The Real Charlotte

The Real Charlotte is an 1894 novel by the Anglo-Irish writing partnership Somerville and Ross, composed of Edith Somerville (1858–1949) and Violet Florence Martin (1862–1915).[2][3][4][5][6]

The Real Charlotte
The Real Charlotte.jpg
First edition in three volumes
AuthorSomerville and Ross
Working titleThe Welsh Cousin
Genreromance novel, novel of manners, domestic realism[1]
Set inDublin, 1883
County Galway, Bray, County Wicklow and Paris, June 1889–June 1890
PublisherWard and Downey
Publication date
Media typePrint: hardback
Pages3 volumes
LC ClassPR6037 .O6
Preceded byThrough Connemara in a Governess Cart 
Followed byBeggars on Horseback 
Edition notice from a 1915 edition, with a dual monograms of E.Œ.S. and M.R.
Photograph of Edith Somerville (left) and Violet Florence Martin (right)


The first chapter takes place in Dublin in 1883, showing the young Francie Fitzpatrick and Roderick Lambert.

The rest of the book is set in 1889–90 in rural County Galway, in or near to Connemara, with some chapters in Bray, County Wicklow and Paris. (Some accounts claim that the book is set in County Cork, but mentions of Galway city, Ballinasloe, "the Connemara mountains" and the "Galway hills" make it clear that it is set in County Galway.)[7]


It is hard to ask pity for Charlotte, whose many evil qualities have without pity been set down, but the seal of ignoble tragedy had been set on her life; she had not asked for love, but it had come to her, twisted to burlesque by the malign hand of fate. There is pathos as well as humiliation in the thought that such a thing as a soul can be stunted by the trivialities of personal appearance, and it is a fact not beyond the reach of sympathy that each time Charlotte stood before her glass her ugliness spoke to her of failure, and goaded her to revenge.

Chapter XLI

Mullen-Fitzgerald familyEdit

  • Charlotte Mullen, forty years old, single and unattractive both inside and out.
  • Francie Fitzpatrick, first cousin once removed of Charlotte. An urban middle-class girl of nineteen.
  • Johnny Fitzpatrick, Francie's father
  • Isabella Mullen, Francie's mother
  • Letitia (Tish) Fitzpatrick, Francie's aunt
  • Robert Fitzpatrick, Francie's uncle

Lambert familyEdit

  • Roderick (Roddy) Lambert, agent of the Dysarts.
  • Lucy Lambert (née Galvin), his wife, a nervous older woman with money

Dysart familyEdit

  • Sir Benjamin Dysart, Baronet, local landlord, disabled by stroke.
  • Lady Isabel Dysart, his wife, thirty years younger than him.
  • Christopher Dysart, their eldest son. Suitor to Francie.
  • Pamela Dysart, their daughter
  • Garrett (Garry) Dysart, the youngest son.


  • Louisa, a Protestant orphan girl who is house and parlour-maid to Charlotte.
  • Norry the Boat, Catholic servant of Charlotte's
  • Bid Sal, Catholic servant of Charlotte's
  • Eliza Hackett, maid in the Lambert household
  • Bridget, maid in the Fitzpatrick household


  • Fanny Hemphill, city friend of Francie's.
  • Evelyn Hope-Drummond, English friend of Pamela's, staying with the Dysarts.
  • Archdeacon Gascogne, local Church of Ireland clergyman.
  • Kate (Kitty) Gascogne, his wife.
  • Julia Duffy, wise woman, Irish Catholic tenant of Charlotte's
  • Father Heffernan, local Catholic priest
  • Captain Cursiter, a gentleman boat-owner (named Thesiger on his first appearance, apparently a continuity error)
  • Lieutenant Gerald Hawkins, Army officer and suitor of Francie's
  • Rev. Joseph Corkran, the local Church of Ireland curate
  • Mrs. Corkran, his wife

Reception and legacyEdit

Initial reviews were negative, with English critics bemoaning the use of the grotesque, disliking the antiheroine Charlotte and bemoaning the lack of a happy ending.[8]

In 2000, Brian Fallon wrote in The Irish Times that The Real Charlotte "is generally agreed to be Somerville and Ross's masterpiece, and one of the half-dozen or so Irish novels which might justifiably be called great […] though the authors are somewhat snobbish and condescending towards Francie, the pretty young interloper from Dublin, she is real and touching even in her social gaucherie. The contrasting portrait of scheming Charlotte herself, a really bad woman, has a kind of Balzacian power."[9]

In 2003, it was placed 32nd in "Novel Choice", a list of the top 50 Irish novels.[10]

Susan Tomes in 2014 wrote that "I can hardly believe that such a fine book has fallen out of the public eye. […] The authors’ understanding of character and motive is remarkable, and their description of life in Ireland at the end of the 19th century is memorably vivid. Even better, the intricate plot closes slowly upon its characters like a giant pair of pincers."[11]

In 2017, Anne Haverty wrote that "The Real Charlotte [may] be the best Irish novel, qua novel, of any century. As Anthony Cronin says, Ulysses, which might seem to qualify as “the best”, is a “fictive construction”, while The Real Charlotte is a powerful exemplar of the classic novel as it was, and sometimes still is, written."[12]

Heather Ingman listed it among her ten favourite Irish books.[13]

Malcolm Jones wrote in The Daily Beast that "The title character […] is such a terrible force of nature that she literally frightens another character to death. That hasn’t stopped me from urging people to make her acquaintance every chance I get."[14]


In 1975, a stage adaptation was produced at the Gate Theatre, written by Terence de Vere White and Adrian Vale and starring Pat Leavy.[15][16]

In 1990, The Real Charlotte was adapted into a three-part TV miniseries for ITV in 1990, starring Jeananne Crowley as Charlotte, Patrick Bergin as Roderick and Joanna Roth as Francie.[17]


  1. ^ "Book Review: The Real Charlotte".
  2. ^ McNamara, Donald (2006). "The Real Charlotte: The Exclusive Myth of Somerville and Ross". Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium. 26/27: 356–369. JSTOR 40732066.
  3. ^ McClellan, Ann (April 6, 2006). "Dialect, Gender, and Colonialism in The Real Charlotte". Études irlandaises. 31 (1): 69–86. doi:10.3406/irlan.2006.1739 – via
  4. ^ Somerville, Edith; Ross, Martin (October 5, 1999). The Real Charlotte. J.S. Sanders Books. ISBN 9781461733935 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Stevens, Julie Anne (April 6, 2007). The Irish Scene in Somerville and Ross. Irish Academic Press. ISBN 9780716533672 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Jamison, Anne (April 6, 2016). E. Œ. Somerville and Martin Ross: Female Authorship and Literary Collaboration. Cork University Press. ISBN 9781782051923 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Cahalan, James M. (November 1999). Double Visions: Women and Men in Modern and Contemporary Irish Fiction - James M. Cahalan - Google Books. ISBN 9780815628040.
  8. ^ "The Real Charlotte".
  9. ^ Fallon, Brian. "The Real Charlotte The Big House at Inver by Somerville and Ross (A and A Farmer, £7.99 each)". The Irish Times.
  10. ^ "Joyce reigns supreme . . . but are we still waiting for the great Irish novel?".
  11. ^ "The Real Charlotte". Susan Tomes. April 15, 2014.
  12. ^ Doyle, Martin. "An Irish writers poster: spot the difference". The Irish Times.
  13. ^ "An Englishwoman's Diary Heather Ingman". The Irish Times.
  14. ^ Jones, Malcolm (February 23, 2014). "My Imaginary Literary Friends" – via
  15. ^ "A fine character actor who thrived on her craft". The Irish Times.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Real Charlotte, The (ITV 1990, Jeananne Crowley, Patrick Bergin)". November 26, 2018.

External linksEdit