adventures, the novel presents a detailed account of many battle scenes from the Peninsular wars, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo, and, although drawn from conversation with Lever’s military acquaintances in Brussels and from standard histories, and not from personal experience, was widely praised at the time for its accuracy of description. In 1842 Lever returned to Dublin to live by his writing, and became editor of the Dublin University Magazine, where he received a salary of £1,200 a year and succeeded, partly through the serial publication of his own novels such as Jack Hinton (1842) and Loiterings of Arthur O’Leary (1843), in raising circulation of the magazine to a peak of 4,000 copies a month. [49] In the novels of this period, Lever delivers a bitter critique of the contemporary Castle administration and viceregal court, often, as in Jack Hinton, through the familiar ‘stranger-to-Ireland’ plot. In Tom Burke of “Ours” (1844), a fourteen-year-old orphan witnesses savage reprisals by the yeomanry in the post-1798 period, and as, in the words of one critic, ‘the first young man in Lever to be serious’, [50] is exiled to France where he joins the armies of Napoleon.

In 1845 Lever again left Ireland and ended his relationship with Curry, the Dublin publishing house. Early the next year, at work on his eighth novel, Knight of Gwynne, he negotiated with London publishers Chapman and Hall a fee of £130 a monthly number, a scale of remuneration equal to that of Dickens at the time; [51] however, the failure of that novel also marked the beginning of his career’s decline. In many of his novels from the 1850s and 1860s, he employs a double setting of Ireland and the continent, the international locations unusual in Irish fiction of the period and a welcome relief to its readers. Such bi-location is skilfully handled in his 1856 novel The Martins of Cro’Martin which moves between the west of Ireland, in the early 1830s, and the Paris revolution of July 1830. Lever’s portrait of post-emancipation Irish society in this novel is deeply pessimistic, prompted perhaps by a short visit to Ireland in 1854: the efforts by Mary Martin, niece of the local landowner, to restore feudal relationships are doomed, as the authority of the ‘demagogue’ has come to replace that of the landed proprietor and O’Connellite politics prevail. [52]

In 1858 Lever finally secured a long-desired government appointment, and served as British vice consul at La Spezia until 1867, and as consul at Trieste until his death in 1872. Lord Kilgobbin (1872), the last of his thirty-four published novels, moves from the Irish Bog of Allen, to scenes in London, Athens and Constantinople. Its Irish subject matter draws in detail from a variety of recent events back in Ireland: the Fenian rising of 1867, the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s election to parliament while still a convicted felon, the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and the Land Act of 1870. Lever’s deep cynicism regarding Liberal policy on Ireland is at its clearest in this novel: government strategy, in the words of one of its representatives, is ‘to unsettle everything in Ireland, so that anybody might hope to be anything, or to own heaven knows what – to legalize gambling for existence to a people who delight in high play’. [53] As a result critics have seen Lord Kilgobbin as the most pessimistic of Lever’s works and an elegiac tone, with regard to the loss of Tory hegemony, is certainly present. Yet ultimately the narrative viewpoint is curiously dispassionate, and concludes with a vision for the future as seen by Fenian leader Donogan (O’Donovan Rossa): Donogan, on the eve of his departure to America, prophesies that change for Ireland will be ‘slow, but it is certain’, made inevitable, not by an ‘appeal to arms’, but by ‘chronic discontent’. [54]

Although criticised during his own lifetime and since for the degree of stereotype inherent within his ‘rollicking’ characters – what his contemporary Trollope termed ‘rattling, jolly, joyous, swearing Irishmen’ – Lever’s early novels achieved a large commercial success, and what Tony Bareham has called ‘the intelligent internationalism’ of Lever’s later writing earned him conspicuously less financial reward. [55]. Carleton’s early jibe would be long-lasting in appraisals of his work, reinforced by the negative view of Yeats who wrote of Lever that, like his contemporary Samuel Lover, he ‘wrote ever with one eye on London’. [56] The counter-argument made by critic A. Norman Jeffares that Yeats and others ‘got hold of the wrong Lever’ has some persuasive power, and all too often comments on Lever’s work are based only on a cursory knowledge of one or two of his early novels, and the significant changes and variations within his career are obscured. [57] Lever’s self-assessment may come closest to capturing both his abilities and limitations: All I have attempted – all I have striven to accomplish’, he wrote in 1857, ‘is the faithful portraiture of character, the close analysis of motives, and correct observation as to some of the manners and modes of thought which mark the age we live in. [58]

Lever’s contemporary, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-73), was raised in Phoenix Park, Dublin where his father was chaplain to the Royal Hibernian Military School. Related to the Sheridan family (his father’s mother was a sister of Richard Brinsley Sheridan), his paternal line also included a Huguenot ancestor who had settled in Ireland during the Williamite wars, and the legacy of this historical period is a recurring concern throughout Le Fanu’s fictional writings. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin where he became a friend of Isaac Butt, he qualified to the bar in 1839; his professional career was not as a lawyer, however, but as a journalist, writer of fiction and newspaper proprietor. Le Fanu was Tory in his politics and strongly anti-repeal, but his failure in 1852 to secure a parliamentary nomination saw his withdrawal from national politics. In his later life he was increasingly reclusive, known as the ‘Invisible Prince’, but his influence continued as the proprietor of newspapers, including the Warden and the Dublin Evening Mail, and most notably as editor and proprietor of the Dublin University Magazine from 1861 to 1869.

Between 1838 and 1840, Le Fanu published twelve stories in the DUM, the majority of which are set in eighteenth-century Ireland and draw from a variety of rural superstitions and sensational tales. “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” (May 1839) is the only story set outside of Ireland, the ‘strange event’ in the life of Schalken, a seventeenth-century Dutch minor painter, being a tale of satanic possession in which the spectral bridegroom carries away a young woman, Schalken’s fiancée. As in much of Le Fanu’s writing on the supernatural, the sensational is restrained by a distinctly matter-of-fact tone; thus the narrator refuses the conventional ‘sentimental scenes … cruelty of guardians, or magnanimity of wards, or agonies of lovers’, choosing instead a tale ‘of sordidness, levity and interest’. [59] These stories - loosely connected as tales drawn from the private papers of one Father Purcell, a County Limerick Catholic priest and collector of folklore - were published after their author’s death as The Purcell Papers (1880). Other supernatural stories, including “The Evil Guest” and “The Mysterious Lodger”, were published in a Christmas collection, Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851).

Le Fanu’s first novels were historical: The Cock and Anchor, being a Chronicle of Old Dublin City (1845) and The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O’Brien: A Tale of the Wars of King James (1847), the latter influenced by John Banim’s Boyne Water (1826). In The Cock and Anchor, early eighteenth-century Dublin is vividly depicted as ‘the capital of a rebellious and semi-barbarous country - haunted by hungry adventurers, who had lost everything in the revolutionary wars.’ [60] Early chapters give voice to the claims of the Catholic dispossessed, ‘mercenaries and beggars abroad, and landless at home’, against a ‘perjured, corrupt, and robbing ascendancy, a warning and a wonder to all after times’ [61] but the novel ultimately reads as a cautionary tale for the present, directed towards a mid-nineteenth-century aristocratic class then experiencing a sharp decline in its political power.

In 1863, the publication of The House by the Churchyard by London publisher Tinsley ended a break of sixteen years in Le Fanu’s writing of novels; nine others followed in the next decade: Wylder’s Hand (Bentley, 1864), Uncle Silas (Bentley, 1864), Guy Deverell (Bentley, 1865), All in the Dark (Bentley, 1866), The Tenants of Malory (Tinsley, 1867), A Lost Name (Bentley, 1868), Haunted Lives (Tinsley, 1868), The Wyvern Mystery (Tinsley, 1869), Checkmate (Hurst and Blackest, 1871), and The Rose and the Key (Chapman and Hall, 1871). Many of these appeared first as serial publications, and until 1869 usually in the Dublin University Magazine. Their plots and settings have some resemblances to those employed by contemporary sensation novelists, such as Charles Reade and Wilkie Collins, though W. J. McCormack, Le Fanu’s biographer, has suggested commercialized romanticism’ as a more accurate description. [62] In this later period, Le Fanu also produced two major collections of stories, Chronicles of Golden Friars (Bentley, 1871) and In a Glass Darkly (1872). Willing to Die, his last novel, was published posthumously in 1873.

The House by the Churchyard is unusual among Le Fanu’s late novels in employing an Irish setting; here he turns once again to historical fiction, acknowledging the lure of the past - of its ‘violence, follies, and hospitalities, softened by distance, and illuminated with a sort of barbaric splendour’. [63] Set in 1767 and employing the author’s childhood memories of the Dublin village of Chapelizod, the novel provides a richly dramatic rendering of what its narrator terms the ‘ululatus of many-voiced humanity’. [64] In this and in other aspects - for example, the characteristic Le Fanu plot of a man believed dead who returns to life - the novel would form an important shadow-text for Joyce’s Finnegan Wake.

Since the influential commentary by Elizabeth Bowen, it has become customary to view Uncle Silas, Le Fanu’s most famous long fiction, as an Irish novel transposed to an English setting, and with deep autobiographical origins. Writing in 1947, Bowen argued:

The hermetic solitude and the autocracy of the great country house, the demonic power of the family myth, fatalism, feudalism and the ‘ascendency, outlook are accepted facts of life for the race of hybrids from which Le Fanu sprang. For the psychological background of Uncle Silas it was necessary for him to invent nothing. Rather he was at once exploiting in art and exploring for its more terrible implications what would have been the norm of his own heredity. [65]

In the suspense-filled story of young orphan Maud Ruthyn, who is under threat of her life from her villainous relative, Le Fanu also revisited one of his earliest stories, “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess”, first published in the DUM (November 1838). Through Maud’s narration of her incarceration and release, the novel brings most clearly to light the sexual anxiety and terrors which afflict almost all of Le Fanu’s heroines, from the pursuit of Mary Ashwoode in his first novel, Cock and Anchor, to the layered psychosexual implications of his vampire story “Carmilla”. In this regard, one of the most significant, and still underrated, effects of Le Fanu’s fiction is, in the words of critic Thomas Kilroy, its ‘anatomy of domestic horror’. [66]

Le Fanu’s last volume of short fiction, In a Glass Darkly, is a collection of five tales framed through the narrative persona of German physician Dr Martin Hesselius and includes the stories “Green Tea”, heavily influenced by Swedenborgianism, “The Familiar” and “Carmilla”. Originally published in Dark Blue Magazine in four instalments (1871-72), “Carmilla” is a vampire story owing some of its detail to John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819), and to which Bram Stoker’s Dracula, in its female characterisations in particular, is heavily indebted. Set in Styria, Austria, the story is told by a young woman, Laura, who, the prologue explains, has died ‘in the interval’. Born to an English father and Styrian mother, Laura bears an English name although she has never seen England. At the story’s end, Carmilla, whose ‘home lay in the direction of the west’, is revealed to be the vampire spirit of the long-dead Mircalla, Countess Karnstein (fl.1698); once again in Le Fanu’s narrative imagination, the hauntings of the past owe their origin to the turbulences of the late seventeenth-century period.

Following the example of Bowen’s reading of Uncle Silas, the concept of an Irish ‘Protestant Gothic’ – read as the literary expression of a socio-political caste that is haunted by the past and beleaguered in the present – has now become a critical commonplace, with Maturin, Le Fanu and Brain Stoker its most famous representatives. [67] The coherence and extent of such a tradition may be overstated, and its qualities as ‘political unconscious’ have certainly been overly generalised, yet the Gothic mode with its distinctive anxieties is a significant form in nineteenth-century Irish writing. Other Irish examples of the genre deserve some attention: the DUM, for example, published between 1834 and 1837 an eight-part series entitled Chapters of College Romance which included various sensationalist plots and Faustian themes. Published as the work of one ‘Edward S. O’Brien’, the stories were identified in 1840 as the work of Isaac Butt, editor of the magazine. The writings on the occult by Henry Ferris (“Irys Herfrier”), a DUM contributor from 1839 to 1851, have been unjustly neglected, while the ghost stories of Charlotte Riddell find only occasional mention in existing histories.

During her lifetime, Antrim-born novelist Charlotte Riddell (1832-1906) was one of the most acclaimed writers in Britain of both sensation fiction and stories of the supernatural. Her longer ghost stories, such as “Fairy Water” and “The Haunted River”, appeared in the highly popular Christmas annuals published by Routledge and by F. Enos Arnold. Riddell, heralded as ‘Novelist of the City’ because of her depictions of contemporary London business and trade, makes lively use of the strong materialist element underlying Gothic fiction: her heroes are usually lawyers’ clerks and other humble functionaries who secure fortune as a result of their enduring Otherworldly visitations. Irish settings are employed in a handful of her works, including her 1888 novel Nun’s Curse, its marriage plot between Irish landowner and peasant girl an especially pessimistic ‘allegory of union’, and also in some later stories, most notably “The Banshee’s Warning”, also entitled “Hertford O’Donnell’s Warning”, which has been frequently republished in anthologies of ghost fiction.

The case of Le Fanu, a successful novelist who remained living in Dublin, is unusual for the period, as the migration of novelists to London publishers continued apace in the years following the famine. William Carleton, for example, having quarrelled with his Dublin publisher, M’Glashan, in 1850, took much of his later work to London and appeared on the lists of London publishers Saunders and Oakley, Ward and Lock, and Hope. These years also saw the emergence of many professional female writers who moved from Ireland to London to pursue literary careers. These writers included Frances Browne (1816-79), ‘the blind poetess of Donegal’ and author of highly successful children’s stories, as well as novels such as My Share of the World (1861) and The Hidden Sin (1866). Frances Cashel Hoey (1830–1908) moved to London in 1855 and was the author of numerous sensational novels in the mode ofher contemporaries Dickens and Wilkie Collins which were highly popular in the 1870s and 1880s. Many of these women moved to London because of family financial difficulties: the death of her father prompted the young Charlotte Cowan, later Riddell, to move to London in 1855; losses in income caused Annie Hector’s family to leave Dublin for London when she was nineteen; and the Huguenot family of May Crommelin (c.1850–c.1930), later an acclaimed writer of fiction and of travel narratives, moved from Down to London when she was a child because of the ‘land troubles’. Charlotte Riddell’s autobiographical novel A Struggle for Fame, published by Bentley in 1883, is a valuable record of one young Irish author’s struggle to become published, with vividly drawn portraits of Newby, Tinsley, Bentley and others. It was published when Riddell was at the peak of her career but her fortunes turned soon afterwards, with the decline in popularity of the three-decker novel, and by the late 1890s she was living in severely reduced circumstances, supported by a donation from the Society of Authors and from the Royal Literary Fund. [68]

Riddell and Hector, both highly prolific, ranked for a time among the most financially successful of Victorian novelists. Hector (1825-1902), who wrote as “Mrs Alexander”, was the author of over forty novels and, while of conventional plot, featuring sensational disappearances, reappearances and happy endings, they also include extended engagements with contemporary discourses on marriage and divorce, most notably in her novel A Choice of Evils, published in 1894. Relatively few of these women’s writings were identifiably Irish in theme, and their commercial success clearly depended on their assimilation as ‘English’ authors. Irish fiction, as Trollope testified in the late 1850s, had to a large extent become ‘drugs in the market’. [69] Of Hector’s forty novels, only one has an explicitly Irish setting: Kitty Costello (1902), a quasi-autobiographical novel, detailing a young Irish girl’s move to London, and completed just before its author’s death. Frances Hoey, said to have displayed ‘fierce nationalism’ in her private letters, set few of her fictional writings in Ireland, causing novelist Rosa Mulholland to note regretfully that ‘the clever books of Mrs Cashel Hoey show no trace of the fact that she is Irish of the Irish, not only by birth, but in faithful affection’. [70]

The careers of these authors included many notable controversies regarding copyright and authorship, linked in no small part to the subsequent eclipse and critical neglect of their work. Though Julia Kavanagh (1824-77) is now more likely to be remembered for her biographical studies in such work as English Women of Letters (1863), her novels achieved considerable popularity in their day, evidenced in the many international editions of her work published by Tauchnitz in whose lists she regularly appeared along with Hector, Hoey and Riddell. Kavanagh was born in Thurles, County Tipperary and spent much of her early life in France, which provides the scene for many of her novels, including Madeline (1848) [sic for Madeleine] and Nathalie (1850), an engaging coming-of-age novel praised by Charlotte Brontë and said to have influenced her Villette. In 1857, Kavanagh’s reputation suffered when her father, Peter Morgan Kavanagh, falsely attributed his inferior novel The Hobbies to his daughter. In 1886 Frances Hodgson Burnett, author of children’s stories such as The Secret Garden, began in the New York periodical St Nicholas a series entitled “Stories from the Lost Fairy Book, Retold by the Child Who Read Them”. The ‘lost’ book was immediately revealed to be Irish author Frances Browne’s well-known Granny’s Wonderful Chair and Its Tales of Fairy Times (1856), editions of which, despite Burnett’s claims to have searched unsuccessfully in both England and America, had appeared throughout the 1880s. In the case of Hoey, arguments regarding the ownership of copyright dogged her later career and her authorship of a number of novels more usually credited to the writer Edmund Yates remains a matter of dispute.

A striking exception to this pattern ofmigrant female novelists was Margaret Hungerford, known as ‘The Duchess’, who achieved a wide audience from her Bandon, County Cork home; of her thirty works of fiction, mainly sentimental fiction, the most famous was Molly Bawn (1878) which had large sales in England, America and Australia. In an 1893 interview Hungerford explained that ‘first sheets of the novels in hand are bought from her for American publications, months before there is any chance of their being completed’ [71] Yet, for the most part, these careers – along with the careers of male writers such as Edmund Downey, Richard Dowling and Justin McCarthy – fit more or less the pattern described by Rosa Mulholland in her article, ‘Wanted an Irish Novelist’, published in the Irish Monthly in 1891: ‘the noticeable fact that writers who produce one good Irish novel, giving promise of store to come, almost invariably cease to be Irish at that point, and afterwards cast the tributary stream of their powers into the universal river of English fiction’. And as Mulholland sardonically concluded, ‘Yet how can we quarrel with any of these bright spirits if they prefer to live their lives pleasantly and in affluent circumstances in the busy, working, paying world of London, rather than content themselves with the ideally uncomfortable conditions of him who elects to chew the cud of sweet and bitter Irish fancies, with his feet in an Irish bog and his head in a rainbow?’ [72]

England and ‘the Irish Question’: Mill and Arnold
‘Once at least in every generation the question “What is to be done with Ireland?” rises again to perplex the councils and trouble the conscience of the British nation.’ So begins John Stuart Mill’s 1868 pamphlet ‘England and Ireland’ (1868), a text occasioned in part by the contemporary Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) bombing campaigns in England which culminated in the notorious Clerkenwell explosion of December 1867. To an English public believing Irish disaffection to be ‘cured’, Fenianism, in Mill’s words, ‘burst like a clap of thunder in a clear sky’: ‘The disaffection which they flattered themselves had been cured, suddenly shows itself more intense, more violent, more unscrupulous, and more universal.’ [73] Mill’s own prescription for Ireland’s ‘cure’ was stark and immediately controversial; it also represented a significant advance from his earlier analyses of Ireland as published in the Morning Chronicle newspaper in the years 1846 and 1847, and also as featured in his Principles of Political Economy (1848) with its many subsequent editions. By 1868, in his view, the diagnosis was clear: ‘The difficulty of governing Ireland lies entirely in our own minds; it is an incapability of understanding’; more specifically, and influenced by the writings of his friend the political economist John Elliot Cairnes, Mill now endorsed what he termed ‘a permanent solution of the land difficulty’, namely fixity of tenure for Irish tenant farmers. [74]

Unlike the Young Ireland movement, the literary output of Fenianism was not substantial; the reactions generated in English writers such as Mill and Matthew Arnold were therefore all the more influential. In the spring of 1867, Arnold’s On the Study of Celtic Literature appeared in volume form, drawn from a series of lectures first delivered in his role as chair of poetry in Oxford and first published in four parts in the Cornhill Magazine between March and July 1866. The much-cited and controversial definitions of the ‘Celtic genius’ (‘with its chafing against the despotism of fact, its perpetual straining after mere emotion’) have tended to obscure the contemporary potency of the Study’s conclusion: ‘and let it be one of our angelic revenges on the Philistines, who among their other sins are the guilty authors of Fenianism, to found at Oxford a chair of Celtic, and to send, through the gentle ministration of science, a message of peace to Ireland’. [75] ‘Provoked by Fenianism’, Arnold maybe judged to have ‘lapsed into Celticism’, as Seamus Deane has argued; but, as Deane also acknowledges, in the process the word ‘Celtic’ was given ‘a political resonance which it has not yet entirely lost’. [76]

Less well known are Arnold’s later, and more detailed, essays on Irish politics. His essay ‘Irish Catholicism and British Liberalism’, written in the context of the impending University Education (Ireland) Act of 1879, supported calls for an Irish Catholic university; first published in the Fortnightly Review in July 1878, it was reprinted in Arnold’s Mixed Essays (1879). ‘The Incompatibles’, on the Irish Land Bill of 1881, was published in two parts in the Nineteenth Century, in April and June 1881, and was reprinted along with the essay An Unregarded Irish Grievance’ - which argued for the introduction of a system of public education to Ireland - in his volume Irish Essays, and Others (1882). That same year, discontent with British policies in Ireland from a very different political perspective appears to have motivated the posthumous and, in Charles Gavan Duffy’s view, the ‘unhappy’ publication of Thomas Carlyle’s Reminiscences of My Irish Journey, a grimly pessimistic account of Carlyle’s travels in Ireland in July 1849. As Froude, Carlyle’s biographer, drily observed in his preface to the volume, ‘The Irish problem has not yet been solved since Mr Carlyle’s visit, nor has it been made more easy of solution by the policy of successive ministries, which has been precisely opposite to what Mr Carlyle would have himself recommended.’’ [77]

Arnold’s Irish essays included liberal quotation from the writings of Edmund Burke, and in 1881 he edited for Macmillan publishers a collection of Burke’s writings on Ireland, entitled Letters, Speeches and Tracts on Irish Affairs by Edmund Burke. Arnold’s construction of an ‘Irish Burke’ was rare for its time and sharply different, for example, from the Burke excerpts chosen by Charles Read (chiefly from Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful and Reflections on the French Revolution) for inclusion in the second volume of the Cabinet of Irish Literature published just over a year before. For Arnold, the contemporary ‘interest about Ireland which the present state of that country compels even the most unwilling Englishman to feel’ offered the occasion for a ‘rescuing’ of the work of Burke simultaneously as an English classic and as an influence on future Irish policy: ‘Our neglected classic is by birth an Irishman; he knows Ireland and its history thoroughly … He is the greatest of our political thinkers and writers. But his political thinking and writing has more value on some subjects than on others; the value is at its highest when the subject is Ireland. [78]

Although Arnold himself has been ‘rescued’ by some recent English critics as a pioneer of multi-cultural theory, he is more likely to be dismissed by Irish scholars as a bourgeois hegemonist. Yet the detail of his writings on Ireland reveals more complex formulations still to be recovered. In 1886, writing to the Freeman’s Journal, the Fenian John O’Leary, who might seem an unlikely fan, concluded his list of ‘best hundred Irish books’ with the inclusion of ‘the name of a most un-Dryasdustian sort of man, the celebrated apostle of sweetness and light’. O’Leary’s comments are an interesting early intervention in Arnold’s reception-history, expressing a useful balancing note and, at the same time, his own version of chauvinism: ‘There are very good things in Matthew Arnold’s essay on “Celtic Literature,” as in many other papers of his on Ireland and things Irish; he is always more or less suggestive and mostly very sympathetic, if occasionally, as is almost invariably the case with his countrymen, more than a little patronizing.’ [79] As Mary Jean Corbett has demonstrated, the writings of Mill and Arnold - both of whom sought to secure Ireland’s place within an improved and reformed Union - proved to have an effect opposite to their writers’ intentions, ‘in that their work helped to articulate for broader publics the discursive grounds on which it [Union] would ultimately be broken’. [80]

Land, politics and fiction, 1870-1890
Charles Kickham’s 1873 novel Knocknagow; or The Homes of Tipperary was the most widely read Irish novel in the late nineteenth century, and retained this popularity well into the twentieth century [81] Kickham (1828-82), from Mullinahone, County Tipperary, was the son of a shopkeeper and farmer. His first writings included verse published in nationalist newspapers such as the Nation and the Celt and he worked for the Fenian paper the Irish People for two years until his arrest in 1865. Convicted in 1866 on a charge of ‘treason-felony’, he served three years of a fourteen-year sentence of imprisonment, released in 1869 on grounds of ill-health. Kirkham was the author of four novels, including Sally Cavanagh; or the Untenanted Graves (1869) and For the Old Land, published posthumously in 1886. These novels are significantly less well known, partly because, as James Murphy has argued, they questioned some of the ‘basic assumptions of lower middle-class Ireland’, in the case of For the Old Land through an extensive critique of clericalism and in Sally Cavanagh where the resolution of the novel is achieved by the benevolent agency of the new Tory landlord, who allows his tenants to purchase their lands. [82] The emotional potency of I may have also discomfited readers in the first post-famine generation: its graveyard scene, in which Sally tends the ‘untenanted graves’ where she believes her children to be buried, deploys the force of some of the most horrific famine images, and was echoed many years later in Liam O’Flaherty’s 1937 novel Famine.

Between 1870 and 1902 a series of Land Acts gradually transformed the ownership of Irish land, and the popularity of Kickham’s novel may be read alongside this social change. The precise historical setting for the story of Knocknagow is difficult to determine: possibly the mid- to late 1840s, or perhaps the 1850s. The Great Famine is explicitly mentioned only once, and then only in the closing pages by an emigrant to America who denounces English rule. Yet curiously Knocknagow became fixed in the minds of many readers as the archetypal famine novel. One reason for this is the novel’s nostalgic evocation of a pre-famine society, marked by conviviality, music and social harmony, and ruined by land clearances, evictions and emigration, events that are detailed in the narrative. The novel’s best-loved character, Mat the Thrasher, who remains invulnerable to eviction because of an anomaly in the land laws, thus acquires the symbolic role of folk hero, or fairy-tale figure, but one through whom the peasant proprietorship of land may also be imagined. And, as R. V Comerford, Kickham’s biographer, has shown, the novel continued to appeal in the twentieth century, primarily to a rural, middle-class readership to whom it offered an attractive explanation of their origins as a landowning class. [83]

Knocknagow’s historical depiction makes for a suggestive comparison with that provided by Kickham’s contemporary Annie Keary (1825-79), whose Castle Daly: The Story of an Irish Home Thirty Years Ago (1875) was first serialised in Macmillan’s Magazine. Keary’s novel also looks back to the 1840s, with a direct account of the Great Famine and of the 1848 rebellion; in her novel, this period is presented as a crucial time of transition, between new systems of reform and an older, more feudal order fated to decline. The novel’s dynamism comes from its lengthy, and well-sustained, dialogues between Irish and English characters, a structure that facilitates the close scrutiny of potentially abstract economic and social policies, as well as the acknowledgement of alternative perspectives. The future, however, is clearly in the hands of the English reforming and modernising agent, John Thornley English reviewers of the novel welcomed the story as an illumination of current political problems, and the novel also enjoyed a large degree of popularity in Irish intellectual circles. The Monthly recorded in April 1886 that Keary’s novel ‘was singled out by so unEnglish an Irishman as Mr John O’Leary, in a lecture at Cork, as singularly and almost solely worthy of high praise out of the hosts of so-called Irish novels written of late’ and The Cabinet of Irish Literature (1879-80) judged it the best story of the current generation. Yet its Yorkshire-born author had spent a total of two weeks in Ireland, and the novel was based largely on her readings in Irish history, together with the recollections of her Irish-born clergyman father. [84]

The Fenian rebellions and political movement appear intermittently in late nineteenth-century fiction. Lever’s Lord Kilgobbin (1870), one of the earliest fictional engagements, emerges also as one of the more sympathetic, when compared, for example, with Justin McCarthy’s critical account in A Fair Saxon (1873) and Kickham’s somewhat disillusioned recollections in For the Old Land: A Tale of Twenty Years Ago (1886). Charlotte Grace O’Brien’s Light and Shade (1878) is by far the most comprehensive treatment of the disparate elements within the Fenian movement and repeatedly insists on the authenticity of its sources, its author the daughter of 1848 veteran, William Smith O’Brien, and herself a pioneering social reformer with regard to emigrants’ conditions. Fenian characters and sub-plots contribute narrative frisson to later novels such as Rosa Mulholland’s Marcella Grace (1886) and May Laffan’s Ismay’s Children (1887), but submerge the narrative in ponderous detail in William O’Brien’s When We Were Boys (1890). The recurrence of Fenian-related bombing campaigns in 188os London lent added weight to this subject, most notably the dynamite campaign organised by the US-based Clan na Gael from 1883 to 1885, which generated a body of ‘dynamite fiction’ in the closing decades of the nineteenth century [86]

The land wars of 1879-81 and the later ‘Plan of Campaign’ agitation (1886-91), in contrast, received much sharper and more frequent contemporary attention from Irish novelists, the themes of agrarian conflict and social change appearing to lend themselves more readily to the established plots of domestic and sentimental fiction. Between 1880 and 189o, numerous ‘land’ novels appeared, in which contemporary facts and the conventions of fiction find, however, an often-uneasy combination. One of the first was A Boycotted Household (1881) by Letitia McClintock, published in London by the influential Smith and Elder publication house (also publishers of Matthew Arnold), and detailing the ‘reign of terror’ experienced by a landlord’s family between late 1879 and early 1881, together with the boycotting of one of their tenants. Of the many novels that followed, the best-known remain Trollope’s The Landleaguers (1883) - his last and unfinished novel, researched during two short visits to Ireland in 1882 - and George Moore’s A Drama in Muslin (1886); others include William Upton’s Uncle Pat’s Cabin (1882), Edward Moran’s Edward O’Donnell (1884) and Richard Ashe King’s (“Basil”) highly popular The Wearing of the Green (1886). Of the many land novels authored by women, Elizabeth Owens Blackburne Casey’s Hearts of Erin (1882), Fannie Gallaher’s Thy Name is Truth (1884), Rosa Mulholland’s Marcella Grace (1886) and Emily Lawless’s Hurrish (1886) are of particular interest, along with the 1888 novel Plan of Campaign by English novelist and historian Frances Mabel Robinson. McClintock’s and Trollope’s novels are the most avowedly hostile towards the newly formed Land League; many of the other novels are more sympathetic towards the League’s objectives, though the violent actions of its members prove more difficult subject matter to handle.

Although these novels generally employ the standard plots of sentimental and domestic fiction, their deployment in the particular context of the Irish land war and land agitation results in narrative strains and ‘discontents’ that are especially revelatory. Fannie Gallaher’s novel Thy Name is Truth, subtitled ‘A Social Novel’, moves from a richly textured portrait of upper middle-class Catholic Dublin society, to an increasingly sensational story of a landlord’s assassination and wrongful accusation, culminating in the revelation of the heroine’s identity as heir to the landed estates. Such a revelation ends many of these plots, usually accompanied by a marriage which, as in the case of Rosa Mulholland’s Marcella Grace, may be read as an attempt to contain the more radical political implications released earlier in the narrative. In the case of McClintock’s novel, the influential London journal The Athenaeum expressed its unease concerning this very combination of politics and sentimental fiction; as its reviewer wryly observed, ‘Certain it is that, while dealing liberally in siege and arson and murder, Mrs McClintock has not refrained from mere flirtation, and that two of her girls are mated and married ere the Land Bill passes, and the curtain falls.’ [87] Yet, read from another perspective, these novels attest to an important political role played in this period by domestic fiction, with implications that may belie the usual operations of the genre. If domestic fiction seeks, in Nancy Armstrong’s words, to unfold ‘the operations of human desire as if they were independent of political history’, in these novels sexual and political relations remain hopelessly entangled, and the fate of individuals’ desires inseparable from Ireland’s political future. [88]

The subject matter of these ‘factual fictions’ was not without its dangers for the individual writer. In 1882, Elizabeth Owens Blackburne Casey (1848-94), born in Slane, County Meath, published her fifth novel, The Heart of Erin, having moved from the Tinsley publishing firm to the more respectable Sampson and Low house. By the early 1880s, she was an established journalist and novelist working in London, and wrote under the pen name “E. O. Blackburne”. Subtitled ‘An Irish Story of Today’, her novel called for better understanding between England and Ireland, and offered a carefully negotiated analysis of the contemporary land agitation. Soon after the novel’s appearance, however, the Phoenix Park murders of 6 May took place, and in a review published on 20 May 1882 the London Athenaeum castigated Blackburne as a ‘thoroughgoing partisan of the Land League’; [89] this proved to be the last novel published by Blackburne and she died in penury in Ireland twelve years later.

The inscriptions to these land novels often record their political ambition: the first edition of Doreen (1894) by English author ‘Edna Lyall’ (Ada Bayley) was dedicated to Prime Minister William Gladstone; Hester Sigerson’s A Ruined Race (1889) was dedicated to Mrs Gladstone. In his 1892 work Special Aspects of the Irish Question, Gladstone expressed his gratitude to the young Emily Lawless for her novel Hurrish, which, in his view, conveyed ‘not as an abstract proposition, but as a living reality, the estrangement of the people of Ireland from the law’. [90] Contemporary reviewers in the Irish Times, Scotsman and other journals also praised the novel for its realistic depiction of existing conditions in Ireland. In sharp contrast, the Nation accused Lawless of grossly exaggerating peasant violence; the newspaper’s fierce denunciation of both novelist (condescending to the Irish peasant ‘from the pinnacle of her three-generation nobility’, calling the novel a ‘slanderous and lying from cover to cover’) was to dog Lawless’s critical reputation. [91] Yeats’s more polite evaluation of Lawless as being ‘in imperfect sympathy with the Celtic nature’ would prove no less damning and enduring. [92]

Lawless’s ascendancy ancestors had much more complex political loyalties: on her father’s side, an earlier Lord Cloncurry was involved with the United Irishmen, and supported both Catholic emancipation and the anti-tithe campaign. Raised in England with childhood summers in the west of Ireland with her maternal relatives, Lawless (1845-1913), began writing with the encouragement of English novelist Margaret Oliphant, who was a friend of Elizabeth Kirwan, Lawless’s mother. Her first novels, A Chelsea Householder (1882) and A Millionaire’s Cousin (1885), are conventional sentimental fictions but of lively narration, both with artists as their central protagonists. Ireland - a historical survey in Unwin’s “Story of the Nations” series - appeared also in 1885. Hurrish, published by Blackwood in 1886, is set some five years earlier, towards the end of the 1879-81 land war, but written also in the context of the Ashbourne Land Act and of Gladstone’s unsuccessful Home Rule Bill of 1886. Its cast of characters unfolds as a series of types: Hurrish, the Arnoldian Celt; his Caliban-like enemy, Mat Brady; the saintly heroine, Ally; the aboriginal, paternalist landlord, Pierce O’Brien; heroically loyal Phil Rooney; and the coming young man, Maurice Brady Lawless’s success in this early novel - developed to even greater effect in her later Grania (1892) - lies rather in her portrayal of place, the landscape of the novel emerging as more vibrant, and significantly more complex, than its inhabitants. From the contours of the land may be traced not only the layers of prehistory, which ‘rejoice the soul of the antiquary in these Celtic solitudes’, but also the bleak scars of the recent past: rocks as skeletons, starvation made visible, and embodied in a landscape’. [93]

Following Hurrish, Lawless turned to historical fiction: With Essex in Ireland, an account of the Irish campaign of Robert Devereux, second earl of Essex, in 1599, was published in 1890, and Maelcho, set during the Desmond rebellion of 1579-82, followed in 1894. In her now most acclaimed novel, Grania, geographical remoteness replaces historical distance as a narrative tool: the scene is Inis Meáin, the middle of the three Aran Islands, off the coast of Galway. Contemporary, international discourses on racial degeneracy permeate the story, as Geraldine Meaney has shown, and are evident in the doomed fate of its heroine whose passionate yearnings for self-fulfilment render her the most powerfully realised of Lawless’s characters. [94] The novel clearly deploys a number of the traits of late nineteenth-century New Woman fiction, including progressive aspiration and pessimistic conclusions, but its portrait of social degradation has also distinct national implications not lost on the author’s early critics.

The year 1886 saw the publication of another author’s first novel on an Irish theme, in this case George Moore’s A Drama in Muslin. The reputation of Moore (1852-1933), which entered a critical decline following his death, has grown in recent years, [95] but his bewildering variety of careers - as novelist, short-story author, dramatist, critic, essayist and memoirist- remains difficult to evaluate fully. Moore was the son of George Henry Moore, a Catholic MP and liberal landlord; earlier Moore ancestors were Protestant settlers to Ireland who had intermarried with Catholics in the middle of the eighteenth century. The young Moore spent much of the 1870s in Paris, returning briefly to Ireland in 1880 when the land war was at its height and in other sporadic trips during the early 1880s. His first novel, A Modern Lover (1883), fared poorly in Mudie’s circulating library, whose monopoly on the purchase of fiction Moore denounced in his celebrated 1884 article “Censorship” and in its extended version, the 1886 pamphlet Literature at Nurse; or Circulating Morals. His second novel, A Mummer’s Wife (1885), even more directly challenged contemporary social mores, and also, as Adrian Frazier argues, introduced the Flaubertian art-novel to English fiction. [96] Partly as a response to the strictures of the contemporary publishing trade, Moore chose to publish A Mummer’s Wife and A Drama in Muslin with the controversial Vizetelly firm, and each appeared as a single novel rather than in the conventional, and significantly more expensive, three-decker form. This first decade of Moore’s writing career also saw the publication of his autobiographical Confessions of a Young Man (1888) and the essay collection Parnell and his Island (1887) [97] a series of satires on Irish society, many of which had been published previously in the French journal Figaro. The outrage generated by these scathing portraits of the Irish privileged classes, together with the negative reaction accorded to Drama in Muslin, ended Moore’s literary engagement with Ireland for the following twelve years.

A Drama in Muslin, first serialised in the English periodical Court and Society Review, occupies a key place in various philosophical trajectories. Its author, educated by the writings of Mill, Wollstonecraft and Olive Schreiner, conceived it at least in part as a contribution to the contemporary ‘Woman Question’; later he would emphasise its significance as a study of rational atheism, two aspects of his novel which may have contributed to his denunciation in 1887 by Charles Russell, attorney general and concerned Catholic parent, as a ‘night-soil novelist’. [98] But it is its treatment of Irish politics - class, gender and national - that remains influential, told through the fate of Alice Barton and her schoolmates who, in the first chapter of the novel, graduate from an English Catholic convent school and return to Irish upper middle-class society. Moore himself is said to have described Drama in Muslin, in a letter to his publisher Unwin, as ‘the worst written’ of his works; ‘over written’ may be a more accurate assessment of a novel laden with symbolism and visual detail. [99] On the other hand, many of the novel’s most memorable details are conveyed through shadow and suggestion: for instance, the rent-paying scene in chapter 7 which unfolds alongside the adulterous affair of Mrs Barton; the depiction of the Bartons’ journey to Dublin Castle, on streets lined by the urban poor; and the eviction scene which features in the novel’s closing chapter and subtly undercuts the story’s resolution. In a passage that echoes the tones of a George Eliot narrator, Moore provides his own meta-fictional commentary on the work:

The history of a nation as often lies hidden in social wrongs and domestic griefs as in the story of revolution, and if it be for the historian to narrate the one, it is for the novelist to dissect and explain the other; and who would say which is of the most vital importance - the thunder of the people against the oppression of the Castle, or the unnatural sterility, the cruel idleness of mind and body of the muslin martyrs who cover with their white skirts the shames of Cork Hill? [100] 100. George Moore, A Drama in Muslin (1886; republished Belfast: Appletree Press 1992), p.159. Cork Hill is one of the entrances to Dublin Castle.

And yet this passage has also a mischievous quality, tempting a reader into a false hierarchy and impossible separation. Instead, Moore’s skill as a novelist lies in his unerring detection of connections between social oppression and political sterility, evidenced in the ‘mummery in muslin’ endured by Alice Barton and the general degeneration of Irish society. Its closing chapter presents Alice as a moderately successful novelist, living a life of ‘dull well-to-do-ness’ in ‘typical England’, a society whose foul underside Moore would in turn expose in his best-known novel Esther Waters (1894).

Moore’s depiction of contemporary Dublin society is one of the novel’s most memorable features, ranking with Le Fanu’s historical depictions in the power of its urban scenes. Two female writers in this period also made a significant, and since neglected, contribution to the development of an Irish tradition of urban realism. In 1880, the Cabinet of Irish Literature hailed May Laffan (Hartley) as ‘to some extent the precursor of a new school in Irish fiction’. [101] Her first novel, Hogan MP (1876), provides a sharply observed portrait of contemporary middle-class society in a manner that may have influenced Kate O’Brien’s Mellick scenes. Between 1876 and 1887, Laffan published four other novels and three volumes of short fiction. Laffan and her contemporary, Fannie Gallaher (who occasionally wrote under the pseudonym “Sydney Starr”), were also the pioneers of ‘slum fiction’ in Irish settings. In 1879 Laffan published “Flitters, Tatters and the Counsellor”, a day in the lives of three street children, which ran to six editions in Ireland and England and at least two in America within the first year of publication, and was approvingly cited by John Ruskin and by Yeats. Gallaher’s sketch Katty the Flash: A Mould of Dublin Mud, which appeared the following year, is a more satirical portrait - in this case of two street vendors, mother and daughter - and approaches the grotesque at moments in the narrative. Overall, Laffan’s work is the more deserving of attention, and challenges the prevalent view of fiction of this period as only rural in subject. Of her depiction of Dublin merchant life and petty politics, Robert Lee Woolf, an early champion of Laffan’s work, noted that ‘the nineteenth century has at last caught up with Ireland and the spectacle is not pretty’. [102]

See Notes, attached.


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