The Domestic Novel

Sadlier articulates explicit didactic goals in her prefaces to both The Blakes and Flanagans and Bessy Conway. The plot of the former is closer than the latter to that of the typical domestic novel or romance described by Nina Baym, with a young and vulnerable heroine out alone in the wide world, for all intents and purposes orphaned, if not actually parentless, striving to make a way for herself while protecting her virtue (Baym, 22-50). None of Sadlier's novels conform completely to Baym's model, as Sadlier was not concerned with individual heroines such as Catharine Sedgwick's Hope Leslie or Susan Warner's Ellen Montgomery. Sadlier is concerned with classes of people -- Irish immigrants, and in particular Irish women in traditional Catholic homes. Even in a novel ostensibly about a single heroine, Sadlier does not limit herself to merely telling Bessy Conway's story; she peoples her novel with an entire village of Irish folk who immigrate together on the same boat. In Blakes and the Flanagans, Sadlier expands her scope beyond the families mentioned in the title to include an entire neighborhood. Sadlier is concerned with society in all of her novels, never with the quest of an individual self as is Augusta Evans in St. Elmo or Elizabeth Stoddard in The Morgesons. Sadlier's novels adhere to Baym's model of community orientation. Domestic novels, in her view, "were Victorian also in their perception of the self as a product, firmly and irrevocably embedded in a social construct that could destroy it but that also shaped it, constrained it, encouraged it, and ultimately fulfilled it" (Baym, 36). In a sense, Bessy Conway -- who follows "the dream of her young heart" (Bessy Conway, 7) to see America and so leave Ireland alone to emigrate to New York -- is an orphan figure. But in a larger sense, all of Ireland's immigrants are orphans, exiled from their country by fate and forever searching not for their mother, but their motherland. The entire first generation of immigrants in Sadlier's novels are all cast adrift on the shores of New York without their parents or support institutions. The only link with Ireland for these exiles is their Catholic faith. Being true to their faith is thus a way for these "orphans" to be true to their hearts and their values.


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