Anthony Trollope's "Father Giles of Ballymoy"

?earlier version written 1841 (September), Archibald Green story
Published 1860 (May), Argosy
Published in a book 1867 (August), Lotta Schmidt and Other Stories, Strahan
Another version published in William Le Fanu's Seventy Years of Irish Life. London, Edward Arnold, 1983 pp. 190-2 To Trollope-l

February 22, 1998

Re: Short Stories: "Father Giles:" Our Narrator Is Taught Another Lesson

After I read this story, I wondered why Trollope had not published with the earlier "O'Conors of Castle Conor," and came up with an explanation based partly on the differences between the two tales. In the earlier story we are in the world of the upper class gentry of Ireland and they are presented pleasantly; here we are in the world of the rough working class and while they are not presented harshly, Trollope does not mince words about how he feels frightened by this people, how he feels a stranger, how downright "lawless" and "savage" they appear to him, to say nothing of his distrust of their apparently unkempt barely civilized living arrangements. According to Sutherland's note, this depiction of the ordinary Catholic Irish has real verisimilitude and accords with stories by Sheridan Le Fanu. Maybe Trollope saw or was made to see how tactless was his general picture of Irish life when unrelieved by a tragic tale (of the type we find in The Macdermots--Trollope's first novel, which hardly sold a copy anyway).

Second the "faux pas" Archibald Green makes is a minor one which threatens at most himself and the poor servant who puts on his very uncomfortable heavy boots. In this one Archibald Green almost killed a man, and a priest at that. I had misremembered when I called this story bawdy; I don't think it is that. But there is a sense of a taboo broached when Green thinks Father Giles is about to get into bed with him, and in a panic pushes him out of the room, only to remember too late that there is no landing between the door of his room and the deep stairwell. How the poor Father survived his deep fall is not quite explained; we rather take it on faith that he was lucky and originally very strong so that he escaped merely with some sore and heavy but transient injuries. Green also spends an unpleasant--but deserved-- night in jail. The officer--a Macdermot_ puts him there partly to protect him from the populace, but it's not a very comfortable evening, and had the priest died, he would have been in serious trouble from the law and the community. Maybe this too Trollope thought too strong.

I have a third explanation which I will put off until the end of this posting.

This story does show some of the same problems we saw in the other first person narratives. While Trollope is partly sending himself up, showing himself to have had a wholly inadequate and unfair idea about the Irish, and tells a story in which he shows us how he is punished and goes through an agon which teaches him a lesson, it's not clear he is convinced he was in the wrong altogether. After all he was not told the room was the Father's and the Father had offered to share it with him. The joke at the end is at the Father's expense: "when you find a gentleman asleep, he would say, 'always ask his leave before you take a liberty with his hair-brush.'" The excuse Green comes up with that Trollope apparently thinks passes muster (he admits he should have noticed the room had two beds) is that his private property was interfered with. Green is relieved when the Father's first words when he comes to consciousness is an admission he used the gentleman's hair-brush. Trollope half-implies that this is a silly excuse by making a joke of it, and yet he uses it at the story's key point and close.

It is curious that Green's sexual panic which is not articulated as sexual panic but rather his sense that "the grand touchstone of civilization" is not sharing your bed with a member of your own sex either because there are not enough beds or because you are not fastidious over who gets in with you is not brought up as his excuse in the meditations to the reader.

Probably one of the best things about the story isthe depiction of the Irish people after the Father falls and Green is forced to acknowledge they are human and thoughtful and have a burden of humanity and passions like his own. Another is the depiction of the Father who we are told is based on a real Catholic priest with whom Trollope became fast friends. He certainly must have been a tolerant man.

A final pleasing element in the story is the grace note of melancholy with which it opens and closes. The first paragraph tells us it was 30 years ago our narrator first went to this little town in the west of Ireland, 20 since he became "acquainted with one of the honestest fellows and best Christians whom it has ever been my good fortune to know," for which 20 years "he and I were fast friends, though he was much my elder." And it's 10 years since he died: "As he has now been ten years beneath the sod, I may tell the story of our first meeting." So here is our third explanation. Although Trollope had written the story meaning to publish it, and presumably fictionalized the originals to some extent, he felt in the end that it would hurt the feelings of his friend by making him something of a butt. I held this explanation off not only to point to this characteristic note of melancholy we find in Trollope's first-person narratives ("The Relics of General Chassee" is also about a man we are reminded several times is now in the ground), but as a final comment on the ambiguity of these stories in the first person narrative.

Ellen Moody

Date: Sun, 22 Feb 1998 19:31:32 EST
Subject: Short Story: "Father Giles of Ballymoy"

Sutherland could not have chosen better for an opening story for his second volume of Trollope's short stories. Anthony was at his self-deprecating, humorous best. Once again the protagonist is Trollope's by now familiar hobbledehoy Archibald Green (remember the missing dancing shoes in "The O'Conors of Castle Conor, County Mayo"?). This is another Irish story, and Mr. Green didn't hesitate to poke fun at his own apprehension about the expected barbarity of the natives; " ... I will own that I was somewhat scared lest I should be made a victim to the wild lawlessness and general savagery of the people; and I fancied, as in the wet, windy gloom of the night, I could see the crowd of natives standing round the doors of the inn, and just discern their naked legs ... " Unfortunately, Mr. Green could not understand something the maid said to him about Father Giles; her voice was muffled by her " ... bending over the bed, folding the bedclothes.". Father Giles was obviously the preeminent personage in this small town; Mr. Green wearied of each inhabitant offering some bit of information about this universal favorite. Possessing the almost universal British distrust of all things Roman Catholic, Archibald began to suspect that some tricks would be afoot; "Was it possible that my trousers might be refused me till I had taken mass?" Ready for anything, he quickly fell asleep.

At some time in the wee hours, Mr. Green was aroused by the invasion of his quarters by " ... a tall, stout, elderly man standing with his back towards me, in the middle of the room, brushing his clothes with the utmost care." He realized with indignation that the stranger was brushing his clothes with his, Mr. Green's, clothes-brush. When he confronted the man with using a brush not his own, the stranger replied, " ' And if a man hasn't a clothes-brush of his own, what else can he do but use somebody else's?' " Annoyance turned to anger when the man began removing his clothes. When Mr. Green asked him what he was doing, and became furious when the man informed him, " ' I am going to bed. ... Here.' " Mr. Green thought the intruder contemplated getting into bed with him, and threw him out, over the man's protests that it was his own room, forgetting that the stairs began immediately outside his door. The stairs were steep, and to make matters worse, the stranger fell against the landlady, who was coming up the stairs to ascertain what the matter was. All hell broke loose.

The intruder was none other than the beloved Father Giles, and Archibald Green had incurred the wrath of the entire population of the village of Ballymoy. " 'He shall be hanged if there's law in Ireland ... Oh, you born blagghuard! ... You thief of the world! That the like of you should ever have darkened my door!' " To his increasing horror, he heard, " ' To go and chuck him out of the room like that - his own room, too, and he a priest and an ould man - he had given up the half of it, though I axed him not to do so, for a sthranger as nobody knowed nothing about.' " And to make matters even worse, he remembered, too late, that there were two beds in the room, and Father Giles had never intended to get into bed with him.

Archibald Green had really stepped into it. "I can hardly explain the bitterness that was displayed against me. I was beginning to feel glad that the police were coming, thinking that I needed protection. ... For vengeance they were now beginning to clamour, and even before the sergeant of police had come, the two sub-constables were standing over me; and I felt they were protecting me from the people in order that they might give me up - to the gallows!"

The doctor, upon his arrival, instead of reassuring the people of priest's ultimate recovery, poured gasoline on the fire by " ... insisting on the terrible nature of the outrage and the brutality shown by the assailant." The only person showing any forbearance was the priest himself; " ' Be aisy, Tom ... Tell the gentleman I ain't so bad at all."

Archibald Green spent a miserable night locked up in pokey, for his own protection. Father Giles knew that the only way he could obtain forgiveness for Archibald's trespass was to forgive the trespasser himself. Archibald was invited for breakfast, and taken to the heart of the priest and thereby, of the town. A narrow squeak!

Jill Spriggs

Date: Mon, 23 Feb 1998 21:24:01
Subject: Short Story: "Father Giles:" Broad Comedy & Slapstick

This is to say how much I enjoyed Jill's retelling of "Father Giles" in such a way as to bring out and interpret the highlight some of its key elements. One of these is that of broad comedy and slapstick. I know as we began TWWLN, some people used the word "slapstick" of it. I still can't see that and I am now into Installment 13. But slapstick, broad comedy and a kind of psychological battle which is farcical are common elements in all the stories in which Trollope uses his first person narrators. Sleighs overturn; the ornaments on Italian noblemen are not safe; people cannot fit their feet into shoes; other people steal one's trousers, or worse, apply a scissor to them in "delicate places."

Jill's retelling brought forward the vivid pictorial nature of the clues:

"Unfortunately, Mr. Green could not understand something the maid said to him about Father Giles; her voice was muffled by her " ... bending over the bed, folding the bedclothes.'"

Also the people bumping into one another:

"Mr. Green thought the intruder contemplated getting into>bed with him, and threw him out, over the man's protests that it was his own room, forgetting that the stairs began immediately outside his door. The stairs were steep, and to make matters worse, the stranger fell against the landlady, who was coming up the stairs to ascertain what the matter was. All hell broke loose."

Had the above been a Restoration comedy the difference would have been the characters would have stumbled over one another as they popped in, out, and from underneath the wrong person's bed.


Again John Hopfner wrote in to ask me about what I wrote about this story in my book:

Re: "Father Giles of Ballymoy": From Trollope on the Net

In the former Archibald Green (aka Anthony Trollope) tells how he was awakened from sleep in a room at an inn by a Father who came in, proceeded to use his brush, and seemed about to get into bed with him, and terrified and indignant, thrust the Father out the door, only to discover the only reason he had been given the bed in the first place was the Father had offered to share one of two beds in the Father's room. The Father's fall so endangers the man's life and limbs, a police officer, one Captain Tom Macdermot, places Green in jail to protect him from the anger of the innsfolk. The story ends happily because the Father is (luckily) not badly hurt, and is intelligent, has a sense of humor, and forgives Green.


Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated: 11 January 2003