Henry Green's Loving (1945) is set in the fictional Kinalty Castle during World War II. This Irish castle is the home of an English family, the Tennants. Mrs Tennant is a widow whose grown son, Jack, has joined the British army and is away fighting the war. Jack's wife, Violet, and their two young daughters, Evelyn and Moira, live in the castle along with the elder Mrs Tennant. A reference to neutrality makes clear that Kinalty is in Éire, not Northern Ireland:

"I'll send to Berlin if I shouldn't find what'll suit in this poor law island."

"To Berlin?" Miss Burch asked with a gasp.

"That's right," Mrs Welch answered and seemed gratified. "We're in a nootral country aren't we?"

Green, Henry. Loving. 1945. Loving, Living, Party Going. Intro. John Updike. New York: Penguin, 1978. p. 70

Partway through the novel, Mrs Tennant and Violet each depart for England, leaving behind their servants: the butler, Charley Raunce; the chief housemaid, Agatha Burch; the cook, Mrs Welch; the nanny, Miss Swift; and assorted underlings. Violet and Jack's daughters are also left as Miss Swift's charges. With a couple of exceptions, the servants are all English. Much discussion ensues among the servants about their situation, being left to their own devices in Ireland. They fear that with the Tennant ladies gone, the castle will be attacked either by the IRA, or by Nazis who want to use Ireland as a base from which to invade the UK:

It was some days later they sat in the servants' hall talking with dread of the I.R.A. They were on their own now, with the lady and her daughter still over in England, and the feeling they had was that they stood in worse danger than before.

ibid., p. 92.

"And what about the panzer grenadiers?" he asked. "When they come through this tight little island like a dose of Epsom salts will they bother with those hovels, with two pennorth of cotton? Not on your life. They'll make tracks straight for great mansions like we're in my girl."

ibid., p. 97.

The depiction of this state of mind is well handled, and is not without its comic aspects. But I'm having trouble understanding the situation of the Tennants and their servants in Ireland in the first place. Assuming that the Tennants were part of the Protestant Ascendancy, what are they still doing in Ireland after the establishment of the Irish Free State and its successor, the Irish republic? Did English families continue to live in Ireland, surrounded by hostile natives, even after (southern) Ireland gained independence? And did they routinely import their household servants from England, in preference to hiring locals? If so, why?

And why is the IRA any more likely to attack the castle when the servants are in charge? Especially once Jack has joined up, the castle has only Mrs Tennant and Violet, aside from the servants and Violet's young daughters. The presence of the Mrs Tennants hardly seems like sufficient check to keep the IRA from attacking the castle if it had a mind to. This applies with greater force to a possible German invasion: the presence or absence of the ladies is hardly likely to be a determining factor if the Nazis decide to overrun Ireland. So why does the absence of Mrs Tennant and Violet cause the servants to feel the threat more keenly? Are they merely being irrational, and Green satiric at their expense?

To sum up: What is the historical and social context of the presence of the Tennants and their servants in Ireland during the Second World War? And why does the Tennant women's absence exacerbate the dangers to the servants?

  • 1
    The Wikipedia article on Anglo-Irish people states "The Protestant proportion of the Irish population dropped from 10% (300,000) to 6% (180,000) in the Irish Free State in the twenty-five years following independence" - so not all people of English descent left Ireland, though many did. May 16 at 9:04


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