The look of dying from starvation (in 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 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 land filled with corpses. In the following passage Trollope describes the look of those in the terminal stages of starvation. — George P. Landow]

In those days there was a form of face which came upon the sufferers when their state of misery was far advanced, and which was a sure sign that their last stage of misery was nearly run. The mouth would fall and seem to hang, the lips at the two ends of the mouth would be dragged down, and the lower parts of the cheeks would fall as though they had been dragged and pulled. There were no signs of acute agony when this phasis of countenance was to be seen, none of the horrid symptoms of gnawing hunger by which one generally supposes that famine is accompanied. The look is one of apathy, desolation, and death. When custom had made these signs easily legible, the poor doomed wretch was known with certainty. "It's no use in life meddling with him; he's gone," said a lady to me in the far west of the south of Ireland, while the poor boy, whose doom was thus spoken, stood by listening. Her delicacy did not equal her energy in doing good,—for she did much good; but in truth it was difficult to be delicate when the hands were so full. And then she pointed out to me the signs on the lad's face, and I found that her reading was correct.

The famine was not old enough at the time of which we are speaking for Herbert to have learned all this, or he would have known that there was no hope left in this world for the poor creature whom he saw before him. The skin of her cheek had fallen, and her mouth was dragged, and the mark of death was upon her; but the agony of want was past. She sat there listless, indifferent, hardly capable of suffering, even for her child, waiting her doom unconsciously. [Chapter 33, “The Last Stage”]

Related Material


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 11 August 2013