Nothing Happens in Carmincross Characters

Benedict Kiely

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Mervyn Kavanagh is not only the main character but also the dominating presence in the novel. The reader sees everything through his eyes and listens to his external and internal monologue on the past and present condition of Ireland. His range of reference is startling: He alludes to the Bible, Irish myths, poems, stories, speeches, and tales, as well as to newspaper and radio reports. His attitude toward Ireland is also strategic; he is somewhere between the mindless patriotism of Killoran and the total cynicism of Jeremiah. Furthermore, he does not so much change his character in the course of the book as confirm his view about what has happened in Ireland with the division between Protestant and Catholic.

Deborah is an appealing character; she seems to be full of humor and is invariably good-tempered. She listens with interest to Mervyn’s tales and songs and adds a few of her own. She is a less complex character than Mervyn, but, in contrast to him, she does change. She responds more directly to the terrible events that she has witnessed than Mervyn does when she throws his book into the fire. By doing this, she seems to be blaming history itself for the catastrophe in Carmincross. Although she is, finally, reconciled with Mervyn and her husband, she seems subdued at the end; she has become a part of that history, not someone outside it.

Jeremiah is a familiar Irish type, the cynic. He is unflaggingly sarcastic and satiric. He has created a Revised Irish Minstrelsy in which all the patriotic songs are turned on their head and made to seem absurd. Jeremiah’s indictment seems to be absolute and has become automatic. In addition, he has no part in all the suggestions of renewal, reunion, and marriage. He remains at the end as he was in the beginning.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mervyn Kavanagh

Mervyn Kavanagh, sometimes referred to as Merlin, a balding and middle-aged storyteller and professor of history. He has returned to Ireland from a stint of teaching at a Southern college in the United States to attend the wedding of his favorite niece in Carmincross, a town in Northern Ireland. When he arrives in Ireland, he immediately becomes aware of the internal war in Northern Ireland through reports on the radio and in the newspapers. His response is to recall old legends and ballads and to contrast their heroic ideals with the sordid and violent present. He finds little heroism in the ambushes and bombings carried on by both sides in the terrorism and counterterrorism of Northern Ireland. When he sets off on his journey to Carmincross, he is accompanied by an old friend, Deborah. Their journey is compared a number of times to that of the legendary Irish lovers, Diarmuid and Grainne, who fled from Fionn MacCool. Mervyn is fleeing from the wife he left in America, and Deborah is fleeing from her husband, Mandrake. Their idyll is broken by the terrible events in Carmincross, where a revolutionary group plants bombs that lead to the death of the bride-to-be, Stephanie; Mervyn’s mother; and a friend, Cecil Morrow. After the slaughter, Mervyn retreats to Dublin, where a sister of the dead bride-to-be marries the intended groom. Mervyn is no longer optimistic about the future of Ireland, although he does perceive some...

(The entire section is 586 words.)