Eilís Dillon Daniel M. Murtaugh - Essay

Daniel M. Murtaugh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The fictional plot [of Blood Relations] depends upon an ancient contrivance: a pregnancy arising from a virgin's one night of indiscretion. Molly Gould, the heroine, is "a beautiful young woman whose fiancé dies in an English jail, leaving her pregnant and trapped between Nicholas deLacy, whom she loves, and Peter Morrow, who has fathered her child, both of them committed to the passions and dangers of the Irish struggle for freedom." Her story never rises above the level established by that dustjacket blurb. Molly has a weak sister, and this makes us think of Scarlet O'Hara and Becky Sharp, who also had softer, weaker women as foils. But, unlike those glamorous survivors, Molly has no enlivening malice and never says a single really interesting thing. The strength Dillon would have us see in her comes out as mere doggedness.

History fares better in the story. As they move into the company of real revolutionaries like Michael Collins and Sean McKeon, Peter Morrow and Nicholas deLacy become more compelling characters. Morrow participates in the famous escape of Eamon DeValera from the Lincoln jail. The riots and battles and prison scenes are quite vivid. DeLacy's participation in McKeon's ambush of the Black and Tans in Balinalee suggests that Dillon has read Tolstoy and learned from him. The raids of the Black and Tans are painfully real. And the historical context brings one of the Goulds to life quite arrestingly. Henry, Molly's father, who turns informer for money and escapes to America, is a craven, mean-spirited good-for-nothing who gets better and better as the story goes along. A better, shorter novel would have had him at its center. (pp. 541-42.)

Daniel M. Murtaugh, "Books: 'Blood Relations'," in Commonweal (copyright © 1978 Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.; reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. CV, No. 16, August 18, 1978, pp. 541-42.