At the peak of his career, Charles Lever (1806-1872) was one of the most successful novelists in the English language, and the only mid-19th century Irish novelist to vie with Charles Dickens in popularity and earning potential. Yet within three decades of his death, his works had sunk into obscurity. The light-heartedness of his earliest novels, "The Confessions of Harry Lorrequer" (1839) and "Charles O'Malley - the Irish Dragoon" (1841), brought condemnation from Nationalists who championed the serious and didactic purpose of literature in highlighting the desperate plight of Ireland's indiginous population. It is in Lever's positive and thoughtful reaction to these criticisms that his profound contributions to Irish literature in English is to be identified, most of all, in his sensitive and ultimately pessimistic analysis of the role of the doomed Protestant ascendancy. In this study, Stephen Haddelsey charts the rise and fall of this much-maligned commentator on Irish affairs, and calls for a reappraisal of his position in the canon of Irish literature.
Using a selection from the 30 novels and five volumes of essays, he argues that Lever's contribution is unique in its evolution from a Tory and non-separatist stance to the near-overt and desparing advocacy of Home rule in his final novel "Lord Kilgobbin" (1872).