decorated initial 'I' n his biography of his father Hablot K. Brown ("Phiz"), the great early-Victorian illustrator, Edgar Browne contends that the Anglo-Irish novelist Charles Lever "leant upon Phiz; he was very easily satisfied with his illustrations, so long as they agreed with the general drift of the text, he was not solicitous about details" (cited in Steig, p. 21). Steig notes that "Lever. . . seems to have given Browne much less instruction than did Dickens" (p. 20). "Up through The O'Donoghue (1845), Charles Lever's novels remained within the limits of comic and/or sensational accounts of military and amorous exploits of Irishmen; yet Browne's style in collaboration with Lever continued to change" (p. 303). Although some critics assert that Phiz's powers as an illustrator were beginning to fail in 1859, not until 1867 did he suffer the paralyzing illness which resulted in the loss of use of his right thumb. In all, he illustrated sixteen novels by Charles Lever, "as well as contributing wood engravings to several others by that author" (Steig 299). Barrington is the second-to-the-last novel that Phiz illustrated for Lever.

The plot of this loosely-structured novel of fifty chapters ultimately resolves itself upon the outcome of a protracted lawsuit between the once-wealthy Anglo-Irish aristocrat Peter Barrington and the British East India Company. At stake is the inheritance of the Barrington's granddaughter, Josephine, whose claim is based on her father's having been made the heir of the Rajah of Luckerabad in Bengal. The sinister cavalry officer, Major Horace Stapylton (in reality, a near-do-well Anglo-Indian named Edwardes who has assumed the name and identity of a superior), knows the secret to prosecuting Josephine's claim successfully, namely the whereabouts of a missing page from the old rajah's Koran upon which the native ruler made over the deed of his state to young Captain George Barrington, his "Political Resident" (p. 113), military adviser, and son-in-law. However, Stapylton elects at first to assist the Barringtons' adversaries before determining that, if he can win the fifteen-year-old Josephine's hand, he will assist the Barringtons.

Stapylton's plans go awry when, as a result of his initiating what has come to be called "The Peterloo Massacre," he is unmasked and forced to flee to the Continent. The mention of "bread riots" (p. 289) just outside the north of England industrial town of Manchester in St. Peter's Fields (16 August 1819) dates the action of the story rather more accurately than the "some forty years ago" that Lever gives us at the outset — however, that the characters refer on p. 291 to "Peterloo" (modelled by the contemporary press on "Waterloo") in advance of news of that incident (p. 329) suggests that Lever had not researched the period very thoroughly. Aside from the journey that old Peter and his sister make to retrieve Josephine from the convent where she has been raised, the story is set principally in Ireland, on the Nore River near Kilkenny at the delightful and commodious cottage which serves as an (unprofitable) inn called "The Fisherman's Home," all that is left of the once-vast Barrington estates and at the opening of the story a hostel for wealthy fly-fishermen from England. Although Lever suggests that George "Mad" Barrington's profligate lifestyle in India is responsible for old Peter's loss of wealth, lands, and social status, the real cause is later revealed to be not merely Peter's generally litigious nature but the lawsuit that Peter has been prosecuting ever since his son's death in Bengal a decade earlier. The story concludes abruptly with Stapylton, unmasked and disgraced, forced to flee London while Peter Barrington, triumphant in his suit, becomes a millionaire.

Lever's handling of the novel's characters and plot owe much to Sir Walter Scott, whose "new novel" (p. 85) The Antiquary (1816) and Waverley (1814) as alluded to by Josephine and Peter Barrington help to establish the chronological setting of the story, especially since the precise identity of "The Author of Waverley" (p. 247) is not known during the period at which the action transpires (until 1827, Scott published his fiction anonymously; in fact, under six aliases he published some twenty-eight novels). Scott-like features include the kindly but somewhat impractical and antiquated Peter Barrington (derived from such Scott figures as the Baron of Bradwardine in Waverley), the tricksy servant Darby (based on such figures as Caleb Balderstone in The Bride of Lammermoor), the picaresque hero Fred Conyers, and the writer's obvious love of the story's physical backdrop and arcane knowledge of his country's history. Moreover, Lever's wide-ranging allusions and knowledge of political and military affairs as reflected in Barrington suggest that he is emulating Scott's learned and allusive manner of narration. Although the numerous allusions are difficult to categorise, Lever uses classical and biblical allusions (e. g., "Alcibiades . . . dog," p. 150; and "whited sepulchre," p. 204) sparingly, and geographical and historical allusions (e. g., "Torres Vedras," p. 130; and "Drachenfels," p. 322; and the slave rebellion which M'Cormick recalls having assisted in putting down in "Jamaica", and "King of Dahomey," p. 10) more generously, placing many in the mouths of his characters to reveal their upbringing, interests, and prejudices. Lever's mentioning Dinah's "blowing off the steam" (p. 320) may seem to be an anachronism (since this railway-based idiom did not come into popular use until 1830, according to Partridge) in a novel set in 1818, but the narrator has licence to use expressions common in the mouths of his readers. Thus, Lever, permits himself to allude to painters such as "Wouvermans" (p. 305) and "Sneyders" (p. 266) and scenes such as that of "Brian de Bois at Ashby-de-la-Zouch" (p. 130) from Ivanhoe (not published until 1819) that his more sophiticated readers though not necessarily his characters would recognise.

However, the ill-handled subplot of Tom Dill's fortunes, the comic "canny" servant Darby Cassan, the comic woman (Dinah Barrington), M'Cormick the miser, Fred Conyers as a the male ingenue foiled by the haughty aristocrat Horace Stapylton all point to the influence of Victorian melodrama, while the verbal wit of both Polly Dill and Josephine Barrington seems to be derived from the Comedy of Manners tradition (certainly, Josephine's polished rejoinders and ripostes seem out of place in the mouth of a fifteen-year-old fresh out of a convent!). The features standard to any Lever romance include the sporting background, in particular old Peter's love of fishing and Polly Dill's horseback riding, the military characters, the historical backdrop, and the use of dialect for such supporting characters as Darby Curran and Major M'Cormick.

Related Materials

Resources

Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! The Book Illustrations of Hablot Knight Browne. London, Newton Abbot, and Vancouver: David and Charles, 1978.

Muir, Percy. Victorian Illustrated Books. London: B. T. Batsford, 1971.

Patridge, Eric. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. 8th edn. Ed. Paul Beale. New York: Macmillan, 1984.

Steig, Michael. Phiz and Dickens. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978.


Victorian Web Charles Lever Phiz
(Hablot K. Browne)

Last modified 12 July 2002