August 25, 2001
Re: Castle Richmond, Chs 1-5: Lyrical Style
I hope no one will mind if I write tonight instead of waiting until tomorrow morning. I just finished the first five chapters and enjoyed them so much.
The mood of the book is strikingly different from that of The Kellys and O'Kellys: while much in the story that is happening is based on realistic probabilities and goals and the characters are fully rounded or complex, all that bathes these happenings is romantic. The landscape is a kind of quiet gothic; there are three houses which are contrasted symbolically: Desmond Park is ancient Ireland now without funds, falling apart, wooded, meadows, but its family is very proud; Castle Richmond, the new Anglo- Protestant establishment with an upright but deeply melancholy couple at its center, one with a troubled past; Hap House, the center of the secondary hero, someone without a family who resorts to "sin" to keep him occupied at night but who has better dreams to act out for himself. The characters are presented as heroine, heroes; most of them intensely emotional at some level: Trollope is especially intensely erotic when it comes to both Clara, the daughter, and Clara the Countess. Consider this introduction of young Clara:
There was a liquid depth in [her eyes] which enabled the gazer to look down into them as he would into the green, pellucid transparency of still ocean water. And then they said so much --- those young eyes of hers: from her mouth in those early years words came but scantily, but from her eyes questions rained quicker than any other eyes could answer them. Questoin of wonder at what the world contained -- of wonder as to what men thought and did; question sas to the inmost heart, and truth, and purpose of the person questioned. And all this was asked by a glance now and again; by a glance of those long, shy liquid eyes, which were ever falling on the face of him she queistioned, and then ever as quickly falling from it" Oxford Castle Richmond, ed Mary Hamer, ch 2, p. 11)
This passage makes me think of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. It too has a dying fall. The friendship between the young Earl and Owen is also presented in an equally idyllic way. Our hero, Herbert is not overly handsome, but he clearly a noble presence inwardly. Owen is given some qualities of Trollope himself (like Owen who has a "loving heart", he was left on his own without constraints in London and went to the "bad" momentarily; he too like Herbert was awkward, a dreamer), but they are shot through with this strong feel of romance.
I like it. The kind of hardness and pragmaticism we saw in The Kellys and O'Kellys is not a strong motive here: there is no squabbling and the patterns of intimidation are gone. The specificity over sums in The Kellys and O'Kellys is a sign of its rootedness in the practical; characters in this novel are desperate, but not to triumph over one another to gain some immediate monetary or even long-term advantage. The motives for scenes here arise from inward memories and impulses within the characters which are not presented as put on tables for immediate negotiation over deals. Instead they come out of subjective longings within the characters, longings for friendship, love, respect (in the case of Sir Thomas and Lady Fitzgerald trying to overcome their past). Indeed the subjective has now become the all important value where it was dismissed by most of the characters in The Kellys and O'Kellys or at least not over-emphasized.
I am ever taken by how different each of Trollope's texts really are. In large outlines of stories, in courtship plots, in character types, in certain kinds of paradigms (e.g., stories about debt, dramatizations of courtroom scenes, meditations over customs and ethical relativity) all his novels have strong similarities. But once you begin to look at how these things play out in each, the design, the mood, the imagery:
"she has gathered herself like a snail into its shell for the evening" (Ch 2, p. 20)
"with subdued anger, she continued to gaze through the window till all without was dusk and dark" (Ch 4, p. 38)
Each of his novels has its own little universe.
Two elements I'd point out from these two chapters which seem to me part of its individuality. First the style. In some of his romantic novellas (The Golden Lion of Granpère, Nina Balatka, Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite) Trollope uses the same lyrical sentences and distancing techniques, language which sums things up in a concise way that turns happenings into archetypes that we find here. But in these there is so much less detail; he moves so swiftly and the story is conveyed through generalities so a lot of ground is covered quickly. In this book he stays with details so there is a delicacy to the descriptions, whether they be of places, as in the two young men going fishing, hunting, walking together, of evocations of the past (the story of Countess of Desmond, of the Fitzgeralds), and of the characters -- and the male characters are described with the same sweetness as the female ones. He is moving slowly and filling out the paragraphs. You are really pulled in thoroughly.
Consider the rhythms of the following:
"It is the largest inhabited residence known in that part of the world, where rumours are afloat of who it covers ten acres of ground; how in hewing the stones for it a whole mountain was cut away; how it should have cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, only that the money was never paid by the rapacious, wicked, blood-thirsty old earl who caused it to be erected; -- how the cement was thickened with human blood. So goes rumour with the more romantic of the Celtic tale bearers" (Ch 1, p. 3)
The repetition of each clause, how it is parallel in structure and echoes the one before is the trick of the style of this book.
Second, the celebration or commemoration of Ireland. The first three pages are more than an argument on behalf of writing another Irish novel because he, the author, owes it to the place that nurtured him and in which he was happy. They are more than an argument against a kind of reading that assumes the literal surface content of a story is centrally important: so that a story about English bourgeois life must be better than one about Ireland. They are also more than a defense of Irish people and Irish culture. They and the rest of the five chapters picture Ireland alluringly, nostalgically almost. Perhaps the note of the book and the stance is set on the second page:
I am now leaving the Green Isle and my old friends ,and would fain say a word of them as I do so. If I do not say that word now it will never be said (Ch 1, p. 2)
This saying a word also means bringing before the reader the problems of Ireland 13 years ago.
The whole thing is also done lightly, nothing over-emphatic. Since we have just read Scott and are reading Thackeray and I am reading Eliot on my own, the style of this book stands out (at least to me) as so much lighter, more modern than any of these authors. In comparison Dickens's style is pestered thick with images (I would liken Dickens to Shakespeare, Trollope to Dryden). The sentences are shorter; they go to the point; they don't overweight themselves with complex thought or ironies or sheer information. Trollope is more readable than most of his contemporaries is one way of putting what I am saying. Yet the quiet and swiftness, how we are moved along does not mean the style is empty or faded or flat; the whole thing is chock-a-block with imagined detail. The story of Mary Wainright's first marriage, her past has to be read with care for there are clues planted for us: this novel is written not in the way of dramatic irony (where the reader is told how it will end and we watch the characters who do not know how it's going to end), but as a mystery. The style there has the same distancing liquid feel, the same pull towards the idyllic or seasonal and far-away:
"when the first stupor arising from their grief had passed away, and when they once more began to find that the fields were still green, and the sun warm, and that God's goodness was not at an end" (ch 5, p. 49).
In a little epitome we have here Trollope's emotional attitude towards the famine -- this is providential romance.
A good man replaced the bad for Mary:
Among those who had truly felt for them in their misfortunes, who had really pitied them and encountered them with loving sympathy, the kindest most valued friend had been the vicar of a neighbouring parish. He himself was a widower without children but living with him at that time, and reading with him, was a young gentleman whose father was just dead, a baronet of large property, and an Irishman. This was Sir Thomas Fitzgerald" (Ch 5. p. 50)
This is not to say Trollope doesn't do justice to the sordid, squalid, mean, stupid, supersititious, injust, & irrational in human experience in this book. It's there: in the old Earl, in the Countess, in the attitude towards Owen by the young Earl and the Countess, in how the neighbors of the Wainrights responded to what happened to her more generally. A line that caught my attention in these chapters was Owen's retort to the comically treated bigotry of Aunt Letty. She is horrified at the goings on at Hap House (which probably are meant to include the young men having women there as well as drinking and gambling):
"'Oh, you might do worse, you know. With us you'd only drink and play cards, and perhaps hear a little strong language now and again. But what's that to slander, and calumny, and bearing false witness against one's neighbour" (Ch 2, p. 20).
In a simple ironic question, Trollope nails down a real everyday cruelty in life.
Cheers to all,
Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2001
From Roger Batt
Re: Castle Richmond , Chs 1-5: Lyrical Prose
Thanks for your super post on Castle Richmond. I started it this weekend and enjoyed it so much. I actually haven't read any Trollope for quite a number of months and it was such a good feeling to settle down again into that well known comfortable style, like putting on a pair of comfy old slippers (not meant derogatively BTW). One thing I noticed is how much we get in the first 5 chapters, not only all the past story of Mary Wainwright (which could have made a whole book itself), and a load of background, but a marriage proposal and rejection as well. I trust he has enough plot to keep us going through the whole book!
August 26, 2001
Re: Castle Richmond, Chs 1-5: Lyrical Style I thank Roger very much for his kind thank you.
Date: Sun, 26 Aug 2001
Re: Castle Richmond: Historical Background
Reading the early chapters of Castle Richmond, I felt I could do with a bit of historical background on the Irish famine, so I had a quick look around and found a few useful websites.
This one is an educational site - I've read part of it and it makes devastating reading. I was shocked to learn that, despite the failure of the potato crop, Ireland was actually producing twice as much food as its population needed (grain, meat etc) throughout the years of the great famine. But most of this plenty was exported to mainland Britain while people died of starvation in the streets. http://www.nde.state.ne.us/SS/irish_famine.html
Here are another couple of links: http://www.people.virginia.edu/~eas5e/Irish/Famine.html
Bye for now
Date: Sun, 26 Aug 2001
As a historian who has taught many courses in British and Irish history, I would like to second Rory's cautionary note about the reliability of websites related to such contentious issues as the Famine. It has long been widely believed by many fervent Irish nationalists (especially among the descendants of Famine emigrants in America) that, during the Famine, food was exported from Ireland in quantities more than sufficient to feed the entire population. As with many such "facts," this one begins with something that is incontrovertibly true, but leaps to an interpretation that is demonstrably false. Grain was, indeed, exported, but hardly in sufficient amounts to prove a case for deliberate genocide.
I have just, as it happens, written a review of James Donnelly's authoritative new book, The Great Irish Potato Famine (Sutton Publishing, 2001). In treating this issue, Donnelly makes three basic points: first, far less grain was exported during the Famine than had been the norm during the previous years; second, about three times as much grain was imported into Ireland during the Famine years as was exported (a substantial portion of this by the British government as part of relief efforts); and, third and most important, the pre-Famine dependance of the Irish peasantry on the potato had become so overwhelming -- accounting by one estimate for as much as 60% of the country's entire nutritional needs -- that the food gap during the potato blight could not have come close to being remedied even if all of the exported grain had been kept in Ireland.
For the record, I should note that Donnelly hardly attempts to exculpate the British government. On the contrary, like most other recent scholars of the Famine, he is harshly critical of many of its profoundly misguided policies, such as the Amended Poor Law of 1847, which almost certainly added to the human toll of the catastrophe.
Besides the new Donnelly book, I would also strongly recommend Peter Gray's The Irish Famine (in the Abrams Discoveries series) as a concise and very reliable account of the Famine, supplemented by many illustrations and a selection of documents.
Date: Mon, 27 Aug 2001
Many thanks to Frank Biletz for the very informative and thought-provoking posting about the Irish Famine and the different interpretations of the historical events.
I will see if I can get hold of one of the books you recommended. It sounds as if one of these would be a much better starting-point in gleaning some authoritative historical background than the websites I mentioned.
The websites do have some memorable images, and some interesting contemporary accounts from individuals - but I will certainly bear in mind your warnings about why the factual information should be treated with caution.
August 26, 2001
Re: Castle Richmond: Precarious Entitlements to Food
First let me warmly welcome Frank A. Biletz to our list. Lady Lucky has been with us of late. For our Thackeray reads Elizabeth has joined us, and now we have Frank. I hope he knows we are going on to read a book about Ireland or by an Irish person (with emphasis on the 19th century) after Castle Richmond.
I will add the books Frank has cited to that long list of books I mean to read.
In writing my book I ended up writing the first two chapters on Trollope's Irish fiction not only because the first group read I ever led was on Trollope's first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, but also because I came to the conclusion that Trollope's time in Ireland was centrally formative for him: not only as a novelist (he became a novelist there), but as a mature man. To put it far more bluntly and briefly than I did in my book: the experience of Ireland which included his new job and new acquaintances outside the hierarchical circles he had known in England (most of whom knew his mother and father and before whom he found himself previously defined as a probable failure) helped bring him out of a long intense depression he had endured on and off since a boy.
For Castle Richmond I began with the "classic" books on the famine: I seem to remember one called The Great Hunger but cannot find the reference this morning; one recent collection, filled with interesting essays which connect directly to Trollope's book as several treat of the famine in literature is The Great Irish Famine, ed. Cathal Póirtéir (Dublin, 1995); I also found F. S. Lyons's Ireland Since the Great Famine superb -- especially for someone who comes to the topic without previous knowledge.
However, I found even better 2 books whose author won the Nobel Prize: Amartya Kumar Sen's Poverty and famines: an essay on entitlement and deprivation (Oxford, 1982); Jean Drèze, Amartya Kumar Sen, and Athar Hussain, edd. The Political Economy of Hunger: Selected Essays (Oxford, 1995). The reason these are better is the way in which Sen explains how a famine comes about -- or better yet defines what it is -- directly addresses Judy's question: how is it that a country can have what seems like plenty of food about, can export it, can have people on one block who are clearly eating pretty well (say the Fitzgeralds and Desmonds in our book) and people on the next who are starving to death. A economic condition is popularly defined as famine when a majority of the people in a given area are starving to death, but we all know or have seen and read enough about the world to know at the same time and in the same place there will be people doing just fine -- or well enough. In brief Sen argued and demonstrated (to the satisfaction of the Swedish academy and other economists) that "famines" occur when the amount of food in an area where there are groups of people whose entitlement to food is highly precarious suddenly goes down. It's not that there isn't enough food for all; it's that there is suddenly much less than there needs to be for the people in the area who are not perceived as having a right to any. Those who have a right or entitlement to it (called private property) can go ahead and buy, sell, export, make profits -- and that's what happens in famines regularly.
Sen's book is important because his explanation highlights what was true of the 1847-48 famine and is true of famines today. That is; his book makes Castle Richmond relevant to situations in Africa (Somalia, Ethiopia), Asia (Bangladesh) where "famines" have occurred recently and various governments have attempted to relieve the people inside the country who are starving to death. It is a sad truth that although you might find were you to ask "the average person on the street" in say a Western country that such a person would say no one should starve, everyone has a right to eat just from being alive as a human being, nonetheless, there are not programs in place even inside a given country much less across the world which guarantee food to everyone. Here in the US since the passage of a recent "Welfare-Work" Bill, many families have been removed from government help; the statistic is usually cited as evidence of the program's success. But once people leave these rolls, no one follows up on what happens to them. In a recent issue of The Progressive there was an essay on just the issue of what the income is of people who live below the poverty level, and what is their probable state of partial hunger -- the problem is statistics on these people are not kept. What the essay could show and did is that the sense middle class people in the US have that everyone is doing very well in the US is not at all true, and that there are hungry people. It used statistics collected by charities involved in feeding people.
Trollope's Six Essays, which have been condemned as heartless or dense because while they reveal a callousness in him towards people not of his own class or type, are of great interest. While they were condemned in his own period too, they are not unintelligent. I have wondered if one reason they aroused such indignation is that he is honest about a real particular problem when it comes to relieving famine. He shows the corruption and greed of middlemen that occur as part of famine relief; he also argues that sending in large amounts of food will disrupt a local economy. Again an unhappy truth of famine relief is that when you send in food, strong and cunning and aggressive groups of people repeatedly get their hands on amounts of it, set up a blackmarket and charge horrendously high prices. One of the most powerful scenes of William Carleton's The Black Prophet: A Tale of Irish Famine depicts a man who is selling food to desperately poor people for more money than they can afford to pay. It shows him to be almost as desperate as they; he is a mean low cur as a type of person. He is part of a ring which has gotten its hands on some of the government food.
Another reality of famine relief is that you do disrupt a local economy. Of course to Mr Trollope we would say, so what. Trollope argues in true Malthusian style that it is good for the society as a whole that there be less people around when there is less food around. The result will end up with more jobs. He is also aware that the increase in population among the Irish was a direct result of potato growing, and says that now diversification will start. When we get to it, there is a paragraph in Castle Richmond where he talks of how the landowners in Ireland were able to take advantage of potato growing. Herbert Fitzgerald is given some words which are partly his and partly the narrators to say that the landlowners' expensive lifestyle was supported by subdividing their property into the tiniest plots which could still support a peasant by the ubiquitous potato. This then enabled them to squeeze from each tenant the largest rent they could, all the while depending on the potato to feed their tenants. This was bad for everyone says Mr Trollope. Doubtless. But people like the Cashels and Wyndhams in The Kellys and O'Kellys don't like such truths to be bruited about. Again Trollope has told a truth which reveals how a segment of society supports itself totally amorally.
In other words, his tract was condemned because he told unpalatable truths. Nowadays it is still deplored because he told these truths inside a perspective which is inhumane. As we shall see, he was able to do this by rationalizing the whole thing as part of God's providential plan.
Mon, 27 Aug 2001
The book you are thinking of is Cecil Woodham-Smith's The Great Hunger, first published in 1962 and often reprinted. At least until very recently, it has always been the most widely read work on the Famine, though it was much criticized when it came out by professional historians in Ireland, including F. S. L. Lyons, as excessively "emotional" in its analysis of British policies. In more recent years, however, such "revisionist" historians as Lyons and his student Roy Foster, who consciously sought to undermine nationalist "myths" about Irish history, have themselves been much criticized for being too dispassionate about the traumatic elements in Irish history, especially the Famine. The weakest part of Foster's widely read Modern Ireland 1600-1972 is, in my judgment, that on the Famine. This said, I would still strongly recommend Lyons's superb Ireland Since the Famin (1971), which you cited in your post, though it has superceded in some respects by more recent research.
On the subdivision of land issue, it should be noted that this practice was rooted in Gaelic law and custom, in which land was not passed down to the eldest son by primogeniture, but rather was divided among the heirs (known in English law as "gavelkind"). Although this form of land tenure was formally abolished in 1606, it was reimposed a century latter (1704) as part of the notorious Penal Laws. This act restored the practice of gavelkind among Catholic landowners, except in cases where the eldest son converted to Protestantism, when the land could be passed on intact.
The introduction of the potato, which could feed larger families on relatively small plots, further encouraged the custom of subdivision of land and, between 1750 and 1845, Ireland experienced a population explosion even greater than that which occured in England during this same period. By the mid-19th century, however, it was definitely not in the economic interests of landowners to continue this process of subdivision. There was far more money that could be made by rationalizing agriculture in Ireland and converting the subdivided lands to pasture than could ever be made in rents from impoverished peasants. >From the standpoint of landowners, the Famine served to move this process forward and the forced clearances of the poorest tenants from many estates is one of the saddest aspects of the Famine.
"Gregory's clause" in the Amended Poor Law of 1847 further contributed to this process by mandating that no one holding more than a quarter of an acre of land could receive Famine relief. Incidentally, this clause was named for William Gregory, MP for Dublin and the future husband of the writer Lady Gregory.
One might well ask how landowners and government officials justified polices that had such dire consequences. As the recent work of Peter Gray has demonstrated, "providentialism" was a crucial aspect of the world view of British officials in charge of relief policies, as well as a substantial portion of the British public, and this served to rationalize relief efforts that we would regard as terribly inadequate.
Best wishes to all,
Maize was imported and distributed as part of the famine relief. However, the recipients did not know how to prepare it and it was widely believed to turn one black - after all, it came from foreign countries, where the inhabitants were far from white in pigmentation.
Castle Richmond: The Famine & Beautiful Art
I was interested by Frank's comment that many of the establishment people filtered the horrors playing out right in front of them by a word screen of talk about Providence. I call this a word screen because I am sceptical of the depth of adherence to words by people: in life many people tend to try not to take anything seriously which they don't have to (it's safer, easier), or, when that's not possible, at least providing some word spin which tries to diminish the seriousness of whatever is going on in front of them. Then there is the parallel -- always alive in American minds -- of slaveholders and those who justified their practice with similar references to the Bible. How sincere were those? Read the letters or memoirs of such people, and you find it's easy to scratch it away and produce something very cool indeed. Mammals, it has been shown repeatedly, are anything but altruistic even or well before push comes to shove. Rory and Michael have now brought before us the analogy made between the Irish poor and black slaves. Has it not ever been the habit or custom of those in power to de-humanize those they exploit -- no matter how closely they associate with them? The fashionable language would be to turn them into "others": not me; this could never happen to me; this could never be me.
Yet here is this seriously meant book. I see this beautiful lyrical style as Trollope's conscious working up of a mood. When a man is this consistent, he has to be in control of his prose, and Castle Richmond is consistently rhythmical; the sentences move in circular echoing fashion; the archetypes are drawn from romance literature. Go back to Sidney's Arcadia; go to Madame de Lafayette's _Zaide_. In these two romance-novels you will find remarkable analogues in language between the way Trollope describes a house or character and the way Sidney & Lafayette do.
What is the intent? Trollope is creating an adequate medium for him to present this idea that it was a Providential arrangement -- and he must block the perception of it as murderous from a cold and de-mystifying eye such as he himself had. The idea that extermination is good for a people must be kept under romance wraps. So the two parts (or the plots) of the novel do fit together. Not that for Trollope or many people of his generation it's absurd (as I assume for many people on our list it might be -- it is for me), but that's it's fearful and conjures up notions of God that are fideist, Calvinistic in the sense we find in some Jacobean tragedies -- where the world is made into a dark malign place commandeered by some Fearful Presence.
To me we have here an example of this all too common phenomena, the ability of people to shut off parts of their minds. When Trollope sits down to write a novel, he produces it from an area of his mind that people have in the last couple of hundred years liked to call the Imagination; Freud called it the subconscious. When within this area, he can shut off and at times does -- when his material is too threatening -- other areas of the mind which for convenience and simplicity I'll call Reason in its humane and identificatory (if I may make up a word) capacity.
Cheers to all,
Re: Castle Richmond: Precarious Entitlements to Food (II)
We should mention that Castle Richmond does not approach the topic of faminein its first five chapters. The knowledgeable reader at the time would quickly guess what's coming when told that the story takes place 13 years ago: counting back from 1860 that brings us to 1847.
We can see that Trollope has taken his central characters from people who are not starving to death. Despite the fame of the book coming from its connection with the 1847 famine, there are books written at the time which depict this particular famine squarely and with intense compassion and anger far more powerfully than Trollope does. The ironic truth is that nonetheless some of these books are otherwise much weaker than Trollope's. I would argue that Trollope's novel is one of the best of the period which deal with the famine: William Carleton's The Black Prophet: A Tale of Irish Famine (which I mentioned before) is often unreadable: it's sentimental; it drags; as art it is inferior to Trollope's. As propaganda, as a depiction of a famine, it is head and shoulders above Trollope's.
I was glad someone suggested we read a "partner" book with The Kellys and O'Kellys because then at least some of us would be given time and an opportunity to read one of these other books. As Frank and Rory too probably know the 1847-49 famine was just one of many to have occurred in Ireland in the 19th century. If we take Sen's definition of famine, we can understand why famine would repeatedly occur in Ireland at the time -- and it did. I forget what years were stated as nearly as bad as 1847, but 1819 comes to mind, and some of the books by Irishmen which were written at the time (by Carleton too) dramatize these other famines. Life in Ireland in the 19th century for Irish Catholics without money or property (a common condition) was very very hard, very (to use Sen's term) precarious.
I never did have time to mention a reference which occurred in The Kellys and O'Kellys, one of many which showed Trollope was attempting to depict the Irish milieu thoroughly: either Armstrong or Jocelyn refers to "hedge" priests. This term "hedge" conjures up a whole series of realities: in Ireland it was common for people who were teaching children to set up "hedge schools". The lack of money for buildings, the (in effect) persecution of Catholicism through laws which discriminated so heavily against them led to people holding schools by hedges. I bring this up now since I want to recommend to Judy and all the collection of short stories by William Carleton called Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry: these include two stories which are unforgettable and very great, "The Hedge School" and "Wildgoose Lodge" The first tells a tale about someone who is a schoolmaster of such a school; the second is about a group of terrorists (some would call them freedom fighters) in which the internecine betrayal of one another ends in sudden startling executions. "Wildgoose Lodge" makes an interesting companion to Trollope's late The Landleaguers which also tells of how violence outside the law often devolves into horrific deaths for many and a total breakdown of a community into paranoia.
I'll end this posting with 2 quotations. The first comes from W. J. McCormack's Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1980). He cites at length William Cobbett's description of an Irish family hut in Limerick:
"In one street ... I saw more misery than any man could have believed existed in the whole world. Men sleeping in the same wisp of dirty straw, or weeds, with their mothers, sisters and aunts; and compelled to do so, or perish; two or three families in one room, that is to say a miserable hole ten feet by eight or nine; and husbands, wives, sons, daughters, all huddled together, paying 6d. or 8d. or 10d. a week for the room; and the rent paid to a 'nobleman' in England . . . At a place in the country [near Limerick] I went to the dwelling of a widower, who is nearly sixty years of age, and who had five children all very nearly stark naked. The eldest girl, who is fifteen years of age, had a sort of apron to hide the middle part of her body before, and that was all she had. She hid herself, as well as she could, behind or at the end of, an old broken cupboard; and she held up her two arms and hands to hide her breasts. This man pays 30s. rent for an acre of the poorest land'.
In both The Macdermots of Ballycloran and this Castle Richmond Trollope includes imagined scenes which are as graphic and frighteningly desperate as Cobbett's. Doubtless Mr Trollope had seen them. I won't describe the ones in Castle Richmond coming up, but will quote one from The Macdermots (to whet appetites of anyone who has not read this genuinely tragic masterpiece -- one of Trollope's great books): I am copying and pasting it from my book: In Chapter Nine (of The Macdermots) Trollope takes us into the following 'mud hovel' on an estate which has been cut up into tiny plots so as to enable the landlord to extract as much rent from it as possible, while relying on the potato to feed the tenants:
The doorway, all insufficient as it is, takes nearly the whole facing to the street. The roof, looking as if it were only the dirty eaves hanging from its more aspiring neighbour on the right, supports itself against the cabin on the left, about three feet from the ground. Can that be the habitation of any of the human race? . . .
But the dark misery within hides itself in thick obscurity. The unaccustomed eye is at first unable to distinguish any object, and only feels the painful effect of the confined smoke; but when, at length, a faint struggling light makes its way through the entrance, how wretched is all around! A sickly woman, the entangled nature of whose insufficient garments would defy description, is sitting on a low stool before the fire, suckling a miserably dirty infant; a boy, whose only covering is a tattered shirt, is putting fresh, but, alas, damp turf beneath the pot in which are put to boil the potatoes -- their only food. Two or three dim children -- their number is lost in the obscurity -- are cowering round the dull, dark fire, atop of one another; and on a miserable pallet beyond -- a few rotten boards, propped upon equally infirm supports, and covered over with only one thin black quilt -- is sitting the master of the mansion; his grizzly, unshorn beard, his lantern jaws and shaggy hair, are such as his home and family would lead one to expect. And now you have counted all this man possesses; other furniture has he none -- neither table nor chair, except that low stool on which his wife is sitting. Squatting on the ground -- from off the ground, like pigs, only much more poorly fed -- his children eat the scanty earnings of his continual labour.
And yet for this abode this man pays rent (pp. 80-1)
On Trollope's behalf, if he didn't center his books on middling people, if he had they would not have sold to his audience. One of his aims was to engage such readers in order to inform them of the real situation in Ireland. In The Macdermots he tells of how a young man is executed because he is scapegoated; he is scapegoated because everyone in the community is afraid of violence from groups of young men in the area who are mobilized out of desperation. It is remarkably an anti-police book too.
He also could not have centered his books on the starving and desperate Irish because he was not one of them. Carleton was much closer; so too Gerald Griffin. In my bibliography on Trollope's Irish fiction I do include a list of books on Irish literature which cite and describe some of these other books:
Then scroll down to
"Further Books on Ireland and by Irish and Anglo-Irish Writers which shed light on Trollope's place in Anglo-Irish Literature"
Of these I got the most out of Thomas Flanagan's The Irish Novelists: 1800-1850 and John Cronin's The Anglo-Irish Novel, Volume One, The Nineteenth Century. One reason that McCormack is so "down" on Trollope, often seems so unfair or unjust to him, is McCormack has read these other books, looked deeply into the issue, and he gets mad that Trollope knew what he did and wrote either indirectly or marginally of the terrible conditions of life at the time in Ireland for many or often in justification of the establishment. On his behalf, he did at least write of it, and in The Macdermots did not hold his punch -- for his pains he was mocked by most reviewers and his book failed commercially. It has yet to get over this first reception.
From a relevant conversion on Litalk-l two years earlier
September 30, 1999
Re: Irish and Anglo-Irish Literature
09:58 PM 9/29/99 -0400, Mary Tyler Knowle wrote:
I just finished Cecil Woodham-Smith's The Great Hunger (Irish famine 1845-1849) which has kept me sleepless both because I could not stop reading it and because the horror of it all haunted me. What an extraordinary piece of historical research. My Anglophilia has evaporated. I read it in conjunction with Liam O'Flaherty's Famine which I am doing with my students in an Irish Lit. course.
As a result of my book on Trollope I read a lot of Irish and Anglo-Irish literature and history. To read _The Great Hunger_ is haunting. However, the Irish paradigm shows us that it's not a lack of food but a precarious entitlement to food that causes famine. William Carleton, a man named Griffin and a couple of others -- as well as Trollope more intermittently and much less fiercely in his Macdermots of Ballycloran and Castle Richmond -- register the reality. Scenes which really get you are of middle-men food hoarders who buy up food and demand horrendous prices for them. The poor preying on the destitute. The rage is remarkable.
I would be interested when Tyler has the time to hear what she thought of Liam O'Flaherty's Famine. I bought it but have not had the time to read it. I recommend anything, anything Sean O'Faolain writes.