Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454
Musician, painter, songwriter, novelist, playwright, and performer, Samuel Lover was above all an entertainer, and it is as entertainment that HANDY ANDY has endured for nearly a century and a half. Farcical, full of dialect humor and slapstick comedy, the book stops at nothing in its efforts to provoke good humor and laughter.
Written as a series of anecdotes published in twelve monthly installments, HANDY ANDY is not a cohesive novel insofar as plot is concerned. It is, on the other hand, excellent in character portrayal and atmosphere. The quality likely to hold the modern reader is its droll wit. Rich in Irish folkways, peppered with clever Irish tales, and enhanced by Irish songs, HANDY ANDY is more than a series of tales revolving around a political issue, a stupid lout of a boy, and a lovable hero. Accused of flattering his countrymen, Lover replied that as an Irishman he was compelled to present his land as he saw it.
One of the chief sources of amusement in the novel is Andy’s ever-present ignorance. A poor, uneducated lad, Andy means well but invariably gets into trouble. To the unsophisticated readers of Lover’s day, Andy’s antics touched a familiar chord as well as being funny in a very basic way. Above all, Lover possessed a horror of dullness, and perhaps this accounts for the frenetic pace of HANDY ANDY. Certainly, the little tales are full of action and nonsense. The humor is vigorous and rough-and-ready but never malicious or cruel. Some of the humor directly attacks prejudices of and toward the Irish; one of the most amusing sequences deals with the potato, the Irish fondness for it and reliance upon it for nourishment and the English scorn toward it. A great deal of humor is made of the local elections, the canvassing for votes, and the competition between the parties; but whatever the issue involved, the characters tend to be portrayed in an affectionate and kindly light, and any humor at their expense is gentle rather than scornful or harsh. There is nothing satirical about this book. Lover had no intention of reforming anything with his humorous sketches.
Lover seldom attempted subtle humor; the accounts of Sackville Scatterbrain on election day or of Andy’s being kidnaped while disguised as a young girl are as broad as they are lively. The plot, such as it is, dealing with Andy’s marriage, is contrived, and the surprise ending, revealing Bridget’s actual husband, is hardly plausible; yet none of this matters, for it all is told with such humor that the reader willingly suspends disbelief. Although the novel is weak, Handy Andy himself nearly ranks with Pickwick and Micawber as a comic hero.
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