‘The Big House of Inver’ hasn’t entirely dispelled my prejudices but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be looking out for more of their work. It seems that the initial idea for the plot came from Ross after seeing an empty house somewhere on the southwest coast of Ireland in march 1912 and discovering something of its history, Somerville went on to write the book alone after Ross died (so I don’t know how typical of their work this is), publication was in 1925.
Typical or not it’s an interesting addition to my small collection of Irish ‘Big House’ novels – so far generally comprised of Molly Keane and Elizabeth Bowen. The Anglo Irish ascendancy is a subject I find fascinating, especially at the point they start to fall. English society looked down on Irish titles, and the Irish nobility generally seem to have been seen as irredeemably provincial in London (despite a determinedly English and expensive education) yet as English educated protestants however long a family had been established in Ireland it seems fair to say they would always be seen as other, a situation only exacerbated by a rigid class system. A visiting English Baronet in ‘The Big House of Inver’ frequently states that the country is unfit for white men perfectly expressing the lack of sympathy between English and Irish culture.
Most of the action takes place in 1912, and generally has the feel of an Edwardian society with one exception. Peggy the upwardly mobile agent’s daughter who forms the main love interest in the latter half of the story read like a post war girl to me, something that made a lot more sense when I checked the publication date after I finished reading.
The story is that of the Prendeville family and the first 70 or so pages rush through 150 years of history charting the rise of this particular branch of the gentry, and their fall bought about through pride and profligacy. A series of liaisons with peasant girls, including marriages, dilutes the blood line and blurs the boundaries between village and big house. When we arrive at 1912 the Prendeville family is all but ruined and living in ungracious poverty. All that’s left is held together by the eldest and illegitimate daughter of the house, all her hopes are centred on restoring her younger legitimate brother to what she perceives to be his rightful position.