By the time he published The Emigrants of Ahadarra in 1848, William Carleton was considered the truest novelist of Ireland’s “awfullest hours,” and William Butler Yeats was to concede that the Irish novel began with Carleton. The Emigrants of Ahadarra was avowedly written not to amuse but to reform and inform. First published while Ireland’s potato famine was raging, the work is informative and readable. Its folkloric value is enhanced by Carleton’s exuberance and hyperbole, which are similar to the imaginative flights that created the ancient Celtic wonder tales.
The novel loftily defends virtue. Kathleen’s simple dignity and virtue are not cloying but almost biblical and contrast with the paler virtues of other characters. Bridget M’Mahon, Bryan’s mother, is also convincingly admirable and uniquely graces the story, which expounds human ideals. Landlords are near-ogres, members of secret societies, and Orangemen (although to a less prominent degree than in other of Carleton’s works), but many individuals are tenderly etched. The novel is realistic, and in the Spain of the same era it would have been classified as costumbrista owing to its museum-like presentation of customs.
Modern scholars sometimes criticize The Emigrants of Ahadarra for allegedly sloppy construction, mushy sentiment, and—curiously enough—vagueness of purpose. Carleton is also accused of inserting excessive scenery...
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