Castle Richmond is set in southwestern Ireland at beginning of the Irish famine. Castle Richmond is situated on the banks of the Blackwater River in County Cork. Trollope's work in Ireland from 1841 to 1859 had given him an extensive knowledge of the island, and Richard Mullen has written that all the principal strands of his life were formed in Ireland. The complicated plot features the competition of two Protestant cousins of English origin, Owen Fitzgerald and Herbert Fitzgerald, for the hand of Clara Desmond, the noble but impoverished daughter of the widowed Countess of Desmond, providing the novel's principal dramatic interest.
Anthony Trollope was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works, collectively known as the Barchester Chronicles, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote perceptive novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical matters.
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Set in 1846-1847 in southern Ireland at beginning of the Irish famine, Castle Richmond has a rather complicated plot and takes a while to get going, but once all the characters are presented the novel develops a narrative dynamic that held this reader's interest. Trollope's work in Ireland from 1841 to 1859 gave him firsthand knowledge of the area he described. The story features the competition of two Protestant cousins of English origin, Owen Fitzgerald and Herbert Fitzgerald, for the hand of Clara Desmond, the noble but impoverished daughter of the widowed Countess of Desmond, providing the novel's principal dramatic interest. Castle Richmond is the first of several novels by Trollope in which bigamy plays an important role. The Irish famine and efforts by authorities to mitigate its effects are the subject of many scenes and the object of abundant commentary throughout. The famine also occasions more explicit religious commentary than is typical in novels by Trollope; indeed, Trollope is more present here as an authorial voice than is the case in most of his fiction.
Rollicking read with Trollope's usual mastery of clear narrative, elegant plotting and likeable characters. Characters remain a tad 2-dimensional: the energetic passionate Owen, the innocent but determined maiden Clara, the scheming but not wicked mother etc. Some odd notes are perhaps also insights into the Victorian worldview: the earldom title being such an issue and even a burden to the holder if not accompanied by wealth, "poor" being a very relative term (for the Herbert family it means having to leave the castle and live in St John's Wood; for Owen it's running a pack of hounds and a good horse, but lacking a castle; for the Countess it's lacking a carriage but sending her son to Eton and Oxford; for the peasants it's dying an agonising death in rags. And that's the central problem. Brave or foolhardy of Trollope to set his story in the centre of the Irish Famine and many details are accurate ( the "yellow meal", the workhouse system) but his attempts to justify the actions of both God and Government make squirming reading. Or are they meant to be Swiftian irony ? - they come across as well-meant naiveté, and the book would have worked better without them. The pictures he paints of the suffering are strong in themselves, setting the essentially trivial affairs of the better-off in a strange light. In fact the main story could easily have been set in Barsetshire; nothing particularly Irish about this game of titles and courtships and chimerical skeletons in the family cupboard. The Famine and Trollope's repeated apologia fail to engage us while provoking a "Who gives a damn?" about the main story .