A Brief Historical View [pp.171-92]
Technique as correlative to the sense of life which it embodies is our main concern. Only a few supporting comments can be made on the line of novelists which stretches from Maria Edgeworth to Liam OFlaherty.
Inevitably we look to the writings of Maria Edgeworth for it was she who first, perceived the relation between the local habitation and the people who dwell in it (Walter Allen, The English Novel, London 1954, p.98) and exemplified the situation of the novelist in Ireland. In the light of our discussion of the similarities between nineteenth-century Russian, American, and Anglo-Irish literature it is interesting to note Walter  Allens discussion of The Absentee in his critical history of the English Novel:
That is, the reader accustomed to the novel of manners. Thady invests the words honor and loyalty with the same meanings and passions as the narrator of Thomas Caseys stories where there is no ironic gap between story and teller. They refer us, not to a code of manners where Rackrent extravagances are extravagances but to an older, albeit decayed code, where there is an aura of the heroic, the wildly romantic. Thady, after all, tells his tale for the honor of the family. This, of course, is not the whole story - ... evidence which prompts the reader ..., as readers, concerned with the complexities of the written word, we are forced to pay attention to such things as irony and ambiguity. But place Thadys tale among the thousands of folktales of similar type and one can only agree with his final comment - which is itself a trope of Gaelic folktales:
One comes upon this submerged code - let us call it an heroic code as against the manners of society - again and again in the literature of nineteenth-century  Ireland. The Autobiography of William Carleton - in many ways a real-life counterpart to Thady Quirk - is a record of his feats for which he was famous not only through my own, but the adjoining parishes:
His account of his last feat reads like a peasant version of the events in the old, heroic tales. The final phrase sends us straight back to the world of Fionn and Cu Chulainn. The spot where he leaped the Karry is called Carletons leap until this day. Behind that phrase, shadow beyond shadow, lies Tain Bo Cualnge:
The over-riding ambiguity of almost all nineteenth-century Irish Fiction is an ambiguity of context, how are we to evaluate Sir Patrick Rackrent who:
If we view his portrait ironically then our narrator is someone of the ilk of Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park. Such a context seems too limited and too remote. If we forget our modern preoccupation with irony and ironic distance and refer Sir Patrick back to the heroes of folklore then we can see how Thady might love to look upon his picture. There is a world where hard living and unholy dying, if done with sufficient gusto, are the supreme values. It is the Sir Patricia of this world that Christy Mahon will seek out when he wants great company. All have in common, in Yeats phrase, the wasteful virtues.
Lady Morgans works The Wild Irish Girl, ODonnel, The OBriens and the OFlahertys are more purely romantic in form than anything Maria Edgeworth wrote. It is plain, from stray remarks in her Memoirs and letters, that she consciously wrote within the romance form. The strange amalgam of diverse elements which constitute these romances is best brought out by a letter of advice to her from her mentor and friend Joseph Cooper Walker, author of a History of Irish Music. Lady Morgan (then plain Miss Sydney Owenson) is in the West of Ireland struggling with The Wild Irish Girl:
J. C. Walker, in concluding his letter sends his respects to Miss Owensons father from whom his correspondent derived a further influence - her penchant for melodrama and the theatrical construction of her novels. He was the manager of the National Theatre and later, deputy-manager of the Theatre Royal. In bad times he took the lead in numerous melodramas and farces where it was his custom to insert patriotic airs for the honour of the Nation. The practice finds a counterpart in his daughters works where she strikes out again and again at the political and religious condition of the Irish people. The element of romance as her friend and editor, W. Hepworth Dixon, put it,
Miss Dixon here strikes on one of the strengths of the romance form, that it can bear a large freight of illustrative material and it was for this reason, among others, than the Irish writers found it so congenial.
It is part of Lady Morgans significance that she was one of the first to carry on the predatory warfare against Fin Varra and Grana Uaile [Gráinne OMalley]. Her romances, in common with Moores Irish Melodies established a conventional, sentimental image of Ireland that was to exert a powerful influence on later writers and indeed on the rhetoric of Irish politics. Joyces image, in the story Two Gallants, of the harp, heedless that her coverings had fallen about her knees ... weary alike of strangers and her masters hand. (James Joyce, Dubliners, Penguin Edn., 1956, p.52.)  is the sordid declension of the image of Glorvina, The Wild Irish Girl posed with her harp against a ruined castle in the sunset. Appropriately, Joyces harpist played in the bass the melody Silent, O Moyle.
There are times and places when reality itself, the fabric of daily life, becomes so heightened or so terrible as to rival or defy fiction. Today many writers are concerned with the way in which the events of recent times, the horrors we associate with Auschwitz, Hiroshima, the hamlets of Vietnam, seem beyond the reach of words to describe or justly portray. After such knowledge, what forgiveness? The only fit response for many is silence and artistic, if not actual, suicide. The dilemma is not new. It was in many ways the one which faced the Anglo-Irish writers as their century grew in violence and horror, culminating in the Great Famine and the subsequent diaspora. There is a remarkable similarity in the final comments of Maria Edgeworth and Lady Morgan on the way in which Irish life eventually moved beyond the Pale of their art. Maria Edgeworth replied to her brothers question as to why she no longer wrote fiction:
Lady Morgan concludes her villeggiatura of the year 1853 with the entry:
Then as now, not all writers adopted the final radical solution of silence. Banim, Griffin, aad Carleton took up the old burden of explanation and found a rough shape for their intractible material by drawing on the resources of melodrama and the shilling shocker. John [recte Michael] Banims Croho[o]re of-the Billhook is a story of incredible savagery of a kind that could not possible be contained within the conventions of English realistic fiction. Maria Edgeworth, in the passage quoted claimed, We are in too perilous a case to laugh, humour would be out of season, worse than bad taste. Banim, if he were to write at all about the life he knew, had to risk that breach of taste. His strategy was to write what can only be described as black comedy. The climax of Crohoore occurs when the tithe proctor is buried to the neck beside a ditch and Yemen ONeill, to the accompaniment of fiddler and piper and attendant hedge poet,  sets about removing the proctors ears:
A society where justice (Yemen is executing the sentence of the people) is measured out, on one side by removing ears and/or wind-pipe and on the other by hanging judges had passed beyond the civility implied by Marias concept of humour. Banims other fine novel of peasant life, The Nowlans also moves beyond the bounds of realistic fiction but for different reasons. It is particular interesting in that the work is a deliberate effort at mediating between the old contraries of Orange and Green. Daniel, the father of the novels protagonist, John Nowlan, marries a black Protestant. She turns Catholic on her marriage - as the Church demands - first hint that the two sides cannot really meet on equal terms. In the next generation John, now a Catholic priest, falls in love with the daughter of a Protestant neighbour. Reversing the earlier situation, they are married by a Protestant clergyman in London. One could view The Nowlans, metaphorically, as the world of romance superimposed on the world of the novel. Father John, cannot  forget the judgement of the Church on his state: Tu es sacerdos in aeternum secundura ordinem Melchisadech. He is a man for whom the doctrines of salvation and damnation are living, terrible realities. The polite social world into which his wife introduces him in London and Dublin takes on the linaments of Hell. He is as unseemly there as a Biblical citation in a comedy of manners. For Banim, as for so many other Irish writers, the figure of the Priest is charged with energies which break through any purely realistic surface. John and his wife Letty (the very names capture some of their differences) live unhappily. Letty dies and John returns home, mentally sick, to the bosom of his father and his God. These lovers, one bound to a world of religious images and obscure dreads, the other a free spirit, are recurring figures in Anglo-Irish fiction. Françoise, the French wife of Kieran OMeara in John Montagues short story, An Occasion of Sin, shares something of Lettys plight as late as the 1960s:
In Gerald Griffins vivid melodrama The Collegians the conflict of the two worlds is given in rather different terms. Kyrie Daly, son of a very respectable family in middle life, argues with his friend Hardness Cregan on the value of social conventions, the whole world of manners and morals. For Daly, the usages of the polite world are all important, they keep anarchy at bay. Without custom and ceremony
Hardness is a follower of Rousseau. Manners for him imply hypocrisy and meanness. He will carry his beliefs on this point into the most intimate practice:
Hardness, as has frequently been remarked, is the Heathcliff of Anglo-Irish fiction. He is also a surrogate for his creator who writes of him and his surrogate with a force and power that he cannot muster in the service of Daly and his beliefs. John Cronin, in his study of Gerald Griffin, Dedalus Manqué points out the essential resemblance: 
Certainly his view of life, his conviction of the essentially solitary nature of the human condition derived from his Irish Catholicism, crippled Griffin as a novelist and drove his narrow but intense power in the direction of Romance. (Cronin, Gerald Griffins Commonplace Book - A, in Éire-Ireland, IV, 3, 1969, p.38)
The major figure in nineteenth century Anglo-Irish fiction is, without doubt, William Carleton. The title of his most popular and enduring collection speaks for itself - Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry. Carletons work derives directly from the romances of oral, Gaelic tradition. There is a remarkable passage in his unfinished biography which describes the confluence of the two worlds we associate with Anglo and Irish. He is describing his father and his native place:
Carleton himself became a seanachaí and entertained the neighbours as his father had done before him, but more adventurously. He wanted to display his learnin so he composed popular stories on classical model and finding it would not do to go over the same ground too often he took to inventing original narratives. This apprenticeship, together with his avid reading of the picaresque romance of Gil Blas served as a basis for his future work. He gave to the life that surrounded him in his youth and to the stories he had heard a linked embodiment as he described it in the short narratives that were his forte. Then, in response to the challenge of his critics that he was unable to write a novel, since his powers of construction and development were not marked, he wrote Fardorougha the Miser. In the long view of history his critics were right, this and succeeding works - Valentine MClutchy, The Black Prophet, The Squanders of Castle Squander are strange but potent mixtures of political allegory, thesis-novel, and romance. His description of yet another somberly entitled book The Black Baronet in a letter to his publisher might stand for his entire output: 
It would take us too far from our present concerns to deal at any length with Carletons achievements and failures. The general direction of his work, however, may be gauged fro- what he himself regarded as his best novel - The Black Prophet. In it he tried to come to a final summary of his views on Irish life and society. Before approaching this prophetic book it is as well to remind ourselves of a typical feature of European realism:
It is the discovery of Maria Edgeworth and Lady Morgan all over again. Truth is more terrible than fiction; Carleton is writing his preface in the first year of the Great Famine. His theme is those forces which can utterly dissolve the fabric of a society and overwhelm private life - in Irelands case, the landlord system, agrarian violence, famine. He writes of a society where the people pray to be struck down by cholera rather than typhus, a quick rather than a lingering death. The resources of his art are not capable of dealing with such a theme except in terms of melodrama, gothic horror, and thesis writing. At the high point of his presentation of the violence and suffering endured by his people he abandons fiction and in the course of a lengthy footnote has recourse to the unvarnished prose of Dr. Corrigans pamphlet On Fever and Famine as Cause and Effect in Ireland. To-day, with the knowledge of similar artistic failures - perhaps necessary failure - in the face of catastrophe we find it less easy to blame Carleton. His effort to hold together in a single narrative the destructive forces and private life are hopelessly at variance. A conventional romantic-cum-thriller plot creaks through a landscape of black misery and despair. Black is the key term of the novel and indeed Carleton seems to have been obsessed with the word and with darkness
There follows the obligatory footnote which reveals the crossing place of fact and fiction: A fact - the sextons were frequently obliged to dig graves by candlelight. The problem of the relationship between the in fact of the text and the a fact of the footnote contains in little Carletons ambiguous relation to his material.
Through this landscape, more precisely, through Glendhu or the Black Glen, hirple - to use an odd but suitably grotesque word of Carletons - the archetypes of fairytales and dreams, the golden girl and the dark boy, the lost mother and vengeful dead. The central character Donnell Dhu - Black Donnel is both a type from the Ireland of Carletons youth and an archetypal daemonic figure. All of the leading characters derive their intensity from their connection with such archetypes. In the opening scene of the book Donnels daughter is shown sinking her teeth into her stepmother, yet another baleful figure, and the narrative likens the action to [...] the fierce play of some beautiful vampire that was ravening for the blood of its awakened victim. (Ibid., p.7.) To Yeats, fresh from his study of The Black Prophet, Carleton seemed like the animals in Milton, half-emerged only from the earth and its brooding. (Quoted in Flanagan, The Irish Novelists 1800-1850, 1959, p.263.) If we takebrooding in its primary sense of breeding, we have a final image of Carleton, in a time of terror, releasing the fearful spirits of the collective unconscious.
Darkness, in the most literal sense, did descend on Carleton in the end. Old and almost blind he wrote a begging letter to his friend Dr. Corry and gave himself over to prophecy: 
Like the Black Prophet he had an unerring sense of the times. Our brief historical survey takes up again in the nineties and with the enigmatic figure of George Moore. It was not simply, as Carleton had predicted, a new condition of Irish civil society which opened up new fields for his successors. Rather was it contact of a more purely literary kind with those French influences that were at the same time reshaping English literature. George Moore is, increasingly, being acknowledged as the key figure of the period. He wrote poetry in French in the manner of Baudelaire, novels in English in the manner of Zola, a collection of short stories translated under his supervision into Irish that owed a large debt to Paters prose: More generally he was heir to the two conflicting tendencies within French literature of the day, the impulse towards realism and the contrary impulse towards aesthetic symbolism. We might think of A Mummers Wife as embodying the first and his poetic novel of Irish life The Lake as embodying the second. There is, however, a rich diversity in Moores work that precludes any easy classification: Graham Hough, commenting  on Moores evocation of his abandoned mentors - Shelley, Gautier, Zola, Flaubert, Goncourt - marks a rough but sufficiently plastic division:
We might mark off the changed meaning with which we must invest the work romance from this point forward in our discussion of Anglo-Irish prose fiction by considering Moores first novel of Irish life A Drama in Muslin as against The Lake. The first, though much more densely realistic than anything that had gone before (Moore, we remember, was a disciple of Zola) still leans to the illustrative mode in traditional ways - his theme is the old political one of an Ireland torn between landlord and tenant. The Lake on the other hand is something new to Anglo-Irish and to English fiction - [...] the beauty, harmony and integrity of the words on the page are a more important consideration than their efficacy in representing an outer reality (Ibid., p.204.) Moore, in fact, opened the way for Joyce and faced before him the dual allegiance, at once to  realism and beauty. The Lake was also of the first importance - as has been pointed out earlier in the words of Frank OConnor [see note] - in establishing a pattern for half a century to come. In its symbolic quality (There is a lake in every mans heart), its concentration on a solitary hero (lonesomeness being our national failing), its questing for the meaning of existence (my quest is life) this work gave a new meaning and a new dimension to the romance strain in Anglo-Irish fiction.
James Joyce both learned from Moore and to some extent duplicated his experience. Dubliners owes a debt to The Untilled Field and in The Dead one even hears far off echoes of The Lake:
The similarity of the two mens careers is more a matter, as both recognized, of shared experience. In a letter to John Eglinton, Moore recounts a visit paid to him by James Joyce in 1929:
In the same letter Moore recalls having praised himself as a revolutionary and Joyce as a heroic revolutionary. Joyce confessed Paris has played an equal part in our lives ([ibid. [p.630]). Both had striven to hold together the extremes of  richness and reality, symbolism and naturalism, and their ultimate strength derived, not from any harmonious fusion of the two, but from their opposition. Joyce was, of course, in every way Il miglior fabbro: not the least of his achievements was to alter the whole axis of Irish fiction from an almost exclusive concentration on the countryside to the city. Our rapid survey of Anglo-Irish prose fiction has been undertaken with the aim of providing a literary-historical perspective to our study of OFlahertys works. They are of a peculiar kind which is best explicable by reference to the tradition we have outlined both in its early phase and later development. OFlahertys points of contact with this tradition are buroadly: his regional novels which follow directly in the path of Maria Edgeworths and Lady Morgans; his trilogy of historical novels which seek, like Banims and William Carletons, to explain the past to the present and finally, his failing attempt to grapple with the city and its violence. The task of the third part of this study will be to explore these works in depth and to concentrate on the way in which the romance form embodies OFlahertys vision as it did that of his predecessors.
See also his remarks on the Anglo-Irish dramatists in London ...
The Irish dramatic tradition presents a similar picture of the differences. We are attempting to highlight between a literature that tends to move through contradictions to forms of harmony and reconciliation and one content to resolve disharmonies, if at all, by limited means such as pastoral or melodrama. To continue the necessary dogmatic vein of the discussion so far we can say that Irish dramatists, when they turn to English society for their material and audience write comedy of Manners. [Ftn. acknowledgements to Vivian Mercier in conversation.] They depict and satirize the manners and customs of society, generally good London society. Such moral standards as are advanced by the dramatist are either those of society itself or have a concrete social sanction - the social wisdom known as common sense. Aberrations and wildness of conduct in individuals will be corrected or, if they are beyond correction, the individuals will be rejected. The standard invoked is the necessary compromises and imperfections of the social order. Manners and morals and their equivocal relationship provide the largest target for the dramatist within this form. One thinks to the work of William Congreve, George Farquhar, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw. When the Irish dramatist turns to the divisions and dissensions within Irish society he lacks a fine texture of received and traditional manners to work on. Instead he writes either Melodrama, pastoral or, more commonly, Mock Pastoral [William Empson, Some Versions of Pastoral, 1925]. The hero or protagonist of Mock Pastoral is not an idealized peasant, as in the pastoral mode proper, but a tinker, beggar, tramp, or criminal. type. He is both anti-hero and anti-society, at the end of the play he will be banished from the stage and the unadventurous decent people remain behind. Captain Boyle and Jockser Daly are typical mock-Pastoral figures. Synge is the foremost exponent of the mode. Christy Mahon, after he has become a likely gaffer in the  end of all.