I might have called this "A Tale of the Famine Year in Ireland." — Anthony Trollope, Castle Richmond
Throughout Castle Richmond, which Trollope sets in the Ireland of the great famine, he attempts without much success to combine the horrors of 1846-47 with one of his love stories based on tactics of the sensation novel — bigamy, blackmail, and false identities. Wanting to teach English readers about what he had observed about both the origins of the Great Hunger and attempts to save the starving, he realized people didn't want to read about it, and so he tried the sugar pill of a a young girl's courtship by two men, but one find it difficult to take the tribulations of the well-fed lovers and would-be lovers very seriously in a novel that describes the look of those in the terminal stages of starvation.
Trollope refuses to accept the claim that God had punished Ireland for its Roman Catholicism, sedition, or supposed laziness of its people. Sounding much like the speakers in Jonathan Swift's “Modest Proposal” and Thomas Carlyle's French Revolution and Chartism, Trollope lays the blame on the landowners, Protestant and Catholic, whose shirking of responsibilities has led to this disaster.
The fault had been the lowness of education and consequent want of principle among the middle classes; and this fault had been found as strongly marked among the Protestants as it had been among the Roman Catholics. Young men were brought up to do nothing. Property was regarded as having no duties attached to it. Men became rapacious, and determined to extract the uttermost farthing out of the land within their power, let the consequences to the people on that land be what they might.
He explains that it “was not the absence of the absentees that did the damage, but the presence of those they left behind them on the soil.” As he explains, the “scourge of Ireland” was the Irish system of tenant farming.
Men there held tracts of ground, very often at their full value, paying for them such proportion of rent as a farmer could afford to pay in England and live. But the Irish tenant would by no means consent to be a farmer. It was needful to him that he should be a gentleman, and that his sons should be taught to live and amuse themselves as the sons of gentlemen—barring any such small trifle as education. They did live in this way; and to enable them to do so, they underlet their land in small patches, and at an amount of rent to collect which took the whole labour of their tenants, and the whole produce of the small patch, over and above the quantity of potatoes absolutely necessary to keep that tenant's body and soul together.
And thus a state of things was engendered in Ireland which discouraged labour, which discouraged improvements in farming, which discouraged any produce from the land except the potato crop; which maintained one class of men in what they considered to be the gentility of idleness, and another class, the people of the country, in the abjectness of poverty.
Therefore, one major good effect of the great famine was “that the idle, genteel class has been cut up root and branch, has been driven forth out of its holding into the wide world, and has been punished with the penalty of extermination” while the poor tenant farmer, who suffered so much from the famine and epidemics that followed, “as a class” now thrives “as a labourer either in his own country or in some newer—for him better—land to which he has emigrated. He, even in Ireland, can now get eight and nine shillings a week easier and with more constancy than he could get four some fifteen years since. But the other man has gone, and his place is left happily vacant.”
- The Irish Famine, 1845-49
- The food of the people was gone”: Reactions to the Famine of 1846-47
- “I do not believe in such exhibitions of God's anger”: Trollope on God and the Irish Famine
Trollope, Anthony. Castle Richmond. London & New York: 1906. Project Gutenberg. E-text prepared by Charles Aldarondo, Charles Franks, and revised by Rita Bailey and Joseph E. Loewenstein, M.D.. 5 August 2013.
Last modified 5 August 2013