August 14th, 2006


August Books 13) The Independent Irish Party 1850-9

13) The Independent Irish Party 1850-9, by J.H. Whyte

This was the first of my father's four books, published in 1958 when he was 30, as adapted from a postgraduate thesis. It tells the story of the short-lived group of MPs for Ireland in the 1850s campaigning for increased rights for agricultural tenants and equal rights for Catholics. It's an interesting study of a relatively minor piece of history. I understand there's been precisely one other book published on the subject in the last fifty years...

The "Independent Opposition" won almost half of the Irish seats in the 1852 general election, largely because of two gratuitously anti-Catholic moves by British politicians in the months before the vote - the outgoing Whig government of Lord John Russell passed the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, and then Lord Derby's caretaker Tory government made a proclamation that sparked anti-Catholic rioting in Stockport immediately before the election. It's extraordinary that the Famine per se, only recently past, doesn't seem to have been a political factor that played in 1852 (the first election since 1847). The death of O'Connell in 1847 and the dismal failure of the 1848 rebellion seem to have been bigger factors, though if anything they militated against the consolidation of any nationalist movement. (And despite some wishful thinking and a very few exceptions this movement does seem to have been pretty much restricted to Munster, Leinster and Connacht.)

It failed, in my father's analysis, mainly because of a lack of leadership. Two of its most interesting characters, John Sadleir and William Keogh, defected to the new Liberal government almost as soon as the votes had been counted. Any one of several other potential leaders could have built it into a more long-lasting movement, but one by one they fell by the wayside - Frederick Lucas (the founder of The Tablet) died suddenly at the age of 43, George Henry Moore was kicked out of parliament for electoral malpractice, and Charles Gavan Duffy gave up in despair and emigrated to Australia (where he became Prime Minister of Victoria). The odds were stacked against any party whose policy was concerted opposition rather than the personal advancement of its own members, and the failure of the 1850s movement makes the success of Parnell a generation later all the more remarkable.

Edited to add See post on Trollope.

Fantastic (?)

Prodded by an observation from chilperic, I make the following provisional and contentious list of Hugo winning fiction which is clearly fantasy rather than sf:

1959: "That Hell-Bound Train", Robert Bloch (short story)
1964: "The Dragon Masters", Jack Vance (short story)
1967: "The Last Castle" by Jack Vance (novelette)
1971: "Ill Met in Lankhmar" by Fritz Leiber (novella)
1974: "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas", Ursula K. Le Guin (short story)
1978: "Jeffty Is Five", Harlan Ellison (short story)
1981: "Grotto of the Dancing Deer", Clifford D Simak (short story)
1982: "Unicorn Variations" by Roger Zelazny (novelette)
1987: "Gilgamesh in the Outback" by Robert Silverberg (novella)
1990: "Boobs" by Suzy McKee Charnas (short story)
1991: "Bears Discover Fire" by Terry Bisson (short story)
1994: "Death on the Nile" by Connie Willis (short story)
1997: "Blood of the Dragon" by George R. R. Martin (novella)
2001: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (novel)
2002: "Hell Is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang (novelette)
2002: American Gods by Neil Gaiman (novel)
2003: Coraline by Neil Gaiman (novella)
2004: "A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman (short story)
2004: Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (novel)
2005: "The Faery Handbag" by Kelly Link (novelette)
2005: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke (novel)

So chilperic is right to say that four of the last five Hugos for Best Novel - and none previously - have gone to fantasy novels; and taking all the categories into account, more Hugo awards have gone to works of fantasy rather than sf in the last six years than in the previous twenty.

Does it matter?