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Pages (PDF): 535
Publication Date: 1860
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First published in three volumes on 10 May 1860, Trollopes tenth novel is set in southwestern Ireland at beginning of the Irish famine. The plot features the competition of two Protestant cousins of English origin, Owen Fitzgerald and Herbert Fitzgerald, for the hand of Clara Desmond, the noble but impoverished daughter of the widowed Countess of Desmond.
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I wonder whether the novel-reading world—that part of it, at least, which may honour my pages—will be offended if I lay the plot of this story in Ireland! That there is a strong feeling against things Irish it is impossible to deny. Irish servants need not apply; Irish acquaintances are treated with limited confidence; Irish cousins are regarded as being decidedly dangerous; and Irish stories are not popular with the booksellers.
For myself, I may say that if I ought to know anything about any place, I ought to know something about Ireland; and I do strongly protest against the injustice of the above conclusions. Irish cousins I have none. Irish acquaintances I have by dozens; and Irish friends, also, by twos and threes, whom I can love and cherish—almost as well, perhaps, as though they had been born in Middlesex. Irish servants I have had some in my house for years, and never had one that was faithless, dishonest, or intemperate. I have travelled all over Ireland, closely as few other men can have done, and have never had my portmanteau robbed or my pocket picked. At hotels I have seldom locked up my belongings, and my carelessness has never been punished. I doubt whether as much can be said for English inns.
Irish novels were once popular enough. But there is a fashion in novels, as there is in colours and petticoats; and now I fear they are drugs in the market. It is hard to say why a good story should not have a fair chance of success whatever may be its bent; why it should not be reckoned to be good by its own intrinsic merits alone; but such is by no means the case. I was waiting once, when I was young at the work, in the back parlour of an eminent publisher, hoping to see his eminence on a small matter of business touching a three-volumed manuscript which I held in my hand. The eminent publisher, having probably larger fish to fry, could not see me, but sent his clerk or foreman to arrange the business. "A novel, is it, sir?" said the foreman.
"Yes," I answered; "a novel."
"It depends very much on the subject," said the foreman, with a thoughtful and judicious frown—"upon the name, sir, and the subject;—daily life, sir; that's what suits us; daily English life. Now your historical novel, sir, is not worth the paper it's written on."
I fear that Irish character is in these days considered almost as unattractive as historical incident; but, nevertheless, I will make the attempt. 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.
The readability of a story should depend, one would say, on its intrinsic merit rather than on the site of its adventures. No one will think that Hampshire is better for such a purpose than Cumberland, or Essex than Leicestershire. What abstract objection can there then be to the county Cork?
Perhaps the most interesting, and certainly the most beautiful part of Ireland is that which lies down in the extreme south-west, with fingers stretching far out into the Atlantic Ocean. This consists of the counties Cork and Kerry, or a portion, rather, of those counties. It contains Killarney, Glengarriffe, Bantry, and Inchigeela; and is watered by the Lee, the Blackwater, and the Flesk. I know not where is to be found a land more rich in all that constitutes the loveliness of scenery.
Within this district, but hardly within that portion of it which is most attractive to tourists, is situated the house and domain of Castle Richmond. The river Blackwater rises in the county Kerry, and running from west to east through the northern part of the county Cork, enters the county Waterford beyond Fermoy. In its course it passes near the little town of Kanturk, and through the town of Mallow: Castle Richmond stands close upon its banks, within the barony of Desmond, and in that Kanturk region through which the Mallow and Killarney railway now passes, but which some thirteen years since knew nothing of the navvy's spade, or even of the engineer's theodolite.
Castle Richmond was at this period the abode of Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, who resided there, ever and always, with his wife, Lady Fitzgerald, his two daughters, Mary and Emmeline Fitzgerald, and, as often as purposes of education and pleasure suited, with his son Herbert Fitzgerald. Neither Sir Thomas nor Sir Thomas's house had about them any of those interesting picturesque faults which are so generally attributed to Irish landlords and Irish castles. He was not out of elbows, nor was he an absentee. Castle Richmond had no appearance of having been thrown out of its own windows. It was a good, substantial, modern family residence, built not more than thirty years since by the late baronet, with a lawn sloping down to the river, with kitchen gardens and walls for fruit, with ample stables, and a clock over the entrance to the stable yard. It stood in a well-timbered park duly stocked with deer,—and with foxes also, which are agricultural animals much more valuable in an Irish county than deer. So that as regards its appearance Castle Richmond might have been in Hampshire or Essex; and as regards his property, Sir Thomas Fitzgerald might have been a Leicestershire baronet.
Here, at Castle Richmond, lived Sir Thomas with his wife and daughters; and here, taking the period of our story as being exactly thirteen years since, his son Herbert was staying also in those hard winter months; his Oxford degree having been taken, and his English pursuits admitting of a temporary sojourn in Ireland.
But Sir Thomas Fitzgerald was not the great man of that part of the country—at least, not the greatest man; nor was Lady Fitzgerald by any means the greatest lady. As this greatest lady, and the greatest man also, will, with their belongings, be among the most prominent of our dramatis personæ, it may be well that I should not even say a word of them.
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