Finding happiness in the poor, humble cottage : "contented poverty" in Irish novels from Famine to Free State.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Letters


This dissertation seeks to explore the differences in representations of poverty in Irish novels and British novels between the time of the Famine and the independence of Ireland (1845-1921). It looks at how poverty was represented in Irish and British novels published between those times by both male (Kickham, Banim, Carleton, Dickens, Thackeray) and female (Somerville, Martin, Gaskell, Brontë) authors. For consistency of subject matter, I restricted the Irish texts to those novels which were not only published between those dates but were also set in Ireland after the Famine. This study pursues several questions: In what ways were the Irish representations of poverty different from the British ones? What accounts for those differences? Why have the Irish texts declined precipitously in popularity while the British ones have not? How are Irish representations of poverty from this time different from modern Irish representations of poverty? What accounts for those differences? Previous research has tended to look at the content of the Irish novels in primarily economic or political terms. While economics and politics are certainly major factors, they do not explain the pervading differences in perspective, nor do they take into account the psychological effects of the Famine and generations of oppression leading up to it on the authors and their audiences. In this dissertation theory that the Irish approach is marked by multigenerational effects of communal Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder brought on by a long history of hardship and brought to a peak by the horrors of the Famine is investigated. The connection between such PTSD and the values present in the Irish novels which differ from those in the British ones is explained. Those values affect the way poverty is represented as well as other aspects of the way characters' behavior is depicted. This dissertation also explains how and why the values of the Irish culture at large underwent a change from the turn of the century to the end of the period under analysis, and how and why those changes account for a subsequent drop in popularity for some of the most popular Irish novels ever written.