Thomas (James Bonner) Flanagan Vivian Mercier - Essay

Vivian Mercier

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In "The Irish Novelists: 1800–1850," Thomas Flanagan] constantly discriminates among his five chosen authors—Maria Edgeworth, Lady Morgan, John Banim, Gerald Griffin and William Carleton—comparing and contrasting not only their artistic achievements, but also their differing social backgrounds and political viewpoints. The one thing that he sees as uniting them is their common attempt "to come to terms with the experience of life on their maddening island."…

The novelists' work is carefully related both to their social and economic status and to the political events of their lifetimes.

It would be very unfair to characterize Mr. Flanagan as merely a sociological critic, however. He proves himself equally skilled as a formal literary critic. Because of the furious political and religious partisanship of Irish life in the years 1800–1850, the novelists often dared to avow their true positions only by means of symbolism—both conscious and unconscious. Some of the most exciting pages in Mr. Flanagan's book contain his explorations of this devious symbolism.

Faced with the quantities of inept or escapist or meanly partisan writing produced in Ireland during the period, Mr. Flanagan wisely decided to be ruthlessly selective. Not that all his novelists are even competent. The appropriate response to Lady Morgan's more high-flown passages is a giggle, but she represents a certain kind of sentimental,...

(The entire section is 418 words.)