In praise of Somerville and Ross, by Anne Haverty

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘The Real Charlotte’ may be the best Irish novel, qua novel, of any century

Edith Somerville and Violet Martin: so mysterious and inexplicable was their writing partnership that they’re fully regarded as one

Edith Somerville and Violet Martin: so mysterious and inexplicable was their writing partnership that they’re fully regarded as one

 

Somerville and Ross could be expected to present a difficulty here, being not one woman but two. But so symbiotic and consummate, as well as mysterious and inexplicable, was their writing partnership that they’re fully regarded as one. The Somerville was Edith Somerville; the Ross was Violet Martin (of Ross in Connemara, hence the name), cousins who, until Ross’s death, in 1915, published several novels.

The sparkling series about an Irish RM gives, above all, wonderful renderings of the then Irish vernacular. But it’s The Real Charlotte that may be the best Irish novel, qua novel, of any century. As Anthony Cronin says, Ulysses, which might seem to qualify as “the best”, is a “fictive construction”, while The Real Charlotte is a powerful exemplar of the classic novel as it was, and sometimes still is, written.

In Charlotte and her young cousin Francie we get vivid and engaging characters, an acutely depicted milieu (loosely that of the Irish gentry) and a poignant tragicomic plot. But, of course, like all great novels, The Real Charlotte is greater than the sum of its parts.

Other favourites Edna O’Brien and Maria Edgeworth.

Anne Haverty’s novels include The Far Side of a Kiss, The Free and Easy and One Day as a Tiger

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