Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Macdermots of Ballycloran

The Macdermots of Ballycloran. Anthony Trollope. 1847. 636 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: In the autumn, 184 — , business took me into the West of Ireland, and, amongst other places, to the quiet little village of Drumsna, which is in the province of Connaught, County Leitrim, about 72 miles w.n.w. of Dublin, on the mail-coach road to Sligo.

Premise/plot: A traveler (presumably the author/narrator) stumbles across an abandoned estate in Ireland named Ballycloran. He learns from residents of the tragic tale of the Macdermot family. From chapter two through the end, the book focuses exclusively on this sad tale. What you should know: The novel is set in Ireland in the 1830s and chronicles the downfall of an impoverished family. The main characters are Thady Macdermot, and his priest, Father John. This one is NOT a mystery but does feature a murder trial.

My thoughts:  The Macdermots of Ballycloran was Trollope's very first novel. In many ways it's darker and bleaker than the Trollope's I've read before. First, the framework of the story lets readers know from the start that things do not go well for the family...at all. Second, the very nature of the story involves a murder. The 'victim' is Captain Myles Ussher. He has been hanging around Feemy Macdermot. And the talk of the surrounding communities is that he has no intention at all of marrying her, or doing right by her. Thady, at first, appears to be too little concerned about his sister's reputation, and, then too much concerned as the case may be.

On the night of the crime, Feemy and Myles have planned to run away together. Not to elope. He's been transferred and she wants to go along with him--can't bear to be separated from him--so even though there's no ring (as you might say) she's willing to live in sin with him...in hopes that one day in the future...there will be a marriage. The brother catches them in the act of running away. Actually, his sister is paralyzed into inaction when she sees him. Thady just sees Myles carrying--or dragging--his sister along. He assumes: Ussher's stealing her away, she's not screaming in protest--he later realizes--but if she was going willingly why wasn't she walking on her own two legs?! He doesn't think or reason. He jumps into action--with a stick in his hand. Two blows later, his sister's lover is dead. WHAT DID HE DO?!?!

He sees no point in denying it. He confesses his crime: to his sister, to his father, to his servant, Pat Brady. He and Pat deliver the body to the police themselves. He does later flee the vicinity trying to decide if he should flee Ireland or remain and face the court. But ultimately he decides to stay and face the consequences--come what may--of his actions. His closest friend and ally is Father John. Father John believes that it was not murder. That he was acting in defense of his sister, that the crime was not premeditated, that the crime is justifiable. Regrettable perhaps, but ultimately justifiable. But what will the jury say?

Two-thirds of the novel focuses on this crime and subsequent trial. There is nothing about the book that is witty or cozy or feel-good. It's a dark look at human nature. Thady's father has absolutely lost what little remains of his mind. His sister, Feemy, is distraught with grief and burdened with secrets that others would guess easily--given enough months. The only steady character is Father John. He, by far, is my favorite.

The novel reminds me--if memory serves--of Thomas Hardy. Actions have consequences, and human nature being what it is dooms us to unhappy ends...most of the time.

The first sentence is truly terrible in terms of hooking readers. The first sentence of the second chapter is much better! "McC — — ‘s story runs thus. About sixty years ago, a something Macdermot, true Milesian, pious Catholic, and descendant of king somebody, died somewhere, having managed to keep a comfortable little portion of his ancestors’ royalties to console him for the loss of their sceptre."

Feemy is a character much addicted to novels--to romances. And she sees Myles Ussher to be a hero from one of her novels. "This, then, was Feemy’s lover, and she certainly did love him dearly; he had all the chief ornaments of her novel heroes — he was handsome, he carried arms, was a man of danger, and talked of deeds of courage; he wore a uniform; he rode more gracefully, talked more fluently, and seemed a more mighty personage, than any other one whom Feemy usually met. Besides, he gloried in the title of Captain, and would not that be sufficient to engage the heart of any girl in Feemy’s position? let alone any Irish girl, to whom the ornaments of arms are always dear."

One of my favorite new words--that I discovered thanks to Trollope--is stirabout. It's a porridge made by stirring oatmeal in boiling water or milk. "The father finished his stirabout, and turned round to the blazing turf, to find consolation there."

The text does feature dialect. Not all the time. But most of the dialogue, I would guess. “And what wor the gentlemen saying about Feemy, Pat?” “Oh, yer honor, how could I know what gentlemin is saying over their punch, together? only they do be sayin’ in Ballinamore, that the Captain doesn’t spake that dacently of Miss Feemy, as if they wor to be man and wife: sorrow blister his tongue the day he’d say a bad word of her!” “Faith he’d better take care of himself, if it’s my sister he’s playing his game with; he’ll find out, though there aint much to be got worth having at Ballycloran now, as long as there’s a Macdermot in it, he may still get the traitment a blackguard desarves, if he plays his tricks with Feemy!”

 Favorite quotes:
A girl should never obey her lover till she is married to him; she may comply with his wishes, but she should not allow herself to be told with authority that this or that should be her line of conduct.
Poverty, to be picturesque, should be rural. Suburban misery is as hideous as it is pitiable. 
“Nonsense, man; — how can you say you are not going to lie, when you know you’ve a lie in your mouth at the moment.” 
The brave soldier goes to meet Death, and meets him without a shudder when he comes. The suffering woman patiently awaits him on her bed of sickness, and conscious of her malady dies slowly without a struggle. A not uncommon fortitude enables men and women to leave their mortal coil, and take the dread leap in the dark with apparent readiness and ease. But to wait in full health and strength for the arrival of the fixed hour of certain death — to feel the moments sink from under you which are fast bringing you to the executioner’s hand; — to know that in twelve — ten — eight — six hours by the clock, which hurries through the rapid minutes, you are to become — not by God’s accomplished visitation — not in any gallant struggle of your own — but through the stern will of certain powerful men — a hideous, foul, and dislocated corse; — to know that at one certain ordained moment you are to be made extinct — to be violently put an end to; — to be fully aware that this is your fixed fate, and that though strong as a lion, you must at that moment die like a dog; — to await the doom without fear — without feeling the blood grow cold round the heart, — without a quickened pulse and shaking muscles, exceeds the bounds of mortal courage, and requires either the ignorant unimaginative indifference of a brute, or the superhuman endurance of an enthusiastic martyr. 

© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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