First sentence: I wonder whether the novel-reading world — that part of it, at least, which may honour my pages — will be offended if I lay the plot of this story in Ireland! That there is a strong feeling against things Irish it is impossible to deny. Irish servants need not apply; Irish acquaintances are treated with limited confidence; Irish cousins are regarded as being decidedly dangerous; and Irish stories are not popular with the booksellers.
Premise/plot: Castle Richmond is set in Ireland at the start of the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849). Is it solely about the potato famine? No. Not really. Would it be better if it were? Maybe. Maybe not. You see what the plot turns around mainly are two men in love with the same young woman: Herbert Fitzgerald and Owen Fitzgerald are cousins in love with the same woman, Lady Clara Desmond. If that were all, it wouldn't be all that surprising and unusual. But that's not all.
Lady Clara's mother--also named Clara, a countess and a widow--is madly in love with Owen Fitzgerald. It is for herself that she invites this man into her home, into their lives. She doesn't suspect that Owen will be more likely to fall in love with the young daughter instead of herself. Patrick, Clara's brother, is best, best friends with Owen. So Owen is at their place a lot of time. Until...one day he declares his love for Lady Clara. Lady Clara says YES, I'll marry you. Her mother and brother say NO, NEVER. GET OUT AND STAY OUT. Why the rejection? Owen Fitzgerald is a poor man. He has no estate, no wealth, no title. And Lady Clara deserves an estate, wealth, and title.
Herbert Fitzgerald will have an estate, wealth, and title--when his father, Sir Thomas, dies. When the story opens, that is looking like it will happen soon. Sir Thomas is STRESSED. It seems that his wife's first husband is very much alive and that Herbert--and his other children--are illegitimate. Herbert will not inherit after all. And the next in line....is, of course, Owen.
You would think, Owen will win the approval of the family now! Owen and Lady Clara will live happily ever after. All will be well. But I forgot to mention one little thing. While the potato crop is failing, and Owen is sad and depressed--Herbert Fitzgerald starts wooing Lady Clara. Though she swore to be true to her love forever and ever, her mother has said that the marriage is impossible. And Lady Clara finds herself more and more okay with that. When Herbert proposes, she says YES. This happens days--maybe a couple of weeks--before the big reveal. And it isn't long after the big reveal that Sir Thomas dies.
Lady Clara has said I love you to two different men. She's accepted two proposals. Now that the poor man will be the rich man, and the rich man will be the poor man....who will she stand by? who do we want her to stand by?
Owen doesn't want the estate. Owen wants Lady Clara. Herbert does want the estate. He wants Lady Clara too. So when Owen offers to sign the estate back over to Herbert in exchange for Herbert breaking the engagement, Herbert says NO. Owen pouts. But that doesn't really change anything. Owen still doesn't want the estate. Owen still loves and wants Lady Clara.
Meanwhile, Clara (the mother, the countess) is breaking her heart over Owen. If she can't have him for herself, maybe Lady Clara can still have him. At least he'd be part of her life. Maybe that would be enough. Patrick returns (oh so briefly) but Lady Clara says she won't break her engagement with Herbert (no matter how poor) to marry Owen (no matter how rich). Patrick and Lady Clara are a bit confused. Could Lady Clara really have fallen out of love so quickly with Owen and into love so quickly with Herbert?!
Herbert runs away to London, and begins to study law. But this study is cut very short because of two letters the family lawyer receives. One is from Owen saying he has no plans whatsoever to accept the estate. The other is from the book's villain. The son of Lady Fitzgerald's first husband. He has news that will change everything....or so he claims.
Throughout the book, readers get a few sketches here and there of how the failure of the potato crop has disastrous effects on the poor. It is very here and there coverage. And it's mainly on how the gentry and clergy come together to offer "relief" to the poor. One minor plot revolves around whether Catholics and Protestants can come together to help the poor.
My thoughts: This book reminded me of Spin Doctors' Two Princes. "I ain't got no future or a family tree. But I know what a prince and lover ought to be. I know what a prince and lover ought to be." I had a hard time connecting with Lady Clara. I feel there was a definite lack of development. I know that both men loved and adored her. But we're not shown why exactly. Other than the obvious: she's young; she's presumably beautiful.
It wasn't clear--at least to me--which direction Trollope would take with Owen and Herbert. Would this be a story of young lovers overcoming the objections of their families to be together and live happily ever after? Would Lady Clara prove loyal to her first love and not be persuaded by her family, or by the lure of money?
Trollope never clearly shows us the moment when Herbert and Lady Clara fall in actual love with one another. It's more a matter of Lady Clara accepting an invitation to visit his estate and get all chummy with his mother, his aunt, his two sisters. The visit lasts a few days, and after that visit he proposes and she says yes. They'd never really had a relationship before that visit.
Personally, I could see why Owen would be like WHAT'S GOING ON?!?! IS SHE SERIOUS?!
Lady Clara doesn't appear to be a gold digger; she does appear--to me--to be FICKLE. Perhaps readers are supposed to be oh-so-impressed by the fact that when Herbert loses his inheritance, she sticks like glue to her man and refuses to end the relationship. I wasn't. I wasn't sure why she was in relationship with him--so quickly--to begin with.
Both Owen and Herbert are good men. Neither is a villain necessarily. Lady Clara wouldn't be throwing away her life by marrying Owen. She wouldn't be throwing away her life by marrying Herbert. She has in many ways equal chances of happiness with either man. My question: DOES SHE LOVE EITHER MAN? I'm not sure Lady Clara is old enough, wise enough to know her own mind and her own heart. I think she was "caught up" in a moment--twice. I'm not sure she knew either man well enough to say yes.
Lady Clara's mother--pathetic as she may come across--is more developed. One of the sad, awkward moments of the novel comes when Clara pours out her heart and soul to Owen confessing that he is the love of her life. There will be no happy ending for Clara....or for Owen.
Young men among us seldom go quite straight in their course, unless they are, at any rate occasionally, brought under the influence of tea and small talk.
When wars come, and pestilence, and famine; when the people of a land are worse than decimated, and the living hardly able to bury the dead, I cannot coincide with those who would deprecate God’s wrath by prayers. I do not believe that our God stalks darkly along the clouds, laying thousands low with the arrows of death, and those thousands the most ignorant, because men who are not ignorant have displeased Him. Nor, if in his wisdom He did do so, can I think that men’s prayers would hinder that which his wisdom had seen to be good and right. But though I do not believe in exhibitions of God’s anger, I do believe in exhibitions of his mercy. When men by their folly and by the shortness of their vision have brought upon themselves penalties which seem to be overwhelming, to which no end can be seen, which would be overwhelming were no aid coming to us but our own, then God raises his hand, not in anger, but in mercy, and by his wisdom does for us that for which our own wisdom has been insufficient. If He be wise, would we change his wisdom? If He be merciful, would we limit his mercy?
We none of us wish to be drowned; but nevertheless there are some good qualities in water.
Men and women when they are written about are always supposed to have fixed resolves, though in life they are so seldom found to be thus armed.
It was marvellous how well Herbert Fitzgerald could lay down the law on the subject of Clara’s conduct, and on all that was due to her, and all that was not due to Owen. He was the victor; he had gained the prize; and therefore it was so easy for him to acquit his promised bride, and heap reproaches on the head of his rejected rival. Owen had been told that he was not wanted, and of course should have been satisfied with his answer. Why should he intrude himself among happy people with his absurd aspirations? For were they not absurd? Was it not monstrous on his part to suppose that he could marry Clara Desmond?
Everybody should use their own judgment in everything they do or say, more or less.
If we are to sympathise only with the good, or worse still, only with the graceful, how little will there be in our character that is better than terrestrial?
It is the first plunge into the cold water that gives the shock. We may almost say that every human misery will cease to be miserable if it be duly faced; and something is done towards conquering our miseries, when we face them in any degree, even if not with due courage.
We generally use three times the number of words which are necessary for the purpose which we have in hand; but had he used six times the number, she would not have interrupted him.
What is in a man, let it come out and be known to those around him; if it be bad it will find correction; if it be good it will spread and be beneficent.
A lawyer has always a sort of affection for a scoundrel, — such affection as a hunting man has for a fox. He loves to watch the skill and dodges of the animal, to study the wiles by which he lives, and to circumvent them by wiles of his own, still more wily. It is his glory to run the beast down; but then he would not for worlds run him down, except in conformity with certain laws, fixed by old custom for the guidance of men in such sports. And the two-legged vermin is adapted for pursuit as is the fox with four legs. He is an unclean animal, leaving a scent upon his trail, which the nose of your acute law hound can pick up over almost any ground. And the more wily the beast is, the longer he can run, the more trouble he can give in the pursuit, the longer he can stand up before a pack of legal hounds, the better does the forensic sportsman love and value him. There are foxes of so excellent a nature, so keen in their dodges, so perfect in their cunning, so skilful in evasion, that a sportsman cannot find it in his heart to push them to their destruction unless the field be very large so that many eyes are looking on. And the feeling is I think the same with lawyers.
It is my opinion that nothing seasons the mind for endurance like hard work.
© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews