ROBERT WILLIAMS BUCHANAN (1841 - 1901)

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HARRIETT JAY BOOK REVIEWS

 

1. The Queen of Connaught (1875) to Madge Dunraven (1879)

 

1. Novels

The following is taken from Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances, and Folk-Lore by Stephen J. Brown, S.J. (Dublin and London: Maunsel and Company, Ltd., 1916 - p.121):

JAY, Harriett. A sister-in-law and adopted daughter of the late Robert Buchanan, Scottish poet and novelist. She lived for some years in Mayo, and the result of her observations was two good novels. She wrote also Madge Dunraven, and some other novels, not of Irish interest.

— THE QUEEN OF CONNAUGHT. (Chatto & Windus). Picture boards. 2s. n.d. (1875).
How an Englishman, John Bermingham, fell in love with and married the descendant of an old western family. How he tried, but failed, to reform with English ideas the Connaught peasantry. Told with considerable power and insight. Note especially the description of a police hunt over the mountains in the snow. Has been dramatised.

— THE DARK COLLEEN. Three Vols. (Bentley). 1876.
Scene: an island off the W. coast. Morna Dunroon finds a French sailor, survivor of a shipwreck. She afterwards marries him, but he abandons her and goes back to France. She follows him, and passes through strange adventures, but he is still false to her. Nemesis follows in the end. Father Moy is a fine portrait of a priest. The dialect and the scenery are both true to the reality, the description of the storm at the close is particularly well done.

— THE PRIEST’S BLESSING; or, Poor Patrick’s progress from this world to a better. Pp. 308. (F. V. White). Two eds. 1881.
A most objectionable book from a Catholic point of view. Very hostile picture of the priesthood of Ireland, who keep the people in “bovine ignorance.” The two specimens that appear in the story are villains of the worst type. One is 25, and has been seven years a priest! He drinks heavily, and works miracles. By another a respectable peasant is incited to murder. The views of politics can only be described as “Orange.”

— MY CONNAUGHT COUSINS. Three Vols. (F. V. White). 1883.
Jack Kenmare goes to his uncle’s place in Connaught, and has a pleasant time in company with his cousins. He becomes engaged to one of them, who writes stories. Several of these are given. An excellent moral tale, and a glimpse of happy Irish life in a country house. The political point of view is not Nationalist; neither is it hostile to Ireland.

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The Queen of Connaught (1875)

queenconnnovad

[Advert from The Pall Mall Gazette (16 August, 1875)]

The Standard (30 August, 1875 - p.2)

     The Queen of Connaught: a Story. Three Vols. London: Richard Bentley and Sons.—There is a “Proem” to this story showing how a certain Queen Shana O’Mara, “a wild spirit from the West,” paid a visit to Queen Elizabeth at Hampton Court, and how she insisted on shaking hands with the English monarch, and sharing her garden seat as a sister and an equal. This “renowned Queen of Connaught” had a descendant in the present day, one Kathleen O’Mara, who on festive occasions walked about with the “regal circlet of gold” upon her brow, which her ancestress had worn when she went to call on the Queen of England. Miss O’Mara considered that she inherited the rights of her “forbear” as well as her crown, and she spoke of our present Sovereign with Royal familiarity as Victoria. This young lady was rather impetuous. One day as she was walking with her cousin Nora and a young man, the young man took a hawk’s nest which he presented to her cousin, instead of to herself. The descendant of Queen Elizabeth’s Hampton Court visitor gave Nora a “passionate push” over the cliff. The poor girl was not killed, only lamed and scarred and disfigured for life. It is she who tells the story of the “Queen of Connaught,” whom she had always loved, but whom she positively adored from the day on which she became the victim of that princess’s vivacity of temper. Kathleen’s father is a very drunken and dissipated old squire, whose character as a landed proprietor was, from an Irish point of view, without a stain. He mixed among the tenantry as one of themselves. At every dance house his face was to be seen, generally gleaming over a streaming glass of potheen, or sitting by the fire smiling at the company as he played some merry dances. This Irish King of Yvetot and the ladies of his family went to every wake and fair within many miles of them; and his niece and daughter felt as much at home in these scenes of drunken revelry as himself. Kathleen married an Englishman who had plenty of money. Of course it was a mésalliance for the Queen of Connaught to wed an untitled Saxon; but his money might come in useful for the restoration of the family mansion and estates. Poor M. Darlington was almost bullied out of his own house by his wife’s drunken clansmen and henchmen, and by a very reprehensible priest, one Father Flyn, in whom Kathleen O’Mara (the Princess had scorned to assume her husband’s plebeian name) placed implicit confidence, but who was a low, sensual scoundrel and hypocrite. But Mr. Darlington had plenty of Saxon pluck, and he lived through all his troubles. He survived his wife, who is described in the “dirge” sung over her dead body as a “lioness with her royal mane around her, up and down her dark realm pacing, mighty soul’d to battle racing;” also as an “eagle beating back both wind and thunder, with her wrathful wings of wonder.” We are not quite sure that we should say “yes” if we were asked whether this is not the very silliest book that we had ever read; but we are confident that we should hesitate before we replied “No.” If it were less utterly foolish it would be an ill-natured libel on the habits and characters of Irish ladies and gentlemen.

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The Daily News (3 September, 1875)

     “The Queen of Connaught” (3 vols., Bentley) is a young lady who is one of the numerous progeny of the old kings of Ireland. She is poor, and she marries an Englishman, with whose wealth she tries to restore the ancient splendour of her house. She wears a golden circlet in her hair, and dressed in Celtic garments she sits in the halls of her forefathers, feasting a disorderly crew of the idle retainers and adventurers who claim kin with her. They reward her hospitality by plotting against the life of her English husband, because he is bent on improving the shanties which they share with their pigs and poultry. Side by side with the central interest runs the story of Randal Doneen, who, after promising to marry a peasant girl, pushes her over a cliff when she becomes disagreeably pressing about her wedding. However, Randal Doneen comes to an end befitting an informer, a rake, and a would-be murderer; and the novel ends with the death and the wake of the poor Queen of Connaught. Some confusion exists in the manner in which this story is told. The author begins it in the first person, as an autobiography; but he appears to find his method inconvenient for the autobiographer, dwindles away, and only flickers into occasional life now and then. This wavering purpose is a characteristic of the book, and does not assist it in the good graces of the reader, whose patience is sufficiently exercised by the incredible and unpleasant society into which the author thrusts him.

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The Spectator (11 September, 1875 - p.15-17)

BOOKS.
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THE QUEEN OF CONNAUGHT.*

A VERY new subject is treated in this story with great freshness and vivacity. The tale may be said to be a study, very far from favourable, and on the whole, we believe, not even sufficiently favourable, of the Irish character and temperament, but certainly a study impartial and thoughtful in its intention, and cleverly executed though the author’s contempt for the class of characters chiefly described is visible enough. What we miss intellectually in the work,—what is artistically deficient, if we measure by that high standard which, considering the ability evinced, we feel the author might have reached,—is a power of painting the deeper and less superficial moods and passions with more approach to the power displayed in touching off those lighter characteristics which one’s first acquaintance with men at once discovers. Nothing can be happier or more graphic than the author’s description of the kind of society which frequents O’Mara Castle, as soon as Kathleen restores the glories of its ancient hospitality. The humours of the society which flocks there, from Timothy Linney, the stately old man who displaces the master of the house from his own chair because he takes a fancy to it, to Biddy Cranley, the poor crazy woman who starves herself in both the senses of the word, to feed and clothe her children, are painted with a picturesque breadth and liveliness that adds sensibly to one’s knowledge of human nature itself. But when we come to the delineation of the deeper characters of the story, we are disappointed. Kathleen herself, the heroine, with her idealist conception of her countrymen and of her own position in relation to them, as lineal descendant of their last Queen, is never made very living to us. The picture of her English husband, Darlington, who furnishes all the money for this revival of O’Mara splendour, and suffers more than half the misery in which it results, also wants a great deal of being a really powerful portrait. Nor are the relations between the two painted in a manner that is consistent with the depth of his passion for her, and the impatience of anything like petty suspicion and distrust which is of the very essence of Kathleen’s character. The long misunderstanding, which would only have been possible at all between persons in one of whom, at least, timidity had been a leading characteristic, strikes us as in the highest degree unnatural. Such a man as Darlington must have seen that it was his duty to open Kathleen’s eyes, as far as he could do so consistently with tenderness to her, to the hopelessness and danger of the dreams she was indulging. Again, such a woman as Kathleen would never have trusted a man of whose treachery she had had absolute experience, when he brought serious moral charges against her husband,—least of all without even showing her confidence in the man she had deliberately chosen, by informing him of the accusations brought against him. It is not a natural result of the idealist dreams of pride and glory in which Kathleen indulges, to make her suspicious and reserved towards her own husband; and it is only the necessities of the story which cause this unnatural alienation to be grafted on to it. Then, again, there is a want of force in the description of Darlington’s and Kathleen’s own hearts. There is much more room and occasion for power than there is display of power. We are always disappointed in those portions of the story where the inner scenery of the heart is of the first importance. Kathleen’s death is pathetic, but even there the pathos is not of the deepest kind. Darlington’s loneliness and restlessness are drawn finely, but not in a way to sink deep into the memory, as the occasion requires. In short, the defect of the story is want of passion in all the higher scenes. There is an episode in it which strongly reminds us of the scene in that powerful tale, The Collegians, where Eily O’Connor is put to death owing to the treachery of Hardress Cregan; but the reminder is greatly to the disadvantage of our present author. Where Mr. Griffin displayed tragic power of a very high kind, the present writer shows only a very moderate skill. Again, the portrait of the bad priest, Father Flyn, is by no means a powerful one, and had hardly, we suspect, been duly thought out by the author. At least, we have no insight given us into his reasons for acting or not acting as he does, and his duplicity is clearly of a very stupid and superficial kind.
     But if the finer situations and stronger passions of the story had been painted with anything like the skill with which the minor characters are touched off, the Queen of Connaught would have been a tale of very rare and most exceptional interest. As it is, it is a most charming study of a subject full of colour, light, and shadow, and one that rises steadily in interest up to the close. The third volume is decidedly the best of the three, and the scene which comes most nearly up to the ideal point, in power, is the critical scene of the book, where Kathleen, drenched by the storm and alone, faces the conspirators against her husband’s life, in the dreary solitude of their mountain hiding-place. This is a scene of very considerable force, though even here one feels the want of some touch or other which a true genius would have given to it. Situations of less intensity are often painted with consummate skill; for instance, nothing can be better than the scene in which Kathleen extracts from Shawn O’Kelly the information which enables her to go to the rendezvous of the conspirators on the evening following. Before quoting this passage, however, we must give our readers the sketch of Shawn O’Kelly himself, as he is first introduced to us, before Darlington has become Kathleen O’Mara’s husband, and while Shawn is still acting as Darlington’s servant :—

     “The aspect of Shawn O'Kelly was unlikely to awaken much confidence in the mind of the beholder. He was about six feet high, broad-shouldered and strongly built, his features coarse and irregular, and a dark, scowling expression brooding on his face; his hair was cropped close to his head, as close as it could well be cut without the aid of a sharp razor, and a narrow fringe was left around his face. He had a sly, slouching air, his eyes and ears being constantly on the alert for hidden sights and sounds. Nor was he improved by his toilet. His trousers, which were secured around his waist by a limp and faded bandana and reached nearly to his ankles, were torn and frayed out along the bottoms, the shreds waving about his bare legs like tassels in the wind. Coat and waistcoat he had none; in summer and winter alike he bared his breast to the elements, defying the powers of wind, rain, or snow, to have any effect upon his iron constitution. When he walked he looked like a very bad sort of marionette, for it seemed that the wires by which he moved had got rusted, working with a series of jerks which sent his arms and legs flying in all directions. His conversation mainly consisted of strong expletives, which he uttered with a force and power which were truly thrilling. His knowledge of English was so slight that he had not a correct idea of the phrases he used, and he would therefore deliver, with a perfectly innocent expression on his face, the most frightful language. Having been born and brought up among the mountains, he knew by heart almost every bunch of heather on the hills, could find his way blindfolded along the moat intricate paths, and cleverly avoided the dangerous bogs and morasses which are so abundantly scattered about this part of the country.”

This Celtic giant, who talks, when he talks English at all, in English oaths, the force of which he does not in the least understand, is the man from whom subsequently Kathleen extracts the story of the conspiracy against her husband’s life; and it is impossible to conceive a livelier piece of portraiture than the dialogue in which this takes place. It is too long for complete quotation, but we will give the opening of it, from which the reader will easily gather how vivid and skilful is the close:—

     “One evening, when she was returning home after a long and solitary walk, and when she was still some distance from the Castle, and descending the craggy slopes of Corrybrae (one of the highest of the O’Mara Mountains), her eye suddenly fell upon a man who seemed to have emerged from the inmost recesses of the earth, and who was only some yards before her. Kathleen’s heart gave a great bound of joy as she gazed upon the herculean frame and jerky limbs. The man whom she had been searching for was now within her reach—the man who could tell her all, and possibly be the means of saving her husband’s life. In the very exuberance of her joy she paused, while the man quickened his steps, and hurriedly increased the distance between them. The next moment she ran forward, and seizing him by the shoulder, turned him sharply round; and the two stood face to face. In her ideas of Shawn O’Kelly Kathleen was not inaccurate, nor had she over-estimated the influence which she possessed over him. From her childhood she had been wont to exert her power in no very laudable manner over the juvenile population of O’Mara; and more than once during his boyhood Shawn had received most substantial proofs of her supremacy. Although latterly this kind of government had been less stringent, the mighty-limbed Shawn continued to regard the passionate girl with mortal dread. When, therefore, Kathleen thus suddenly confronted him alone on the lonely hills of O’Mara, and questioned him, in a voice trembling with passion, concerning the late conspiracy, the great coarse-looking fellow positively shrank away in fear. He hung his head in guilty shame, and would have slunk away without a word had not Kathleen retained a firm hold of him, as she continued to pour her wild words into his ear. ‘Tell me all,’ she exclaimed. ‘You shall tell me all. I have you now, and you shall not stir a foot until I am satisfied. You have plotted against me, and you shall suffer. Remember, Shawn O’Kelly, what I did to you when a child; remember how I took my revenge on you, when you failed in your allegiance to me. I am a woman now, and your fault is greater. I have you in my power, and you know that I would not hesitate to use my power, even although it sent you to the gallows-tree.’ Shawn O’Kelly looked into her face in terror—his huge form trembled from head to foot, and his face went pale as death. Had he known the real extent of Kathleen’s information he might have exhibited a braver spirit, but judging from her words, and being moreover overpowered by a guilty conscience, he believed that she was thoroughly acquainted with the whole facts of the conspiracy, and with his own prominent share in the crime. Terrified at the discovery, he exploded into a few round genuine oaths, and wildly implored her mercy.  ‘Begod, misthress, ’twas no fault of mine. Sure the boys was mad and would have killed me outright if ’twas for going against them I was at all, and afther all ’tis not kilt the mashter was entirely but only grazed, and blasht me, misthress, if I’d lifted the old gun agin the mashter at all, only the boys was threatenin’ me, and—’ He paused suddenly and looked at Kathleen in real alarm. The colour faded from her cheeks, her lips were parted, her right hand clenched, and her eyes fixed wildly upon his face. As she gradually came to fully comprehend the fact that she stood before the very man who had attempted to take away her husband’s life, her emotion became intense; passion within her arose like a consuming fire and gained the mastery. For the time being her nature was transformed—she had no control over her thoughts, her actions. In another moment she would have struck the giant full in the face. Shawn shrank away. She seized him by the collar, and shook him with all her strength. ‘Wretch,’ she cried, ‘miserable wretch! If I had only known this before, you should never have lived to boast to me of your crime.’ Shawn’s face became paler still; his legs trembled beneath him, as he saw that, in his terror, he had revealed the truth, and put himself entirely in Kathleen’s power. Inwardly cursing the evil genius which had led him thus to betray himself, Shawn drew back, and tried by a medley of curiously assorted excuses to deny his guilt. But Kathleen laughed scornfully in his face. ‘’Tis useless to deny it now,’ she said. ‘You have confessed, and unless you tell me all I want to know, I will give information against you.’ Shawn was perfectly overpowered, for he fully believed that Kathleen was quite capable of doing all that she said. He glanced despairingly around—there was no one near, and the darkness of approaching night was fast enveloping the mountain tops. With a sidelong look into her face the huge giant, who had he been so willed could have crushed her like a fly with one blow of his hand, stood quivering before her.”

Of a piece with the sketch of Shawn O’Kelly is the picture of the better-born, but hardly more cultivated, hangers-on to whom Kathleen delights to dispense hospitality in O’Mara Castle, under the notion that she is restoring the ancient usages of her queenly ancestor, that Queen of Connaught who was a contemporary of Elizabeth’s. Timothy Linney, who will have All the comforts the Castle contains, even at the expense of its master; Anthony Dunbeg, the pugilist and homicide, whom Kathleen tries to force as a suitor on her sister Oona, only because “he is descended by the mother’s side from the Black Dunbegs, Princes of Ulster;” Shamus, the Fool, who entertains so deep a conviction that whiskey is the only cure for the colic, and that whenever he is conscious of discomfort, that discomfort is a fit of the colic; and Patsey McKey, the descendant of “the mighty McKey” of Ulver, who pipes out his few interjections in a tone so very unlike that of his imperious ancestor, are all etched with a most faithful and skilful hand. Nor can we deny that the picture of the revived glory of Celtic society thus presented to Darlington was one to test very severely his love for his Celtic bride.
     However, as we have already observed, it is not very easy to believe that this picture has been drawn by one who can see all the higher, as well as the lower characteristics of the Celtic character. It is true that Kathleen O’Mara herself is meant to be admired and admirable,—so far as idealists who dream dreams, and will not see the light of day shining through their dreams, even when it shines through them almost in a flood, ever can be admirable. Again, in Nancy and Michael Croghan, Biddy Cranley, and one or two other characters, the author gives us some of the better features of the Irish peasant. But on the whole, the picture certainly impresses us as a caricature of Irish faults and vices, not by virtue of exaggeration in any one particular, but through the exclusion of figures which would be needed to make the picture in any sense a true picture even of such Irish society as this story is intended to delineate. To select, for instance, a thoroughly wicked and thoroughly sensual priest as the only representative of his class whom the novelist chooses to introduce, is to place a glaring exception in a position where one naturally looks for a typical figure. And not to introduce a single noble figure among the revellers who throng O’Mara Castle,—noble at least in some respects, for of course one does not expect amidst a crowd of revellers any great sobriety of character,—was something more than a merely artistic mistake. Irish gentlemen of this class have no doubt in them much that is tawdry, much that is silly, much that is base, but they have also much that is generous, magnanimous, and noble, and yet the only approach to anything magnanimous here is the magnanimity of a homicide who is on the point of sparing his foe when he grovels at his feet, and is only turned aside from his magnanimous intent when he fancies—in this case mistakenly—that he sees evidence that that foe has for the second time set the police upon his track. The picture of the riotous life at O’Mara Castle is a very vivid, and in many details a very truthful picture. But it is a caricature and a satire, because it omits so much that would be necessary to reproduce fairly the sort of life which it is intended to show up. Clearly the Queen of Connaught is written by one who, with much knowledge of the Celtic Irish, has but little sympathy with them.
     Still, with all its defects, this tale is full of life, skill, and insight. What it wants to make it a story of the first order of power is more true passion, a broader delineation of the good as well as the evil in the Celtic character, and perhaps a somewhat higher key of feeling in painting the pathetic picture of a true idealist clinging in vain to the shattered fabric of a radically distorted dream.

     * The Queen of Connaught A Story. 3 vols. London: Richard Bentley and Sons.

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The Academy (25 September, 1875)

     It is said that much of the fine old stained-glass which escaped the troubles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the neglect of the eighteenth, was recklessly destroyed in the present century during the mania for Sir David Brewster’s philosophical toy, the Kaleidoscope, which he perfected in 1817, following up a hint given by Baptista Porta as far back as 1565. And if some of the older survivors of that instrument be opened and examined, it will be found that several of the brightly coloured fragments are pieces of church windows, recalling here and there the far higher than mere mechanical beauty of pattern which they possessed before they were put to this secondary use. The Queen of Connaught is just such a kaleidoscope, and any one who is versed in Irish national stories will be able to assign almost every idea and situation in the book to a more successful and earlier tale. The main web of the novel has for its warp Lady Morgan’s Wild Irish Girl, and for its weft Maxwell’s “Man who Wouldn’t Do for Galway,” an episode in Wild Sports of the West. On this texture are embroidered or sketched various additional incidents discoverable in Miss Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, in Mrs. J. H. Riddell’s Maxwell Drewitt, and in Mr. Trench’s Realities of Irish Life and Ierne. The ballads of the Nation and of Mr. Samuel Ferguson, together with some of Carleton’s sketches, are also freely drawn on to give local colour, and the pasteboard framework of the kaleidoscope is pretty nearly all the author can claim as original property. The metamorphosis of the historical Granuaile, or Grace O’Malley, the piratical chieftainess of a small sept in Connaught, into a mythical Shana O’Mara, claiming ebenbürtig rights of royalty with Queen Elizabeth, and transmitting these rights to her descendants in the story, may also be set down to the author’s credit. But as this lady’s two husbands were severally a Donnell O’Flaherty and a Sir Richard Burke, her posterity could not have handed down her patronymic, for neither of these two septs would have yielded such a point, and thereby confessed the O’Malley superiority. Withal, the book, though somewhat stilted and extravagant, is not precisely dull, and can be read easily enough, as the incidents, even though borrowed, come thickly enough to give some life and movements to the narrative.

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Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser (Dublin) (25 September, 1875)

     “The Queen of Connaught” is the title of an anonymous story just published by Richard Bentley and Son, London. As its title implies, the locale is fixed in Ireland, and it opens with a beautiful prologue detailing the appearance of Shana O’Mara, the Queen of Connaught, before Queen Elizabeth and her court. The novel proper details the life of Kathleen O’Mara, the proud and haughty descendant of Shana. She is represented as extremely handsome and bewitching, and captivates one Mr. Darlington, a wealthy Englishman, whom she eventually marries, not forgetting to impress him with the honour thus done him by the Royal House of Connaught. The pictures of Irish life which are presented are very vivid, and there are many passages of striking beauty scattered through the three volumes. It is easy to predict, after reading “The Queen of Connaught,” that its writer will be heard of again.

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The Morning Post (28 September, 1875 - p.3)

     “The Queen of Connaught” (Bentley and Son) has at least the merit of being extremely singular and quite unlike any other tale that has ever appeared. Kathleen O’Mara, its heroine, is the eldest daughter of one of those Irish gentlemen of old family who have not only run through their means, and reduced their property to a mere tumble-down house and the nominal ownership of a degenerating estate and a certain number of barren acres, but who have also given themselves over to the tyranny of a degrading vice. Kathleen, however, being descended from a certain Shana O’Mara, once Queen of Connaught, and being strongly imbued with romantic ideas of the dignity of her race, and possessing at the same time a considerable share of pride, affects to imitate in every way her illustrious ancestress, and even to a certain extent lays claim to her title and power. This young lady lives in a world of her own, peopled with romantic beings, strangely unlike to those with whom she daily associates, and she wanders about the mountains, busied with her own thoughts and meditations, or spends her time in solitude at O’Mara Castle studying the legends of the past. Nay, she even goes so far as to imitate Shana as far as possible in her dress, and her favourite ornaments are the golden circlet and the ring which had been the property of the wild Irish Queen. Fortunately for Oona, Nellie, and Meg, the other daughters of the house of O’Mara, their cousin Nora lives with them, and provides for the wants of the household, and she it is who relates the story, which certainly has about it a strange fascination, and is most artistically told. Contrary to all precedent and expectation, but induced thereto by the fulfilment of an ancient prediction, Kathleen marries an Englishman, a man with wealth sufficient to rebuild the old castle and to keep it up in its former splendour, and the life led by this strangely ill- assorted pair is admirably described, especially John’s misery when Kathleen, keeping open house with an imitation of the reckless generosity of former times, received into her dwelling not only all who claim to be in the remotest degree related to her, but also every man, woman, and child who may demand hospitality. The scenes which take place on festal occasions and the quarrels which arise are described with great humour, and Darlington’s vain endeavours to like these things because Kathleen likes them, and to adapt himself to what seems to him the strangest fancies, are also very well given; while his bride’s contempt for his English ways and prejudices is also perfectly natural. In reading this book one seems to be transported into some strange land of poetry and romance, and to be brought back into the old feudal times. With all this, however, is intermixed a good deal of modern lawlessness and conspiracy; we are introduced to “the    boys,” whose proceedings are as stealthy and whose sentence as irreversible as those of the Vehmgericht itself, and who with so much coolness decide not merely whose life shall be taken away, but what hands shall deal the blow and be imbrued with the blood of the offender. Irish treachery, too, is brought forward in the persons of Randal Dooneen and of the wicked, sensuous, and sanctimonious Father Flyn. The luxurious life of this hanger-on at the castle is scarcely in character with anything one has ever heard or imagined of the Irish priesthood, but as a picture it is admirable. Indeed, the “Queen of Connaught” is a series of very skilfully executed pictures, which present a wonderful appearance of reality—the Queen’s wake being the climax to them. Poor Kathleen finds out when dying how mistaken her life has  been, and she does not desire to begin it again. She dies in the arms of the faithful husband whom till lately she has never understood, and whose goodness she has never doubted, but whose love has followed her to the end and will long survive her. A most touching story indeed, full of pathos and full of humour, is this “Queen of Connaught.”

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The British Quarterly Review (October, 1875)

     The Queen of Connaught. A Novel. In Three Vols. R. Bentley and Son.

     Since Lever and Carleton passed away we have had little of Irish life in fiction, and that little has somewhat lacked character and power. This new writer gives promise of filling the vacant place. We have here ample evidence of close study of the people—their manners and customs—a decided faculty of construction, and a true descriptive vein. Kathleen O’Mara, the representative of the ancient house of that name, marries an Englishman, Darlington, whose money saves the estate from passing into other hands; but he excites the jealousy of a cousin, Randal Doneen, who combines with Irish readiness something more than Irish craft, and who succeeds in exciting the people against Darlington, on the very ground of the efforts he has made for their comfort, in improving their houses, as well as the rest of the estate. Thus Darlington’s life is put in danger, but he escapes; whilst Randal, defeated in this respect, tries to instil jealousy of each other into the minds of his cousin Kathleen and her husband by leaguing with the sly, self-indulgent priest, Father Flynn, to keep in the house a ceaseless stream of guests who are wholly uncongenial to its master; Kathleen being flattered by them for thus discharging the claims which the ‘Cusheras’ have upon her hospitality. Randal has plotted against not a few, and has tried to throw the girl whom he has ruined over the cliff into the sea, to be afterwards haunted by her presence. But gradually his real character unfolds itself, and Kathleen ventures on visiting the conspirators’ cave, when all is found out, and her husband’s noble character fully revealed to her. What a pity it is that the author must sacrifice Kathleen! Would it not have been possible to have saved her? She is a true Irish girl—faithful, proud of her race, trustful, and indulgent towards those about her, yet ruling them by sheer might of her queenly dignity and gracefulness. Her sister  Meg, too, is a fine study. Sharon O’Kelly, Shamus, and Timothy Linney supply a fund of fun. We have read the novel with much pleasure. It contains an unusual mixture of plot and sensation, faithful character-study, and powerful description—a book to be welcomed and read with delight in these times for its freshness of conception, its racy, rattling humour, and its ridiculousness—sometimes so oddly dashed with deep thought—all of which combine to attest an exceptional power on the part of its author.

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The Belfast News-Letter (5 November, 1875)

     CHARLES READE’S NEW STORY.—It is announced that “The Queen of Connaught,” the novel recently published anonymously by Messrs. Bentley & Son, is by Mr. Charles Reade. It deals trenchantly with the abuses of the Irish priesthood, and has created much sensation in Ireland, having been strongly denounced by the Nation. The novel entered upon its third edition, however, on Wednesday.

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The Aberdeen Journal (10 November, 1875)

NOTES ON LITERATURE, SCIENCE, AND ART.
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THE “Queen of Connaught,” a new novel giving a very unfavourable account of Roman Catholic influence in Ireland, is said to be by Mr Charles Reade. The London critics have commended the book.

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Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle (20 November, 1875)

     Two of the successful novels of the season (says the World) are the “Queen of Connaught” and “Comin’ thro’ the Rye.” The former is attributed, by some of those who have not read it, to Charles Reade; the latter, by many of those who have read it, to Rhoda Broughton. Both are wrong. “Comin’ thro’ the Rye” is by a young lady who will shortly appear as a poetess.

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The Aberdeen Journal (8 December, 1875)

     The story first put into circulation by the untrustworthy London correspondent of the Scotsman, that the “Queen of Connaught” is by Mr Reade, turns out to be a mistake. The “Queen of Connaught” is a lady’s first work.

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The Examiner (19 February, 1876)

     The authorship of the ‘Queen of Connaught,’ a novel published some little time since, and wrongly ascribed, for no apparent reason, to Mr. Charles Reade, is now believed to be more rightly attributed to a lady a near connection of Mr. Robert Buchanan.

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The Dark Colleen (1877)

darkcollbuch

[Cover of an American edition of The Dark Colleen - note the ‘Buchanan’.]

 

The Nonconformist (24 January, 1877)

THE DARK COLLEEN.”*

     The author of the “Queen of Connaught” has here presented us with another story of Irish life, which certainly surpasses the first novel in variety of incident, racy dialogue, and broad humour. And this is no slight praise. Though it cannot be said that the representations of Irish character are all couleur de rose, we cannot but believe that they are as near as may be transcripts from reality—close studies. They convey to us the impression of real persons, however far they may fall short of the ideal of the gay, smiling, humorous Irish types, to which certain writers of the past have accustomed us. But it needs to be frankly said that, whilst the people in general are faithfully put before us, with all their prejudices and dark superstitions, we have here at least four characters which stand out pure and beautiful—the brighter from the excess of cloud and gloom which rests upon their surroundings. A glance at the main outlines of the story will, perhaps, bring this out.
     Morna Dunroon is the daughter of a fisherman, who, according to an old custom, has been elected “king” of Eagle Island, which lies off the coast of Ireland, and is inhabited by an Irish race. In spite of a superstition, she manages to restrain her father and his fellow fishermen from throwing back into the sea the body of a man which had been cast ashore near to the spot where she had taken her stand at early morn to watch for the return of the boats. The rescued man, who revives, proves to be a Captain Bisson, a Frenchman, whose vessel, the Hortense, has gone down with all hands save himself on a dangerous reef not far from the coast of Eagle Island. Morna’s influence suffices to secure him safe conduct to her father’s hut, where she ministers to his complete recovery, and procures the best aid she can. As a natural result, he falls in love with his protectress, and does not go away when he recovers, but stays on, till at length his presence is blamed for bringing on the evil of which it had at first been held to be the omen. He feels he must for his own happiness carry Morna with him, but he is Frenchman enough, or scoundrel enough, not to wish to wed her. But, though motherless, she has been brought up in too healthy a regard for the marriage-tie to listen to any suggestion in that direction; and so Bisson, being defeated, he consents to her terms, and they are secretly wedded. A poor deformed lad, Truagh O’More, who has been the childish companion of Morna, and hopelessly loves her, is introduced as discerning from the first the mean character of Bisson. But Truagh’s love for Morna restrains him. The father, too, having once received Bisson under his roof, shows a true hospitality, and is not to be moved from his purpose by either threats, or danger, or the loss of his kingship. On the whole, these four are very favourable specimens of the Irish race. As for the others—more particularly the priest, who is a potheen drinking, right hearty, joking, unspiritual sort of padre, but richly humorous withal—they are less attractive, but not on that account less characteristic. How Morna’s heart, after she has gone to France with Bisson, is crushed as she gradually discovers the selfish hollowness of his nature, which, in her faith and simplicity, she had long striven to hide from herself; how he plots to get rid of her in order to wed the selfish piquant Euphrasie, his old schoolfellow; how at length he does get rid of Morna; and how her powers of swimming, learned among the bays of Eagle Island, quite naturally aid an escape that would else have been impossible, from worse than death; how, after trials many and bitter, she returns to Eagle Island to revive a sober delight in the hearts of those who had sadly missed her; and how Captain Bisson, too, comes back, to be buried in Eagle Island—all this the reader must learn from the book itself.
     Morna Dunroon, in her purity and simplicity, in her noble elevation of mind which owed nothing to any code of rules, her quiet affection untarnished by suspicion or jealousy, and her large capacity of unselfish sacrifice, is a very difficult type to pourtray with consistency and completeness. Yet amidst the very varied situations, some of them exceptionally trying, Morna remains the same pure and gentle character with which we became at first acquainted. Not less true, as a study of character, is Captain Bisson—the hero of many intrigues, incapable of a deep and true attachment, and himself at last the victim of a clever woman’s calculations. Now and then we have a very decided touch of melodrama, but the whole is so cleverly managed that each part only gains effect from the rest, and the author’s faculty of description and invention, and power in the gradual unfolding of exceptional characters at once on the side of calculation and finesse, and on the side of purity and self-seclusion, are alike marked, and should before long secure a place in the first rank. It is difficult in the case of a novel—so carefully wrought to a unity of plot—to present anything like specimens of the writing by extract. But we may venture to detach this description of Morna’s sensations when she dived down into the ocean at full moon to work the charm of the flower, with a view to banish the curse that was held to have come to Eagle Island with Bisson’s advent—one of the most striking and original parts of the book:—

     As the waters closed over her, the moonlight was quenched, and the hills, the cliffs, and the sky, seemed to dissolve away. What followed seemed like a dream. She had closed her eyes when she sank into the sea; when the opened them again she had reached the bottom. A strange grey light played upon the water above her head; she saw huge crimson flowers rising around her, magnified to double their ordinary size, swayed softly by the water, and gleaming coldly in the light. The splinters of rock and smooth-topped stones, lying embedded in the sand, became magnified before her, and the yellow-ribbed sand itself appeared in strange commotion. Morna could see nothing distinctly, all seemed moving and swaying to-and-fro in palpitating tremor. The patches of long grass and sea-moss which covered the spot known as the Isle na Rhuinish were bent this way and that way by the softly surging sea, and the clusters of sea anemones set amidst masses of tangled weed lifted up their heads beneath the water and moved too. All this was seen, as it were, only for a moment, in one quick flash of sense. She reached the bottom, mechanically stretched forth her hand, grasped one of the crimson sea-flowers, and uprooted it from the sand . . . . then she let the water uplift her again, and rising to the surface, swam slowly to the shore.
     No hand had pursued her—nor had she, as she had half expected, been entrapped and kept at the bottom by some wicked spell; yet now that she stood again upon the shingle she felt dazed with dread. She trembled violently. She looked down at the sea lying so placid in the moonlight, and up at the black cliffs rising behind her, and then at the dripping common weed which she held firmly in her hand. It was all a reality then—she had dived down to the Isle na Rhuinish and returned to the earth again! Realising her triumph, she felt glad—glad that she had wrought the spell successfully for Captain Bisson’s sake, and glad, above all, that he would be suffered to remain.

     Morna Dunroon is a new addition to our gallery of female types in fiction; and we think we may safely say that few will regret becoming more fully acquainted with her; for, though the weird and superstitious ideas of the people give the novel an air of romance, the heroine’s character comes out clear, real, and quietly commanding.

     * The Dark Colleen. A Love Story. By the author of the “Queen of Connaught.” In three vols. (R. Bentley and Son.)

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The Daily News (30 January, 1877)

     There is an old Joe Miller about a Frenchman who wanted plum-pudding at Christmas-time. He weighed out suet, currants, flour, and all the ingredients with mathematical precision from a recipe which did not mention the pudding-cloth. So, having stewed our national dish with great pains for many hours he served it up in a soup tureen. The case of this Frenchman may be applied to the writer of “The Dark Colleen” (3 vols., Bentley). Her book combines all the ingredients of an excellent novel. Her heroine is handsome; her hero is handsome, the plan of the story is original, it is full of adventures, and the scenery is new and picturesque. But for want of some inexplicable quality the whole is a failure. The handsome heroine is a grotesque savage; and the hero is a monster without a heart. Where is the reader who would care to read the adventures of such a couple? As to the picturesque scenery, it is not more real than the scenery on the stage. It may be said that to make such a criticism good its writer should point out the one thing needful in this story, the missing touch of nature that makes the whole book kin. But while physiologists are unable to demonstrate the beginnings of life, a critic may be pardoned who follows their example. Perhaps such sentences as these contribute towards the grotesque impression left by the heroine on the reader’s mind. Morna “unconcernedly stretched forth her hand, took one of the steaming potatoes, squeezed it in her palm, and began to eat. . . . She set her white teeth into one after another of the hard brown potato skins.” A heroine showing her teeth over potato skins is in a grotesque position. Or take this, where after surviving a danger she embraces a donkey, which is not less of a donkey because it is written down an ass with a capital A. “For a moment all stood amazed, gazing silently upon the man’s senseless form;” the man had pursued Morna; “then Morna ran to the Ass, and fell with a low hysterical cry upon her neck.” As to the hero, readers who, to speak hyperbolically, try their impression of him by the fire of recollection, will find he dwindles away, like the naughty girl who played with matches in the nursery story, to a little heap of cigars and blue eyes; his only adjuncts.

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The Athenæum (10 February, 1877)

     The author of ‘The Queen of Connaught’ has again given to the world an interesting and romantic tale. This time her Irish heroine is of a different type from the Kathleen we remember, but resembles her in her thorough nationality, and the wreck she makes of her life through an ill-fated marriage with one of a different race. The misery of Morna Dunroon, however, is in this more poignant than Kathleen’s, that the man she marries is one she can never learn to respect, though she lavishes all the affection of a simple and loyal nature upon the hero of her girlish imagination. Bisson is a gay young Frenchman, captain of a merchant ship, a dandy and a debauchee, blasé with the experiences of fast life in seaport towns, without the simplicity of a peasant or the culture of a gentleman. Morna, on the other hand, is a child of nature, lowly but not vulgar in her surroundings from her birth, the daughter of a fisherman on one of the Western isles, bred among the sights and sounds of a stormy corner of the wild Atlantic, and accustomed to no companionship more exciting than that of her kinsmen, and no novelty greater than the occasional visits of a far-travelled beggar from the mainland, or the atmosphere of devotion and conviviality imported by the parish priest on his expeditions to his distant cure. It is rather unfortunate that the story should suggest a comparison with Mr. Black’s delightful Princess, for Morna cannot be admitted to equal her northern prototype, though Bisson is distinctly a better imagined and completer foil to her than the merely common-place Lavender. For Bisson, worthless as he is, has positive and peculiar characteristics, and though totally unable to value his wild Irish bride, might have made his artificial little Frenchwoman a happy wife enough. But it was a luckless day for Eagle Island when the too amiable Emile was cast upon its shores, and not again committed to the deep by its gloomy and superstitious inhabitants. Very original is the charm of the early days of poor Morna’s romance, the rugged grandeur of her home, the ;picturesque habits and primitive ceremonies, the tenderness and ferocity of her melancholy Celtic kindred, relieved now and then by the humour of Irish visitors of a better-known type, such as Father Moy, the benevolent despot over the souls, and, within large limits, the bodies of his flock; Barron O’Cloaskey, the wandering piper, with his gentlemanly though impoverished father, a “cosherer” quite of the olden type, and his faithful ass, nearly as patrician in his instincts, and scarcely less dear to the affections of his owner. But these alleviations serve merely to enhance the tragedy of the tale, the exile and despair of Morna, and the long-suffering fidelity of her real lover, Truagh, who for her sake can forego even the vengeance on her betrayer which fortune offers him at last.

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The Morning Post (23 February, 1877 - p.7)

THE DARK COLLEEN.*

     In connection with a recent literary controversy to which it is unnecessary to refer more particularly, it is natural that interest of a special nature should attach to any new work by the author of “The Queen of Connaught,” and it must be acknowledged that the present novel contains excellencies which go far to justify the high opinion of its writer’s talents which has been already expressed. The book is not faultless, but its errors are not of such a nature as to militate against the theory that we may possibly find in its author a worthy successor, though in a somewhat different line, to those great bygone delineators of Irish life and character whose names have become household words. The chief objection to the tale of poor Morna Dunroon’s ill-starred love affair is its extremely unsatisfactory ending. After so much sympathy with the heroine has been excited it is disappointing to the reader who has followed her fortunes at home and abroad to be compelled to leave her, in company with Truagh and his mother, watching over the body of her worthless husband, without any indication of possible brighter days in store for her. She is the one character in the novel, excepting perhaps her deformed admirer, in whom one can take any vital interest, and at least some hint might have been given that she was not doomed to wear out her young life in unavailing regret for a scoundrel like Emile Bisson. As for Truagh, it would certainly have been irrational to expect that his faithful service should be rewarded with the hand of his cynosure; but it is evident that Morna’s happiness would have made his. Yet these two, the only thoroughly amiable personages of the story, are left in apparently hopeless misery, which may be in accordance with the frequent course of events in the real world, but sins against that canon of poetic justice which is demanded in the realm of fiction. The other characters are not calculated to excite more than a feeble interest; Dunroon and his fellows are rather conventional renderings of ignorant fishermen, with a dash of the wrecker element about them; Bisson, who must, faut de mieux, be accepted as the hero, is such a cold-hearted, selfish villain as not even his reported personal and social charms can rescue from detestation; whilst the only feeling that can arise touching Euphrasie is that, if she was deceived in her marriage, her thorough worldly heartlessness debar her from all claims upon general sympathy. It remains only to speak of Father Moy, the spiritual director of Eagle Island, and the task is rather a difficult one. It would be impossible to believe that the author intends to present the priest as a fair type of any class of Roman ecclesiastic; and yet if that was not the intention the portrait becomes a monstrous anomaly. He is more than hinted to be little better than a sot; though it is true that his abnormal potations do not intoxicate him; yet with this idiosyncracy, which must have lowered him in the eyes of his flock, he is represented as having been a tender-hearted, pious priest, sharing the joys and sorrows of his people, even to their poverty, as shown in the clever scene where Morna finds him thatching his four-post bed because the roof of his cottage let the water through. One wonders, by the bye, why the good father did not thatch the roof itself, since he was so clever. Undoubtedly that predilection for whiskey, at his parishioners’ expense, is a blemish in an otherwise agreeable sketch and one cannot avoid a secret suspicion that the trait is introduced in order to give a thrust at the man because he was a Roman Catholic priest. Throughout the novel there is too obvious a tendency to sneer at matters which, whatever may be a writer’s personal convictions, it should be remembered are sacred things to a vast number of our fellow- creatures. It can serve no good purpose, and must cause pain to many, to write such a description as that of the midnight mass at Bernise; and it is not clever to talk of a “sceneshifter” in connection with a solemn religious ceremony, nor to characterise the ecclesiastical vestments as “theatrical finery.” Scoffing will not bolster up a bad cause, and is inconsistent with a good one.
     Considered merely as a telling story, “The Dark Colleen” is, in all but its catastrophe, admirable. The pictures of the simple peasant life upon Eagle Island, with its alternate toil and merrymaking, its dangers and its pleasures, give a delightful impression of the inhabitants of the solitary spot. Those who have known and loved the kindred fisher folk of the West Hebrides, and not merely seen them in the course of a scornful tour, will recognise the similarity of character shown in the virtues depicted, the fidelity, unwearying fortitude, purity of mind, and reverence which are the pre-eminent features of the Celtic races. These the author has pourtrayed in a manner which is obviously the result of knowledge and actual observation, and is worthy of all praise. As for the question whether “we civilised beings”—whoever may be so generalised—“can afford to laugh at” the peasant belief in supernatural beings, that may be considered as open; it is so much easier to talk about “superstition” than to define it. The glimpses of life in Normandy are slighter, and chiefly confined to Madlle Euphrasie’s café in the seaport town, but they also have an air of reality about them; whilst the scenes on board the Hortense and in the slums of Ballykerry, painful as they are, are drawn with vividness and power. Indeed, powerful description would seem to be the author’s strong point, and for that reason the book improves as it goes on, the third volume being immeasurably the best. Nothing could be better, in a certain fashion, than Morna’s frantic leap into the sea to save herself from the ruffian Louandre, her subsequent escape from the den into which she had been entrapped by his arts, or the whole account of the storm on Eagle Island, and the retribution which falls upon Bisson. It  is, perhaps, rather too theatrical a touch, and not without reminiscences of “David Copperfield,” that the betrayer should meet his death by being a second time cast on the shore from which his victim had originally rescued him; but the scene is an effective one. Taken as a whole, “The Dark Colleen” is well worth reading, and may, as has been said, be the foreshadowing of a still better work in the future.

     *The Dark Colleen: A love story. By the author of “The Queen of Connaught,” 3 vols. London: R. Bentley and Son.

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The Pall Mall Gazette (7 March, 1877 - p.12)

THE DARK COLLEEN.”*

     “THE Dark Colleen” may most briefly be described as an Irish Princess of Thule. Morna Dunroon, like Sheila in Mr. Black’s story, is the daughter of a peasant prince, the ruler of Eagle Island, far to the west of Ireland. Like Sheila, she is innocent, courageous, and beautiful; and, like Sheila, she marries a man quite unworthy of her, who wearies of his wife when he returns to civilization. But Emile Bisson, the shipwrecked French sailor who carries off Morna, is a much worse character than Lavender. The civilization in which he rejoices is that of small cafés and billiard-rooms in a little French sea town. Indeed, we refuse to believe in this dandified mariner, who wears gloves, uses perfumes, and generally minces in a very affected manner. Though there is this amount of resemblance in the motives of the Scotch and Irish stories, it is fair to say that the originality of the latter is complete. The charm of “The Dark Colleen” lies in the picture of a free and unfamiliar life, not like that of Ireland nor much like that of the Hebrides. The subordinate persons, priests and peasants, are not like Lever’s, Irishy. The natives of Eagle Island—part Spanish, part Celtic by blood—had institutions and superstitions which are no longer powerful even in Barra and Borva. They elected their own king, on the principles laid down in the “Rejected Addresses.” As long as no one “made the quartern loaf and Luddites rise,” or, rather, as long as there was no trouble with Fenians and potato disease, the elected monarch retained his position. But if anything went wrong, if herrings were scarce and gaugers inquisitive, the potentate’s luck was supposed to have turned and a new prince was elected. Now, it was the fate of Morna Dunroon to harm the island by saving a drowning man from being tossed back into the water by her father’s superstitious subjects. Hence it became necessary to propitiate the offended Lady of the Waters, and Morna attempted to do this by diving, in the full moonlight, down to the gardens of the deep. This is the second occasion on which we are permitted to see the heroine in quite unadorned beauty as of a “statue of marble on a lonely Athenian coast.” “The outlines of her form were perfect, as the moonlight fell upon her soft, white limbs and upon the tremulous shadow of her hair, which was scattered far over her neck and shoulders.”
     From the island where these pagan rites were performed with a really Greek sincerity and simplicity, Morna was taken by Bisson to a little French inland town in Normandy. It was a great change in her life. On the island the shepherd girls had been wont to camp out through the summer on the high pasture lands, a band of innocent Amazons, ignorant of men. From all the freedom of that natural existence she was removed and cooped up by Bisson in a narrow house. He had induced the priest of the island, Father Moy, to marry him to Morna, by pretending that it was necessary to save her reputation. In France he behaved as shamefully, giving the crew of his ship to understand that Morna was his mistress. He next neglected the island girl, and made love, and ultimately an offer of his hand, to Euphrasie Monier, the selfish and pretty daughter of a woman who kept a café in the seaport of Hantour. By a wretched trick he induced Morna to go on board his ship, and put herself in the power of Louandre, the mate. But now Morna’s dexterity as a swimmer stood her in good stead. She leaped over the vessel’s side, swam to shore, diving when the boat sent in search of her drew near, and made her way home, where she surprised Bisson with Euphrasie. No longer able to live with her husband, she made her way back to Ireland, though she knew as little French as the Saracen lady who sought her Gilbert knew of English. Once landed in Ireland, her adventures were dangerously like those of Marina, daughter of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. She meets Louandre, her husband’s mate, and her own would-be lover, and has great difficulty in escaping from him, and from the society, male and female, of a sailor’s drinking shop. Happily, in her flight from Louandre, she falls in with some old friends from Eagle Island, and after a confused scene of battle, she makes her escape and wanders homewards in the company of her rescuers. Poor Morna’s return to Eagle Island, tired, forsaken, and heartily sick of the unknown world that had seemed so charming, makes a touching scene. We might wish that the novel had ended here. Bat the author has chosen to introduce a new special storm of great magnificence, in which Bisson is again wrecked on the old reef. He is seen clinging to the rigging, and Truagh, a humpbacked and apparently consumptive admirer of Morna’s, swims out to help him. Truagh returns alone, he has recognized Bisson, and has no more desire to rescue him than Gwendolen felt to help Grandcourt on a similar occasion. The priest and Morna scold the heathen Truagh, and we expect to see the heroine once more dive into the deep and lose her life in the attempt to save her worthless husband. But Morna has had enough swimming for one novel. Truagh is just going to make a fresh effort, when the wreck collapses, and Bisson meets his merited fate. The boys, the bouchals, do not wish to give his remains a Christian burial, but Truagh, who can now afford to be generous, insists on “waking” Bisson’s body.
     The story of “The Dark Colleen” contains, as has been seen, a good deal of incident—unfortunately perhaps, for the description of action is not the writer’s forte. Certain states of emotion—as, for example, the sorrow of Morna, and her bewilderment when she finds that Bisson has ceased to love her—certain aspects of nature in seas and mountains are very delicately and carefully rendered. The mixed character of Louandre, the mate, with his love, which would fain be honourable, awakening a certain gentleness in a hardened disposition, is also a clever study. But the book is not permeated through and through by genius; there is more care than talent, more observation than skill. The writing, as a rule, is very correct, and, on the whole, the work is both interesting and hopeful. It would be easy to give it great praise if the standard of comparison were not the ideal novel, but novels as we generally find them.

     * “The Dark Colleen.” By the Author of “The Queen of Connaught.” (London: Richard Bentley and Son. 1877.)

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The Graphic (17 March, 1877)

     “The Dark Colleen: a Love Story,” by the author of “The Queen of Connaught” (3 vols.: Bentley).— This is unquestionably a book of mark as it stands, and would have been a finer story than it is were it not that the author’s hand cannot always be trusted to work out her conceptions surely and unerringly, whilst we are all the more sensitive to any deficiencies in power inasmuch as the latter half of the tale is of so painful a character that we need wellnigh flawless work to reconcile us to it. In her “word-pictures” and still-life scenes the author is all that could be desired, but she seems less in her element when action is called for, sometimes going a long way towards spoiling the effect she is aiming at by a tendency to diffuseness. Eagle Island, the home of “the Dark Colleen,” and its strange life, is a veritable “find” for any novelist, and the author makes very nearly as much out of her subject as Mr. Black has made out of the Hebrides. Eagle Island lies far out in the Atlantic, off the north-west coast of Ireland, a spot little visited save by great flocks of sea- birds, peopled by strange beings with gloomy faces, who have never passed beyond the boundary of its shores, “a race apart, with their own language, their own manners and customs, and their own superstitions,” these last of the most gloomy character. Morna Dunroon, the Colleen, is the daughter of the man who for twenty years in succession has, according to the custom of the place, been elected “King” of the island, as the wealthiest of the people, and the best qualified to take the lead among them. Morna, from her solitary rearing, has all the innocence, simplicity, and warm affections of a child, and is besides perfect in shape as a Grecian statue, with the soft dark eyes and olive-tinted skin that come from the Spanish blood that flows in her veins. She saves the life of a shipwrecked sailor, washed half-dead upon the beach, the only survivor from his ill-fated vessel. This Emile Bisson is a French merchant captain, a man with a fair face, a splendid physique, and a certain winningness of manner, but, in truth, what Dr. Newman calls a “bad imitation of polished ungodliness,” utterly selfish and unprincipled, with views of life formed on what he has seen and heard in the casinos and cafés in which his time has been spent when not at sea. But sorry divinity as he is, he seems god-like in Morna’s eyes, and her heart is yielded to him unreservedly, whilst he, fascinated for the moment by the beauty of the belle sauvage, and finding that in her rustic simplicity she will not hear of those relations between them which he in his superior civilisation thinks the most natural and fitting, is at last impelled into marrying her, and carrying her off to his usual quarters in Normandy, that is to say, into what for Morna is another world. How, when he is tired of his fancy, and caught by a new beauty, he repudiates the tie between himself and Morna, and puts her from him with an almost incredible baseness and brutality,—being even ready to hand the girl over to his mate, who loves her in his own fierce way, and is eager to marry her—is told further on, and a very sickening story it is, though Morna’s bewilderment and dismay before the fact which she can neither understand nor ignore, that Bisson has ceased to love her, is painted with some fine and subtle touches. How Morna finally escapes the meshes of villany into which she is for awhile entrapped, and makes her way home to eagle Island, we must not attempt to tell here, any more than the details of the terrific storm which avenges Morna’s wrongs by again wrecking Bisson, this time with fatal result, on the Creag na Luing—an episode, this last, which from its extreme unlikelihood, we think, rather a blemish on the book, which had much better have closed with the unlucky heroine’s restoration to such peace as was possible for her. She is a very fascinating conception, and drawn with great truth and tenderness of feeling. We are not able within out limits either to do justice to the many excellent scenes and descriptions in the book or to call attention to what struck us in reading it as weak points, but we can have no hesitation in classing it amongst those books of the day that are pre-eminently worth reading.

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The New York Times (20 April, 1877 - p.2)

THE DARK COLLEEN. A Love Story. By the author of the “Queen of Connaught.” New York: LOVELL, ADAM, WESSON & CO. 1877.

     If William Black’s Princess of Thule should be cast in more vivid colors, and in place of the young Englishman one were to imagine a French sea captain, in place of Sheila an Irish peasant girl named Morna, one would have something very much like the present novel. It has power of a certain kind, and deals with unusual people—the inhabitants, namely, of a lonely member of the Western Isles. The people of Eagle Island are Irish fishermen, heavy, ignorant, and brutal, who have a local government of their own, and further, obey their parish priest, except when his creed interferes with certain favorite superstitions. Bisson is a Frenchman who is washed up from a wreck, and when about to be put to death by the fishermen, who fear that otherwise evil spirits will infest the island, is saved by Morna Dunroon, the daughter of the headman or elective chief. The stay of the stranger is a further complication, for the fishermen attribute to his influence a bad harvest and a barren fishing season. In order to mollify them and to keep her father in as chief of the island, Morna agrees to dive on a certain night for a mysterious water-flower growing on the sea bottom at a haunted spot on the coast. This she does, and the flowers are solemnly sowed in the earth to propitiate the fairies. Bisson falls in love with Morna, marries her, takes her to France, and tires of her. He tries to send her off, but she escapes, and returns only to find that he really cares no longer for her. At the last, another shipwreck throws him again on Eagle Island, where his deserted wife has taken refuge, but this time he is dead. The story is evidently based on personal knowledge of the wildest Irish fishing population, and many Irish words and expressions are to be found in the text.

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New-York Daily Tribune (12 June, 1878 - p.4)

PERSONAL.
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     Miss Jay, the sister-in-law of Robert Buchanan, is the author of the novels “The Queen of Connaught” and the “Dark Colleen.”

darkcollpress

[Press notices for The Dark Colleen from Madge Dunraven (London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1879).]

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Madge Dunraven (1879)

 

The Examiner (4 October, 1879)

MADGE DUNRAVEN.*

WE must unwillingly confess to being somewhat disappointed with this second work of the author of the “Queen of Connaught.” For her first book was full of promise which we will not say has been quite unfulfilled, but has certainly not been fully carried out in “Madge Dunraven.” She is a wild Irish girl transplanted to the uncongenial atmosphere of an English village, with her uncle and cousin Conn, by Mr. Aldyn, the rich rector of Armstead, whose dead sister was Mr. Dunraven’s wife. We see a great deal of Mr. Aldyn in the first part of the book, when he goes to Shranamonragh Castle (why such terrible names?), near Ballymoy, to his sister’s funeral, and is much amazed at the scenes he witnesses, as indeed will the reader be when he reads of them. He pays off the mortgages on Shranamonragh, and settles the family in a nice little cottage near his own rectory. So far we must admit that, though the author distinctly dislikes Mr. Aldyn, and wishes us to do so, our narrow Saxon sympathies make us prefer him to the thoughtless Dunraven, although the latter has fine black eyes, and his kitchen is open to every beggar, while the hypocritical clergyman, who professes to teach Christian charity, is yet unaccountably unwilling that tramps should carry off his spoons, and churlishly bars his doors and windows at night. However, of this more anon. Of course having given that Mr. Aldyn has a son named George, who is to marry Miss Rosamond Leigh, the ward of Lord Rigby, it follows, as night the day, that George Aldyn falls in love with Madge Dunraven, and is anxious to get off his previous engagement. Conn, the wild young Irishman, is enchanted by Rosamond, the heartless coquette, and meets her clandestinely in Rigby Park. Up to this point his cousin Madge has been unobtrusively in love with him, but when he confides to her his admiration for, and meetings with, the lovely but heartless English girl, she resolutely suppresses her affection and resolves to look upon him in future as a brother. One evening in a poaching affray Lord Rigby is killed, and Conn, who is returning from one of his stolen interviews with Rosamond, is arrested by the villainous head keeper, John Scott, and charged with the murder. He is tried at the next assizes, and Rosamond, the only person who could prove an alibi, calmly swears his life away, which is no worse than we expected from her. For we have always noticed that when authoresses—we think we are hardly wrong in attributing “Madge Dunraven” to a lady—describe a bad woman, they make her much worse than any man would. How Conn escapes the “swinging” with which John Scott threatens him we will not betray, nor how the tale ends, for we have told as much of the plot as we dare without incurring the displeasure of both author and reader. It has already been remarked that we are clearly intended throughout the book to warmly sympathise with the untidy, down-at-heels, careless, but kindhearted Irish family, and to dislike the stiff, rigid, unfeeling English people. The author has so far succeeded that we do very much like Madge and Conn; but she has not succeeded in making our cheeks burn with indignation at the hard- heartedness of the Saxon. Such a scene as one described, in which a wretched returned convict is hunted down by the whole village and nearly stoned to death, is all but impossible in an English village, Indeed, it is sufficiently clear that the author knows more of Irish country life than of English. No person like John Scott, the wicked keeper, ever existed except on the stage of a transpontine theatre; for people in real life have some reason for their hatred, and don’t bring false charges against innocent persons without some motives. The behaviour of the keeper is, throughout, perfectly unaccountable; nor is at all clear why Lord Rigby was murdered. We are, indeed, informed of the cause of the murder in the third volume, but in the second one we had been told that it was a mistake. In this, as in many other points, the author has been careless in revision. Madge is first introduced to us in Rigby Woods plucking violets and primroses, yet when she emerges on the high road she sees fields of ripening corn. The same evening the nightingale is heard. We are sure that the author knows that violets and primroses bloom in early spring, while the nightingale seldom sings until they are long faded, while the corn, even in the most favourable seasons, declines to ripen until later still. A terrible discrepancy in hours occurs on page 225, vol. i., where Conn takes four hours to ride two miles; and further on, Conn is committed for trial on the very flimsiest of evidence by one single magistrate, not even assisted by a clerk in dispensing law and justice alone in his own house. “O fortunata nimium!” can we say of our author, who has so little knowledge of our rural magistracy, their fear of responsibility, their timidity, their absolute abhorrence of doing anything at all except on the bench. A committal such as here described is, fortunately or unfortunately, quite impossible in England.
     So far we have been carping at “Madge Dunraven” most unpleasantly. We have only done so because it was out duty to point out blemishes which might easily have been removed. The book is a fascinating and entrancing one, and the faults we have mentioned are not such as seriously to disturb the reader’s excitement. The English is pure, strong, and as free from affectation as it is from blunders; the principal characters are delightful and well-delineated. Madge is, of  course, the author’s favourite, as the heroine should be; next to her the principal strength is spent on George, Rosamond, and the poor convict. The subsidiary personages remain more or less shadowy. It used in old time to be said of the Comédie Française that they had a first-class actor even for a part comprising only the words:—“Madam, the carriage is waiting,” and that this was the cause of their success. The author of the “Queen of Connaught” evidently does not agree with the former, perhaps apocryphal, director of the Comédie. She does not waste much time on her subordinate parts. They mostly remain mere dummies by which the machinery at the plot is completed. The principle of concentrating the interest on a few leading parts is, of course, the right one, but it is here pushed almost too far. To return to the case of Mr. Aldyn, before mentioned, the details of his picture are so insufficiently filled in that his permanent estrangement from his son is perfectly inconsistent with his actions throughout the book. He is supposed to be a thoroughly cold-hearted hypocrite, yet we hardly ever hear of him at all except in connection with kind and thoughtful acts. Mr. Dunraven himself, too, is either a mere ghost or an idiot; for as far as we can make out, he does nothing at all in the book except to order Conn never to tell a lie, to dance two Irish jigs, and to allow his iron-grey hair to become white. Making every allowance for the author’s admiration for the Irish, we cannot admit that there are sufficient grounds for the intense love with which Mr. Dunraven is regarded at Ballymoy, or for the immense respect entertained for him by Conn and Madge. And, on the whole, we think Mr. Dunraven and Madge were very wise to return to Ballymoy; whether George Aldyn was equally wise in going with them we would leave the readers of “Madge Dunraven” to determine. We hope there will be many of them, for it is a good, healthy, and amusing book, and it has the enormous advantage of not pretending to teach anybody anything.

     *Madge Dunraven. By the Author of the “Queen of Connaught.” (Richard Bentley and Son.)

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The Academy (1 November, 1879)

NEW NOVELS.

Madge Dunraven. By the author of “The Queen of Connaught.” (R. Bentley & Son.)
Cousin Henry. By Anthony Trollope. (Chapman & Hall)
Records of a Stormy Life. By the author of “Recommended to Mercy.” (Hurst & Blackett.)
High Spirits. By James Payn. (Chatto & Windus.)
Tales from Blackwood. New Series. No. XVIII. (Blackwood.)

     POWER and pain are the leading characteristics of the new Irish story by the author of The Queen of Connaught. Such an amount of physical suffering and mental agony has not for many a year been compressed within the three volumes of an English novel. Nearly every character in them is in a state of torturing struggle — Madge Dunraven, the heroine, with her oath to a homicidal outcast; the good-natured squireen, her uncle, with Irish poverty and English conventionalities; Conn, her cousin, with death and his love for a perjured “Madonna-like” sensualist; that heartless beauty, Rosamond Leigh herself, with her fear lest her secret indulgence in warm embraces should be discovered, and her terror for the just wrath of the man whom she has betrayed almost to death. The most wretched creature of all is the outcast, Matthew Dalton, who has been at war with Fate all his life, and whom, even at the last, Fate disappoints by making an accident of the death at his hands of the man who has ruined his sister. This account of one of his numerous plights may be said to be the keynote of the novel:—

“The lightning flashed into his eyes, and almost blinded him; the heavy rain fell like a torrent upon his threadbare coat; the thunder pealed loud above him. For a moment he veiled with his hand his dazzled, half-blinded eyes, then, as the light quivered and faded, leaving the prospect dank and blackened by the heavy streams of rain, he thrust himself farther under the hedge, in the hope of finding shelter. But the heavy raindrops penetrated the thick hedge and soaked his skin; the dusty road was already thick with brown mud; every rustle of the boughs shook down an additional shower. Still, there was no better shelter nigh, and to make his way now towards the village would be madness. So he drew up his knees, crept closer beneath the rain-sodden hedge, while the water ran in a stream around him from the turned-down brim of his old felt hat.”

If, however, this story is till nearly the close one vast wilderness of woe, there are no weaknesses in it. Madge and Conn are true to the life, and smack of the soil, superstition, and fervour of Ireland. Rosamond Leigh—a Cleopatra without the full courage of the flesh, at least in these volumes—though repulsive, is powerfully drawn. The most unsatisfactory character is Rector Aldyn, the English uncle of the young Dunravens. In the first volume he is simply a weak, fanatically circumspect, and not very warm-hearted man, and it is inartistic to make him degenerate in the third into little better than the hypocritical “old rogue” and “devil” that the soured and soaked Dalton would make him out to be. The trial of Conn for murder is in style an advance on anything that has yet been given us by the author of The Queen of Connaught, who moreover proves that she has not lost her art of describing the reckless ways, and entering into the soft hearts, of the Irish peasants.

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The Morning Post (3 November, 1879 - p.3)

MADGE DUNRAVEN.*

     The first impression which is left on the mind by this decidedly clever, if somewhat painful, novel is that it would have made a much better play. The author’s chief merit is dramatic force, and there are situations in the story which, comparatively tame in narration, would be powerful to a degree when expounded by a competent actor or actress. It is not in the strict sense of the term an Irish story, because the major part of the action—indeed, all that bears most strongly upon its legitimate interest—takes place in this country; still, as the principal characters hail from Connaught, and as the only other tolerably agreeable person in the novel is intimately connected with them, it may be classed amongst the works of fiction belonging to the sister island.
     At the very outset it is imperative to take an objection, and that a strong one, to the main incident upon which the plot turns. Madge Dunraven, who, as may well be guessed, occupies the post of heroine, can have known nothing of casuistry—which is not necessarily a term to be taken in a bad sense—and little more of religion. Let the case be plainly stated. The girl, being left alone in her uncle’s house, is suddenly confronted with a murderous vagabond fleeing from justice, who tries to compel her to take an oath to conceal his identity. She refuses, or so it would seem from the tale. Upon this the criminal, whilst she is in a half-unconscious state from terror, presses the crucifix to her lips and escapes. Now, will it be believed that the unhappy girl entertains so strong an idea that she has taken a binding oath that she scruples to exonerate her own cousin, who is accused of Lord Rigby’s murder, by naming the real assassin? Apart from the fact that her will had in no way consented to the deed, it might have been supposed that any decently-educated person of a religious tendency would have known that an oath taken under compulsion was not binding. As a matter of fact, such a girl as Madge is described to have been would, being a member of the Church of Rome, have gone regularly to confession, when the priest would at once have solved her doubts, if she had any. It is almost incredible that so clever a writer should have made such a fundamental error.
     Apart from all this, the story is a powerful one, though rather disagreeable. The opening scenes, which show the Dunravens in their Western home, are extremely good; the description of the wake is all the more thrilling on account of its reticence—there is a weird feeling left on the mind. When the cold-blooded rector, Mr. Aldyn, removes his relations to England the action may be said to begin. And in what does it consist? Truly, it would be somewhat difficult to say, and yet it is engrossing. The family, with their honest Celtic notions, harbour and defend a tramp, who turns out to be their greatest curse. This man, as is evident from the beginning, is connected with a young lady, Rosamond Leigh, who lives as the ward of Lord Rigby, the landed proprietor of the neighbourhood; ultimately the peer is shot, and the blame of the crime is, through spite, laid upon Conn, Mr. Dunraven’s son. Of course the matter is cleared up in the end, and the manner in which the consummation is brought about is the most dramatic effect in the book; unless we must except Madge’s interview with the convict in his low lodging-house. But before the innocent man can be cleared he has been subjected, through his cousin’s idiotic behaviour, to all the shame and misery of a trial for murder; and it must be said that it was no thanks to her that he was not hanged. Rosamond is so horrible a character that it may well be hoped she has been modelled upon no one whom the author ever met. Can it be believed that any woman would wilfully perjure herself, and so allow an innocent man to be put to death in the shamefullest way, in order to conceal the fact that he had kissed her, and supposed himself her accepted lover? Yet that is what Miss Leigh’s crime amounted to! Although she knew that she was lying in Conn’s embrace at the moment when the shot was fired of which he was deemed guilty, she is represented as having gone as a witness to his trial and sworn that she was not with him! Surely no woman, however degraded, would have done this—and Rosamond is not represented as being a bad woman, only selfish. It occurs to  one, by the by, to wonder on what grounds the wretched Matthew Dalton was turned out of the village inn. He had money to pay for what he might order, and was not in a state of intoxication; therefore such an act was simply illegal, and it is highly improbable that any publican would have taken such a step. But then, it may be added, it is equally improbable that an English lady of good position would address her husband by his surname only. It is said that such a custom prevails amongst small tradesfolk, but it is hardly likely in a well-to-do rectory. The scene where old Mr. Dunraven demolishes the village mob is one of the best in the book—most spirited and exciting—and very true to probability; it would be just like the old Irish gentleman to revive the memories of bygone fairs in the defence of a poor suffering human being. As has already been said, the chief merit of “Madge Dunraven” is dramatic power; as a picture of real life it can hardly be received, but in every other respect it has recommendations. It is hardly conceivable that any reader taking up the book will lay it down again until the third volume has been finished; and it may be added that whoever adopts so singular a proceeding will have lost a pleasure.

     * Madge Dunraven: A Tale. By the author of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c. 3 vols. London: Richard Bentley and Sons.

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The Pall Mall Gazette (21 November, 1879 - p.12)

     “Madge Dunraven.” By the Author of “The Queen of Connaught.” Three vols. (Richard Bentley and Son.) “The Queen of Connaught,” if it did not open up new ground to the novel reader, at all events introduced him again to a kind of novel which has been almost unknown since the days of Lever; and the undoubted success which attended its production was as much due to the freshness and novelty of the story as to the vigour and raciness of the author’s style of writing. In “Madge Dunraven” we have again a good many of the same qualities which were manifest in “The Dark Colleen” and “The Queen of Connaught.” The peculiarities of the Irish characters are brought out in all these books with singular force; and if the scenes of Irish eccentricity are sometimes a little extravagant, they are always picturesque and striking. The charming scenes of peasant life upon Eagle Island, which did so much for the popularity of “The Dark Colleen,” and the similar scenes in the earlier novel where the society at O’Mara Castle is described, have, however, no exact parallel in “Madge Dunraven;” and to this extent the last of these novels is the least entertaining of the three. The author is tempted to bring his Irish family to England, where he entangles them with the kind of incidents one finds in an ordinary commonplace novel; and his peculiar power of describing Irish life and scenes is thus to some extent rendered unavailing. Madge Dunraven is a heroine of the kind that Lever or Carleton used to describe so well. Brought up in the Far West, she is impulsive, warm-hearted, and unconventional; and the best portion of the story describes the difference she and her foster-father find between the heartiness and happy poverty of their neighbours round Shranamonragh Castle and the cold etiquette and selfish wealth of the English gentry among whom they are thrown. Mr. Dunraven comes to England with the object of retrieving his fortunes, bringing with him a flock of dependants, and he shocks the English people among whom he settles by his utter indifference to all class-distinctions. On the other hand, Madge and her foster father and brother are annoyed at the dishonesty and meanness which they see on all sides in England. Madge does not “understand that the life which they led in Ireland could not be practised here. Ever since she could remember Shranamonragh Castle had been a refuge for the starving and destitute; any wandering beggar could rest his weary feet at their threshold, or, entering in, allay the pangs of hunger and cold.” Now, however, she finds that if she asks a beggar into the kitchen, he is pretty sure to steal the spoons or the table-cloth, and that her English friends will only laugh at her and tell her that she deserves to be so served. Her English cousin says to her, “Christian charity is all very well theoretically, but practically it won’t do. Let every man take care of himself, and the devil take the hindmost.” English charity, however, is not quite so theoretical as this; and it may, perhaps, be open to question whether the indiscriminate relief which Madge recommends does not work more harm than good. Be this as it may, Madge convinces herself that in England “the world is out of joint,” and so far as lies within her power she begins the work of reformation. Like the earlier novels from the same pen, the plot of “Madge Dunraven” is eventful and sensational; and it can only be very slightly indicated here. The story is chiefly concerned with the fate of Conn Dunraven, Madge’s cousin and foster- brother, whose love for an English beauty brings him within the reach of what the author terms the “fangs of justice.” Rosamond Leigh, the object of Conn’s enthusiastic if not very wise admiration, is as heartless a coquette as Lady Clara Vere de Vere. She is the affianced wife of young Dunraven’s cousin; but nevertheless she tempts Conn into holding secret meetings with her, and at the moment of one of these interviews, when “the lovers are locked in each other’s  arms,” her guardian is killed in an encounter with poachers; and circumstances which can best be discovered in the story itself fix the guilt of his murder on her lover. To a prosaic lawyer, should such a one read the book, there is a good deal which may appear amusing in the manner in which Dunraven is charged with the crime and in the mode in which his trial is conducted; but the ordinary novel reader will not be inclined to criticise very closely the somewhat strange views of criminal procedure which are here advanced. Following the example of George Eliot in “Felix Holt,” our author avoids setting out all the commonplace incidents of the trial; but a good deal is left in which is neither artistic nor quite accurate. The real murderer was one of the outcasts whom Madge had succoured; and the moment after the commission of the crime he fled to her for protection. Tracked by the police, he forces her to take an oath not to divulge his secret—and except that no sane girl would, or at all events should, consider such an oath binding—the mental torture Madge passes through in her desire to save her cousin, and on the other hand to keep the promise she has sworn to, is exceedingly well described. A way is ultimately discovered for doing both, which no reader would thank us for disclosing here. As a sensational story “Madge Dunraven” deserves to rank with the best productions in this class of fiction; but it has merits, and merits of a higher order to our thinking, independent of its plot.

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Daily News (3 December, 1879 - p.3)

     The natural and political conflict between the Irish and English races has long been a favourite and fertile subject for fiction. In itself it is a picturesque attitude, involving endlessly interesting emotional action, and, historically considered, the poet or novelist finds in it almost too abundant and too exciting material ready to his hand. A novel we lately had occasion to notice, “The Lords of Strogue,” was an instance of this difficulty in dealing with the events of the last eighty years, so crowded are the incidents and so painful the interest. The author of “Madge Dunraven” (3 vols., Richard Bentley and Son) has chosen to confine herself to the delineation of the natural antagonism of the two races domestically developed. In religion as well as in national feeling her prejudices are strongly with the Irish Catholic way of thinking, and she uses all her considerable powers of writing and description to enlist the sympathies of her readers on her side. She indulges in no exaggeration, nor in the slightest degree attempts to colour either the Irish people or the Irish landscape with imaginative charm. The opening chapters present a sketch of desolate Irish moorland under the worst aspect of dreary Irish climate, almost as realistic in its way as the famous first chapter of “Felix Holt.” She omits no detail to impress on the reader the exceeding barren desolation of the place, just as later on, when she has to paint the contrasting beauty of an English country scene, she passes over no bright touch of colour or indication of rich culture. The one is a study in Indian ink, life-like, but dull and colourless. The other is a brilliant canvas crowded with gay and lovely touches of brightness and beauty. But the artist loves the Irish moor, and has nothing but cold admiration for the rich English valley. In the same way she does not present Irish character under any intentionally false light. The Sligo peasantry go in rags and prefer bread given to that worked for, the young ladies have a sneaking tendency to leave off their shoes and stockings, and the young gentlemen entertain the vaguest ideas as to the limits between preserving and poaching. But then they all, gentry and peasantry, love a dance and a joke and a glass of whiskey. They have intense attachments, strong feelings, and no belief in the effectual working of the poor rate. It may easily be seen how strongly the dissonant note is struck when the impoverished Dunraven family, uprooted from their native home on the melancholy shore of Ballymoy, are placed in the centre of an English village under the cold protection of a Protestant rector-uncle. Nothing suits them and they suit nobody. The story of their troubled stay on English soil and joyful return to Ballymoy, their rags, their almsgiving, and their whiskey, is not only interesting as a story, but amusing and even instructive as a study of national character and feeling. It is very brightly, freshly, and entertainingly written. The weak point in construction is the rigid adherence of Madge Dunraven to an oath administered to her against her will and without her consent, and her obstinate silence when by speaking she might save her innocent cousin from death. But this is in the character, and from the author’s point of view; and, though it would be in real life a great mistake, its introduction into the story can scarcely be called a literary blunder.

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The Graphic (6 December, 1879)

     “MADGE DUNRAVEN,” by the author of “The Queen of Connaught,” &c. (3 vols.: Bentley).—We cannot help thinking that the author has here somewhat mismanaged her play, and wilfully thrown away her trump card. Her strong point, as has been universally allowed, were her sketches of Irish life and character—as witness that picture of the strange life on Eagle Island, which constitutes the real attraction in “The Dark Colleen;” but here, after the briefest of introductions, the Irish trio among the dramatis personæ are whirled away to an inland English country parish, in which, and in the neighbouring assize-town, the scene lies for the rest of the book. Some amusement is, indeed, afforded by the account given of the efforts of Mr. Dunraven, his son Conn, and his niece Madge, to live at Armstead precisely as they had lived at Shranamonragh Castle—how they entertain tramps and beggars on the best the house can furnish, leave doors unbarred and windows unfastened at night, and then are astonished to find that teaspoons, table-cloths, and great coats have mysteriously disappeared in the morning; but, after all, this does not go a great way, and the author seems rather to overdo the contrast between Irish geniality and honesty and English knavery and churlishness. Another fault we have to find with the construction of the book is, that the tragic incident in which its interest is supposed to culminate is allowed unduly to dominate over the rest of the story. That some such catastrophe is coming—is in the air—we are hardly permitted to forget for a moment; and, no doubt, this sense of impending gloom and disaster may be most effective when it is skilfully handled. But then it is not every novelist who can deal with such an element as it should be dealt with, and the misfortune is that if it fails by a nail’s breadth in being impressive, it becomes rather tiresome—as we must own we have found it here. We might, very likely, have been more readily stirred as the author would have had us could we have brought ourselves to feel more real belief and interest in her characters; but in the delineation of character she does not seem at all at her best. No doubt she can give us strongly marked individualities, such as Morna and Bisson; but she appears at a loss when she would work out such ordinary men and women as one might anticipate rubbing shoulders against in the chances of daily life. We are told that Conn is very handsome, and we know that he is very unfortunate; but he remains a mere name throughout; whilst Madge herself, the principal figure in the story, Madge, the tender, admirable, heroic maiden, is never seen, except in the vaguest outline. The one personage in the tale of whom most might perhaps have been made, is the perjured beauty, Rosamund Leigh, though that type of woman, at once heartless and sensuous, is no longer a novelty in fiction. As readers will have seen, we have said a great deal in dispraise of the book, for it is one well worth while finding fault with, being in point of style, general ability, and most of the gifts that go to make the novelist, much in advance of the run of fiction of the day; and if the writer will only be true to herself, we are persuaded she may do much finer work than any she has yet given to the world. We cannot, however, take leave of her without one parting shot. We should strongly recommend her, when next she attempts to describe the proceedings in an English court of justice, to try to make them less grotesquely wild and impossible; and it is certainly odd enough that, though she repeatedly lays stress on the fact that Madge is a Catholic girl, it does not seem to have occurred to her that the first thing such a girl placed in such a dilemma as Madge is between her oath to the outcast not to betray him, and her obligation not to permit an innocent man, her own near and dear relative, to suffer for a crime she knows he has not committed, would do, would be to lay the whole matter before her spiritual director under seal of confession. A “few words emanating from an intelligent mind” would have soon solved Madge’s doubts as to her conflicting obligations, and saved herself and her friends many weeks of anxiety and heartache.

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Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (January, 1880 - p.313-314)

     As a rule the genuine novel-reader prefers to enjoy without previous enlightenment the agreeable surprises by which an ingenious novelist contrives to intensify the interest of a story, and renders small thanks to the officious critic who robs it in advance of its freshness and flavor by an outline of its plot and incidents. Out of deference to this feeling we shall merely give our general impressions of the novels of the month. One of these, Madge Dunraven, is essentially an Irish tale, although the scene is shifted very early to England, and the narrative has little of the rollicking abandon of the conventional Irish novel. The characters for whom our sympathies are most keenly excited are indeed Irish of the Irish in their tastes and feelings; but the alchemy of love converts them to many English and thoroughly un-Irish ways, while their Irish virtues exert a mellowing influence upon their English associates. The author describes a “Castle Rackrent” which is no less dilapidated, and is even more genial in its dilapidation, than Miss Edgeworth’s. The narrative is seasoned with a double love story, several poaching adventures, a brace of homicides, and an exciting trial scene. It is, however, less sensational than might be inferred from these rather startling incidents.

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The Spectator (23 April, 1881 - p.23)

     Madge Dunraven. By the Author of “The Queen of Connaught.” (Bentley.)—In this very Irish novel, Mr. Dunraven, his son Conn, and his niece Madge, are brought over from their native Ballymoy and their ancestral castle of Shranamonragh to the English village of Armstead, of which their kinsman and bringer-over, the Rev. Mr. Aldyn, is rector. The high jinks played by this little Irish colony in their strange English surroundings supply the action of the story. Such plot as there is consists in Conn’s trial for murder and his deliverance by confession on the part of the real criminal, who has been worked upon by Madge; and the best “point” in the book is the contrasted possession of a secret by Madge, on the one hand—who has sheltered the real murderer, and been sworn to silence by him—and by Rosamond Leigh on the other, who knows that Conn, at the time “when the gun had been fired which had shot down Lord Rigby,” was “holding her (Rosamond) in his arms, and kissing her tremulous lips.” Madge and Rosamond Leigh, the impulsive Irish girl and the cold English one, are contrasted; and, again, the Irish Conn and the English rector’s son, George Aldyn. But the contrasts are somewhat stagey, and the absence of reality in the drawing of the various characters is not made up for by a painful realism that is somewhat suggestive of careful scene-setting and elaborate stage-direction. Nor is this realism always very exact. Madge, for instance, after sitting with bare legs and feet “in the middle of a grassy dell, which was set close upon the margin of an extensive wood,” where “the grass was very thick and very tall—but now and then the soft westerly wind swept the tall blades apart, revealing, as it did so, glimpses of deep purple wood violets, tufts of pale primroses, and delicate patches of green and golden woodland moss”—climbs “up to the top of a grassy bank which shut in the highway,” and “looks around.” In the interval of her climbing, the spring has given way to late summer:  “all seemed one luminous vision of yellow cornfields, dark, waving woods, green meadows, rich with after-math,— gardens laden with fruit.” And if we cannot praise the painting of nature, what is to be said of the description of passion? Of this, there is plenty in the book; but it is passion of the torn kind, which becomes wearisome, even if it has ever begun to be moving, and utterly unrelieved or supplemented by the slightest conception of the humorous or the grotesque. People’s eyes, on the shortest notice, “burn like balls of fire;” the English Judge, on Matthew Dalton’s confession in court, orders him into custody, “in a voice trembling with passion;” an irritated gamekeeper laughs “with the ferocity of a mastiff on the chain;” and Conn, in a farewell interview with Rosamond Leigh, “with his right arm held her firmly against his breast, with his left hand raised her face; then, in a hot frenzy of passion, he covered her face, her cheeks, her lips, with kisses,” with the sublimely bathetic result that “her face was scarlet; she rubbed her:scented handkerchief across her lips, and stared at him.” The writer has done much better than this before, and will, we hope, do better again.

madgepress

[Press notices for Madge Dunraven from My Connaught Cousins (London: F. V. White and Co., 1883).]

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Harriett Jay Book Reviews continued

The Priest’s Blessing (1881) to My Connaught Cousins (1883)

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The Critical Response
Harriett Jay
Miscellanea

 

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