Authors: William Carleton

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Irish short-story writer and novelist

March 4, 1794

Prillisk, Ireland

January 30, 1869

Dublin, Ireland


William Carleton, born in Prillisk, County Tyrone, Ireland, on March 4, 1794, was educated in Irish hedge schools and later at the classical school at Donagh. As a young man he tried stonecutting, taxidermy, and other means of earning a livelihood, for his family was poor and he was the fourteenth child. Although his family had hoped he would become a priest, Carleton was so changed by a religious pilgrimage in 1813 that he gave up the idea of taking holy orders. A period of insecurity ensued, culminating in another pilgrimage, this time to Dublin, where he eventually found work as a writer. He married Jane Anderson in 1822 and became a member of the Church of Ireland. Subsequently, Carleton worked as a teacher and as a journalist, contributing to many Irish periodicals. He became famous as a writer when a collection of his stories was published as Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry in 1830. Several editions were sold, and in 1833 a second series was published. His novels met with less popular success, though the best of them—Fardorougha the Miser; Valentine McClutchy, the Irish Agent; and The Emigrants of Ahadarra—combine dark humor, scathing social commentary, and melodramatic events to give a searing and highly colored picture of Irish peasant conditions in the early nineteenth century. The Black Prophet was based on the Irish famine and typhus plague of the 1840s and is typical of the novelist’s realism in writing about life in Ireland, especially among the peasants. The Emigrants of Ahadarra is an unsparing study of the landlord system. Most of the realistic detail in Carleton’s work was based on his own intimate knowledge of Irish life. Although he was a voluminous writer, he had constant financial difficulty until he was awarded a pension of two hundred pounds by Lord John Russell in 1848. Carleton died in Dublin on January 30, 1869.

William Carleton.

By John Slattery, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Author Works Short Fiction: Father Butler, the Lough Dearg Pilgrim: Being Sketches of Irish Manners, 1829 Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry, 1830–1833 (5 volumes) Tales of Ireland, 1834 The Fawn of Spring-Vale, the Clarionet, and Other Tales, 1841 (3 volumes) The Battle of the Factions, and Other Tales of Ireland, 1845 Characters and Sketches of Ireland and the Irish, 1845 Denis O’Shaughnessy Going to Maynooth, 1845 Parra Sastha: Or, The History of Paddy Go-Easy and His Wife Nancy, 1845 Roddy the Rover: Or, The Ribbon Man, 1845 Art Maguire: Or, The Broken Pledge, 1847 The Irishman at Home, 1849 The Clarionet, The Dead Boxer, and Barney Branagan, 1850 Alley Sheridan and Other Stories, 1858 The Double Prophecy: Or, Trials of the Heart, 1862 (2 volumes) The Silver Acre and Other Tales, 1862 The Fair of Emyvale and the Master and Scholar, 1870 The Red Haired Man’s Wife, 1889 Long Fiction: Fardorougha the Miser: Or, The Convicts of Lisnamona, 1839 Valentine McClutchy, the Irish Agent: Or, Chronicles of the Castle Cumber Property, 1845 The Black Prophet: A Tale of Irish Famine, 1847 The Emigrants of Ahadarra: A Tale of Irish Life, 1848 The Tithe-Proctor, 1849 The Squanders of Castel Squander, 1852 (2 volumes) Red Hall: Or, The Baronet’s Daughter, 1852 (3 volumes) Willy Reilly and His Dear Cooleen Bawn: A Tale Founded upon Fact, 1855 (3 volumes) The Evil Eye: Or, The Black Spectre, 1860 Redmond, Count O’Hanlon: The Irish Rapparee, 1862 Nonfiction: The Life of William Carleton, 1896 (2 volumes) Bibliography 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 study of Carleton. Kiely’s approach is largely biographical. The degree to which Carleton’s fiction dovetails with his life is explored in the light of Carleton’s autobiography. Krause, David. William Carleton, the Novelist: His Carnival and Pastoral World of Tragicomedy. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000. Examines country life and the tragic in literature. Includes bibliographical references and an index. O’Donoghue, D. J. The Life of William Carleton. 2 vols. London: Downey, 1986. The one essential work for Carleton scholars, largely because volume 1 consists of Carleton’s autobiography. The second volume is a pallid, informative account of Carleton’s Dublin years. While uncritical, volume 2 contains important information about Carleton’s struggle for survival. The second volume also contains some essays by Carleton, which have not otherwise been reprinted. Orel, Harold. The Victorian Short Story. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1986. In the chapter on Carleton, Orel discusses Carleton’s use of the folk tradition, his belief in the inextricable mixture of fact and fiction, his use of historical and eye-witness materials, and his experimentation with narrative techniques. Sullivan, Eileen A. William Carleton. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A general introduction to Carleton’s life and art. Summarizes and critiques critical reception of Traits and Stories of the Irish Peasantry; discusses the best-known stories in the collection such as “The Linahan Shee” and “The Three Tasks.” Discusses Carleton’s mingling of oral folktale and modern short-story techniques. Wolff, Robert Lee. William Carleton, Irish Peasant Novelist: A Preface to His Fiction. New York: Garland, 1980. A brief, incisive overview of Carleton’s stories and novels. The approach is chronological and biographical.

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