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Introduction by Frank Delaney
London, Chatto and Windus, 1883. 3v.
Originally published in Life: A Weekly Journal of Society, Literature, the Fine Arts and Finance, Nov. 16, 1882-Oct. 4 1883
Thirty five years after his first novel, The Macdermots of Ballycloran, and with four further Irish novels behind him, Trollope returned to Ireland for what turned out to be his last work.
The details of the plot are as complicated as one might expect from any faithful reproduction of the chaotic Irish scene, bedevilled as ever by suppressed nationalism and only blatantly expressed religion. This may mark the end of Trollope’s creative life: but he exhibits his old easy skill at displaying the irreconcilable claims of politics, religion and family. The plot creaks somewhat; but not disastrously. In any case it serves mainly as a serviceable background to his chief theme: the injustices he saw being perpetrated under the increasing struggles for Irish Home Rule, and probably helped by his anger at the assassination in 1882 of the Irish Chief Secretary and Permanent Under Secretary in Dublin.
Trollope wove an unusual tale, his anger directed mainly at the agitators he saw in Ireland at the time, in particular Irish Americans whom he held to be the chief villains, and here represented by Gerald O’Mahony, who, although he does not approve of their methods, supports the Landleaguers’ cause. Trollope’s Liberal instincts were – of course – for compromise, but despite advancing years and considerable ill-health, he took exceptional care in researching the material for this novel. He made two separate visits to Ireland in 1881 before settling down to write.
Unfairly castigated by critics – the Geroulds called it ‘a tract … rather than a novel’ – The Landleaguers is a fascinating glimpse of the way in which the author’s craft – and his political sensibilities – were still developing. It is one of the few times that Trollope tried to incorporate recent events into one of his stories; the long discursions on the agrarian troubles in Ireland, far from distracting, are reminiscent of George Eliot’s lengthy digressions in Daniel Deronda, and the true tragedy of the book, notwithstanding the complicated developments in the narrative, lies in the fact that it was left unfinished with 11 of the planned 60 chapters still to be written. This does not subtract from the novel, for the intended outcome is well-signalled, but it does leave the reader wondering what Trollope might have achieved had he been able to see the work through to its conclusion. The Landleaguers was dictated by the author, which may account for its unusually spare prose style: it certainly enhances its political content.