Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402

CHARLES O’MALLEY portrays a world that existed for very few people, if, indeed, it existed at all. It is a romantic and adventurous world shown in the novel, one in which honor rises above all other considerations: honor in the hunt, in battle, in politics, and in love. If necessary,...

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CHARLES O’MALLEY portrays a world that existed for very few people, if, indeed, it existed at all. It is a romantic and adventurous world shown in the novel, one in which honor rises above all other considerations: honor in the hunt, in battle, in politics, and in love. If necessary, duels will be fought to preserve this honor. The code can never be broken without losing caste, and the “fair sex” must be worshiped and, at all times, protected. The characters in the novel have a multitude of eccentricities of personality and behavior but hold conventional values and are redeemed by conventional virtues. Only in such a romantic never-never land could the protagonist’s life be determined by the casual word of a girl (when Lucy remarks that any man worth noticing should be a dragoon).

The narrative contains numerous anecdotes; many have little to do directly with the plot but are often amusing. Much of the humor relies on exaggerated personality quirks or on outlandish behavior, but the customs and habits of the Irish come in for a good share of humorous play, particularly the subjects of death, wakes, and drinking. The accounts of Irish electioneering at the beginning of the nineteenth century are interesting and often possess a more unforced and natural humor than many of the other tales. However, Charles Lever is not a satirist at heart. He ridicules rather than satirizes people and positions, as with Sir Harry Boyle, the “well-known member of the Irish House of Commons” who has so got into the “habit of making bulls that I can’t write sense when I want it.”

This thousand-page novel is the kind of book that once was read aloud by the fire to pass away long evenings. Today, readers would be less patient with its rambling and not always witty digressions. Many nuggets of rich and genuine humor and innocent gaiety, nevertheless, are buried in the book. Charles is a naive hero, and, in many respects, an Irish cousin of Tom Jones; he is infectiously likable, whatever his mistakes. It is no surprise to the reader that he seems to spend a great part of his time rescuing the beautiful Lucy, or that, in the end, they are married. Anything can happen in such a romantic world, even a personal summons from Napoleon and permission to watch the battle of Waterloo from the French side.

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