Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 420

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In this novel, Samuel Lover combines the Irish raciness of Maria Edgeworth with the historical sense of Sir Walter Scott. The result is a sprightly romp through a period in Irish history when its destiny was briefly involved with that of Napoleon. Had Bonaparte activated his plan to attack England by supporting Irish independence, the history of Britain might have been significantly altered; the Irish question, after all, has haunted British politics to the present day.

The historical theme is treated seriously by Lover, and it provides the basis for the plot, but what is chiefly memorable about his work is the humorous speech and dialogue of his characters. Their words are energetic, colorful, and always earthy. Even Rory, the hero of the novel, has a touch of the poet and orator in him: “In throth the counthry would be ’quite’ enough if they’d let us be ’quite’; but it’s gallin’ and aggravatin’ us they are at every hand’s turn, and puttin’ the martial law on us, and callin’ us bad names, and abusin’ our blessed religion.”

Rory is a not-so-distant cousin of Handy Andy, Lover’s most famous and beloved creation, a hero with a great talent for doing the wrong thing and a genius for escaping the consequences of his own blunders. Rory is shrewder than Handy Andy, but he has the same impish quality. Lover was primarily a humorist and entertainer, but he managed in RORY O’MORE to be true to his comic genius without vulgarizing his political principles. The novel combines comedy and politics to create a very fierce satire. The “Collector” for example, is ridiculed for advancing from beggar to tax collector simply by pleasing the local parson. The whole Protestant establishment is satirized in this acid sketch, but Rory tells it all with understatement and ingenuous friendliness: “Oh . . . the parson . . . he’s a decent man enough.”

RORY O’MORE, however, never quite succeeds in being a good historical novel, in spite of Lover’s patriotic motives in writing the book. The people are the familiar stock characters of Irish fiction, and the plot is clumsy and contrived. The book, however, lives in its atmosphere of the stirring days of the rebellion of 1798, in its ferocious lampoons of soldiers, magistrates, and collectors, in the terrible and tragic realities of Irish peasant life, and in the pleasant idyl of its love story. Readers in Lover’s day felt that, with this novel, he came close to the heart of his unhappy land.