“Castle Richmond” was written in 1861, long after Trollope had left Ireland. The characterization is weak, and the plot, although the author himself thought well of it, mechanical.
The value of the story is rather documentary than literary. It contains several graphic scenes descriptive of the great Irish famine. Trollope observed carefully, and on the whole impartially, though his powers of discrimination were not quite fine enough to make him an ideal annalist.
Still, such as they were, he has used them here with no inconsiderable effect. His desire to be fair has led him to lay stress in an inverse ratio to his prepossessions, and his Priest is a better man than his parson.
The best, indeed the only piece of real characterization in the book is the delineation of Abe Mollett. This unscrupulous blackmailer is put before us with real art, with something of the loving preoccupation of the hunter for his quarry. Trollope loved a rogue, and in his long portrait gallery there are several really charming ones. He did not, indeed, perceive the aesthetic value of sin — he did not perceive the esthetic value of anything — and his analysis of human nature was not profound enough to reach the conception of sin, crime being to him the nadir of downward possibility — but he had a professional, a sort of half Scotland Yard, half master of hounds interest in a criminal. “See,” he would muse, “how cunningly the creature works, now back to his earth, anon stealing an unsuspected run across country, the clever rascal”; and his ethical disapproval ever, as usual, with English critics of life, in the foreground, clearly enhanced a primitive predatory instinct not obscurely akin, a cynic might say, to those dark impulses he holds up to our reprobation. This self-realization in his fiction is one of Trollope’s principal charms. Never was there a more subjective writer. Unlike Flaubert, who laid down the canon that the author should exist in his work as God in creation, to be, here or there, dimly divined but never recognized, though everywhere latent, Trollope was never weary of writing himself large in every man, woman, or child he described.
The illusion of objectivity which he so successfully achieves is due to the fact that his mind was so perfectly contented with its hereditary and circumstantial conditions, was itself so perfectly the mental equivalent of those conditions. Thus the perfection of his egotism, tight as a drum, saved him. Had it been a little less complete, he would have faltered and bungled; as it was, he had the naive certainty of a child, to whose innocent apprehension the world and self are one, and who therefore I cannot err.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01