In this novel of the mid-fifties, with which Lever intended to repair his fortunes, the Anglo-Irish novelist depicts the fall of a Connemara estate in his native Ireland in the period between the Catholic Emancipation Bill, extending the franchise beyond the Protestant minority (1829) and the Great Famine (1845-1849). Even as he asserts that the fall of the landed gentry brings disastrous upheaval to a traditional society, Lever insists on the inevitability of such a collapse. Lever's reforming Anglo-Irish heroine Mary Martin is unable to stem the costs of her absentee family's arrogant isolation from their tenants and neglect of their responsibilities as landlords. Despite her pluck and self-assertiveness, she is nonetheless doomed to defeat and early death.

During the period of gestation for The Martins of Cro’ Martin, Lever, living in Florence, was deeply in debt owing to his extravagant, aristocratic lifstyle that he could not sustain on a diplomat’s salary. All that kept him afloat financially was the advances from Chapman and Hall on the new novel. He considered an American lecture tour, but could not bring himself to confront a daunting circuit of the type that Dickens pursued in the 1840s.

All this while The Martins of Cro' Martin had been following a less agitated course in the familiar pink-covered monthly parts. The novel was in a sense a sequel to The Knight of Gwynne, being a parallel study of a vast Connaught estate, a generation later. The Knight had investigated the political and social consequences of the Act of Union [incorporating Ireland into Great Britain in 1801]; The Martins similarly investigated those of the Emancipation Bill [1829, repealing the Test Act of 1672]. His own recollections of the cholera year [1832] gave compassion to his treatment of the poor; but even in an incidental episode of the barricades in Paris the sympathy was distinctly proletarian. Artistically, the book was among his highest achievements: the attitude was tolerant, the characterization was admirably realistic, the elements of tragedy were introduced without sentimentality. [Stevenson 215]

After the jolly European wanderings of The Dodd Family Abroad (1852-54) the serious tone of this latest Irish novel must have struck London readers as uncharacteristic of Lever's "horse-racious and pugnacious" fiction. Lever concluded his somber second-edition preface about the novel's handling of the troubles of his native land, and particularly the decaying relationship between the native Irish tillers of the soil and their absentee Anglo-Irish landlords, thus:

If a nation is to be judged by her bearing under calamity, Ireland — and she has had some experiences — comes well through the ordeal. That we may yet see how she will sustain her part in happier circumstances is my hope and my prayer, and that the time may not be too far off. CHARLES LEVER. Trieste, 1872. [1907 edition, Vol. I, xii]

Related material: The Martins of Cro' Martin (Chapman & Hall, 1856)


Buchanan-Brown, John. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1978.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Chapter 11: "'Give Me Back the Freshness of the Morning!'" Phiz! The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004. Pp. 108-127.

Lever, Charles. The Martins of Cro' Martin. With illustrations by Phiz. 2 vols. London: Chapman & Hall, 1856, rpt. London & New York: Routledge, 1873.

Lever, Charles. The Martins of Cro' Martin. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Introduction by Andrew Lang. Lorrequer Edition. Vols. XII and XIII. In two volumes. Boston: Little, Brown, 1907.

Steig, Michael. Chapter VII, "Phiz the Illustrator: An Overview and Summing Up." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington & London: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 299-316.

Stevenson, Lionel. Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. New York: Russell & Russell, 1939, rpt. 1969.

Created 24 August 2019