A light-hearted humorous novel about an ex-British Army officer who becomes appointed to a rural country in Ireland as the Resident Magistrate*, this was quite a fun read. Published at the turn of the century, it’s a very horsey-centered book with tales of the inexperienced young outsider facing the events of an insular small rural community as the person in charge.
This is more a series of short stories all interlinked by a core group of common characters more than a straight novel, and reminded me in some ways of James Herriot in regard to “big-city outsider comes to unwelcoming but heart of gold village in the country” situation. It is packed with long descriptions of fox hunts, horse races and village happenings, some of which were rather exciting to read (despite my opposition to fox hunting and animal maltreatment). It was quite hard to read about the rather frequent whippings that the horses and donkeys endured and were obviously par for the course back then. It was true to its time though, even though that doesn’t make it any more acceptable. (Cue: Black Beauty review here.)
The authors were really two women, one called Edith Somerville (the E. O. Somerville person) from England, and the other her cousin Violet Florence Martin (who wrote under Martin Ross) who was from Ireland. The two were second cousins and shared a great-grandfather between them. The name “Martin Ross” that Violet chose came from her surname and the name of the land that her family owned in West Ireland and both published under male names, presumably to give them more credibility at the time. Edith and Violet became close partners, and had critical and popular success with their early works which were a variation of the Victorian sensation novels. However, the commercial success of their lighter comical novels (starting with the Irish RM series) led their agent to convince them to leave serious novel writing and to focus more on what the popular market wanted. (Rather Wodehousian humor in many ways, I thought.)
This book series was also made into a TV series which ran between 1983-1985 on TV in the UK. (I didn’t catch it so can’t vouch for its quality.)
Violet died quite early in 1915 of a brain tumor, and although Edith vowed that she would and could never write again after Violet’s death, she was persuaded to do so by believing (as were the times) that Violet could communicate with her through spiritualism séances (a la Arthur Conan Doyle et al.) and continued to publish under both her own name and Violet’s and under Violet’s “direction.”
There are continuations of this book, but not sure I liked it that much…
- A Resident Magistrate (RM) was a title for magistrates in locations that were/are governed by the British. Personnel were usually well versed in law and well connected (as they were rather cushy jobs) and were brought into an area from outside to guide the more local lay magistrates. The “Resident” referred to the requirement that the magistrate had to live in the actual area to which he (always he) was assigned.
I have a sweet little hardback copy of this that I picked up in a secondhand bookshop last month, to be honest I bought it because I was intrigued by the female writing partnership. I had no idea about the seances though, perhaps I’ll stick to the pre-death collaborations though… 🙂