A Domestic Detective by Phiz (Hablot Knight Browne), October 1848. Steel-engraving. 9 cm high by 13.5 cm wide (3 ½ by 5 ⅜ inches), framed, full-page dark plate for Roland Cashel, Chapter XIX, "The Domestic Detective Consulted," facing p. 182 [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Passage Illustrated: Aunt Fanny counsels her sister at Merrion Square

Aunt Fanny was then there in the guise of a domestic detective, to watch proceedings and report on them, — a function which simplifies the due conduct of a case, be it in love or law, beyond anything.

“How agreeable your papa must be this evening, my dear!” said Mrs. Kennyfeck, as with a glance at the clock on the mantelpiece she recognized that it was near ten.

“I'm sure he is deep in one of his interminable law arguments, which always makes Mr. Cashel so sleepy and so stupid, that he never recovers for the rest of the evening.”

“He ought to find the drawing-room all the pleasanter for the contrast,” remarked Miss O'Hara, dryly. “I like to see young men — mind me well, young men, it doesn't do with old ones — thoroughly bored before they come among the ladies. The sudden change to the tea, and the wax-lights, and the bright eyes, are trying stimulants. Let them, however, be what they call 'pleasant' below-stair, and they are sure to come up flushed and excited, well satisfied with the host's claret, and only anxious to order the carriage. What o'clock is it now?”

“A quarter-past ten, aunt.”

“Too late; full three-quarters too late,” ejaculated she, with the tone of an oracle. “There is nothing your father could have to say should have detained him till now. Play that little Mexican thing again, my dear; and, Livy, love, leave the door a little open; don't you find the heat of this room intolerable?”

The young ladies obeyed, and meanwhile Aunt Fanny, drawing her chair closer to her sister's, said, in a low tone, —

“Well, explain the matter more clearly. Did he give her the diamonds?” [Chapter XIX, "The Domestic Detective Consulted," 183]

Commentary: Wizened Aunt Fanny confers with Mrs. Kennyfeck about Cashel's behaviour

Of “sweet fifteen” no mortal e'er afraid is,
Your real “man traps” are old maiden ladies.
"The Legacy." [175]

Now that he is no longer the Kennyfecks' house-guest, and has bought his own magnificent Dublin mansion, what are millionaire Roland Cashel's intentions towards Olivia, the younger of the two daughters? The family's "matrimonial detective," Aunt Fanny O'Hara, now attempts to assess whether Roland by word or deed has effectively proposed to either nubile daughter. Indeed, she is something of a matrimonial detective:

Had Miss O'Hara been the mere quiet, easy-going, simple-minded elderly maiden she seemed to Cashel's eyes, the step on our part had not been needed; she might, like some other characters of our tale, have been suffered to glide by as ghosts or stage-supernumeraries do, unquestioned and undetained; but she possessed qualities of a kind to demand somewhat more consideration. Aunt Fanny, to give her the title by which she was best known, was, in reality, a person of the keenest insight into others, — reading people at sight, and endowed with a species of intuitive perception of all the possible motives which lead to any action. Residing totally in a small town in the west of Ireland, she rarely visited the capital, and was now, in fact, brought up “special” by her sister, Mrs. Kennyfeck, who desired to have her advice and counsel on the prospect of securing Cashel for one or other of her daughters. It was so far a wise step, that in such a conjuncture no higher opinion could have been obtained. [Chapter XIX, 182-183]

Lever leaves readers wondering how the family's Domestic Detective, Mrs. Kennyfeck's elder sister (whom Phiz has depicted here as small and wizened), will interpret Roland Cashel's sudden haste to leave the dinner-party for which he arrived so late. Readers are thoroughly aware of the cause of his odd behaviour, as he has just received a letter from his Columbian friend Enrique, whom British authorities have imprisoned for piracy in St. Kitt's, Jamaica. Cashel had started to read the missive before dinner, making him late for the social engagement in the first place. He has yet to learn how Enrique was captured, or what assistance he may be seeking, so that Lever leaves the remainder of the correspondence for the next chapter, when we expect he will retrieve the lost letter from his valet, the duplicitous Mr. Phillis. However, Linton's having suborned Cashel's confidential servant is a plot complication. As Cashel suspects, the valet had picked up the crumpled letter on the Kennyfecks' staircase where his master had dropped it as he entered; however, Phillis delivers to Linton in the belief it may contain useful background information about Cashel. In the illustration, the girl at the piano, contrary to our expectations, turns out to be Caroline, the older Kennyfeck daughter; her younger sister, Olivia, has been sitting on the couch, listlessly reading, in the hour since Roland had left suddenly in search of Enrique's letter. Aunt Fanny wisely concludes that Cashel's odd behaviour is connected to the letter about which he has asked:

“Depend upon it, my dear,” said Miss O'Hara to Mrs. Kennyfeck, “that young man had made some unhappy connection; that's the secret of this letter, and when they get into a scrape of the kind it puts marriage out of their heads altogether. It was the same with Captain Morris,” — here she whispered still lower, the only audible words being, “without my ever suspecting, — one evening — a low creature — never set eyes upon — ah, man, man!” And with this exclamation aloud, Aunt Fanny took her candle and retired. [Chapter XIX, 191]

Cashel's reading of the letter is tantalizingly incomplete at the close of the nineteenth chapter. In the next, when Linton in turn shows it to the money-lender, Hoare, the pair conclude that Enrique's reference to Maritaña Rica strongly suggests that, under Columbian law, she is in effect already Cashel's wife — a fact that may come in handy if they have to thwart of a projected marriage between the millionaire and Olivia Kennyfeck. Owing to the recent earthquake which has destroyed many of the buildings on their Columbian estate, Don Rica and his daughter have left Columbia, says Hoare, and are shortly expected to arrive in Ireland.

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. With 39 illustrations and engraved title-vignette by Phiz. London: Chapman & Hall, 1850.

Lever, Charles. Roland Cashel. Illustrated by Phiz [Hablot Knight Browne]. Novels and Romances of Charles Lever. Vols. I and II. In two volumes. Boston: Little, Brown, 1907. Project Gutenberg. Last Updated: 19 August 2010.

Steig, Michael. Chapter VII, "Phiz the Illustrator: An Overview and a Summing Up." Dickens and Phiz. Bloomington: Indiana U. P., 1978. Pp. 299-316.

Created 30 December 2022