William Carleton Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Carleton’s reputation largely rests on the short-fiction collection in the two series of his Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry. He was also, however, a prolific novelist. Works such as his Fardorougha the Miser: Or, The Convicts of Lisnamona (1839), Valentine McClutchy, the Irish Agent: Or, Chronicles of the Castle Cumber Property (1845), and The Black Prophet: A Tale of Irish Famine (1847) are extensions of the themes and venues of his short stories. Carleton is also the author of an incomplete autobiography, published posthumously as The Life of William Carleton (1896). It is one of the more significant cultural documents to emerge from early nineteenth century Ireland.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

William Carleton was the first Irish writer to depict from the inside the lives of the Irish peasantry, an achievement for which he was well qualified by birth and background. As a son of the soil, almost totally lacking in formal education, Carleton gave a voice to a people whose existence was previously unknown to fiction in English. The story of how he did so, and its literary and cultural repercussions, makes Carleton’s career at once exemplary and cautionary.

In view of its unlikely origins and undoubted originality, Carleton’s work has often been valued more for its historical significance than for its literary interest. This verdict has also been reinforced by the excessive exuberance of Carleton’s style and the supercharged melodrama of his plots. Such superficial blemishes, while obviously detracting from the artistic refinement of Carleton’s fiction, also express very graphically the difficulties he was obliged to negotiate in order to establish the perspective and sense of form adequate to convey the social plight and moral vigor of his subjects.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Chesnutt, Margaret. Studies in the Short Stories of William Carleton. Göteburg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1976. Discussion of Carleton’s combination of folk sources and nineteenth century narrative techniques. Argues that “Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman” is mere literary sensationalism, and as much an example of propaganda as many of Carleton’s weaker stories.

Flanagan, Thomas. The Irish Novelists, 1800-1850. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. A pioneering work that still has much to offer to those unfamiliar with the literary history of Carleton’s period. The study concludes with a section on Carleton. Kiely’s biographical approach is adapted to provide a broader perspective. The resulting sense of historical context is critical to an appraisal of Carleton’s significance.

Hayley, Barbara. Carleton’s “Traits and Stories” and the Nineteenth Century Anglo-Irish Tradition. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. A detailed discussion of the revisions that Carleton made to the stories from their original periodical publication to their publication in the Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry.

Kiely, Benedict. Poor Scholar: A Study of the Works and Days of William Carleton, 1794-1869. 1947. Reprint. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1997. The best...

(The entire section is 454 words.)