I am now cudgelling my brains about a new story for Chapman, to be called 'The Daltons, or, Three Roads in Life,' in which I have attempted — God knows with what chance of success! — the quiet homely narrative style of German romance-writers. I shall be very anxious to know what you will think of it, and you shall see the first No. as soon as it is printed. — "To Mr. Alexander Spencer. Florence, Feb. 26, 1850."

Charles Lever now began to abandon his formulaic picaresque novel for something that would enable him to develop his young male Irish expat wandering on the Continent as something more than a British observer of foreign climates and manners. In The English Novel (1961), Lionel Stevenson notes that by 1850 Lever had realised that the market for his "Irish" characters — "his eccentrics and swashbuckling adventurers" (294) — was on the wane. Lever was far more careful in The Daltons than in his previous Irish adventures to provide consistency of detail and true-to-life portraiture, for "many of the characters were modeled upon people whom the author knew" (Stevenson 295). Lever's nineteenh-century Grand Tour British expatriates travelling through Italy and Austria still comment upon foreign manners and settings, but also develop as characters. The truth of Lever's observations about Continental society comes directly from his settling in Florence during this period. If the novel has a social agenda, it is Lever's oblique criticism of Irish absentee landlords: "once Lever left Dublin for Europe, he really began to engage earnestly with what he feared would be Ireland’s fate" (Skinner 160). Thus, in The Daltons Lever reflects upon the lasting effects of the Irish Famine of the 1840s:

By the early 1850s, Lever had realised that the mythical vision of the landlord-tenant compact, that he had endorsed as a younger man, was no longer possible in light of the massive social upheaval manifested by the Famine, and his novels became increasingly complex, as he continued his mission to explain Ireland to an English market that was less inclined to want to understand. [Skinner 2]

The Phiz illustrations by implication pursue this underlying concern, but maintain their focus on Irish characters on the Continent, with a nod to such spa-related issues as the hydropathic cures available in Austria and the superficial international set that frequented the kinds of resorts which Lever himself visited. Totally lacking, however, are time-consuming but highly effective dark plates that one finds in such serial productions as Lever's Davenport Dunn and Ainsworth's Mervyn Clitheroe. One salient difference is obvious before one even looks fruitlessly for dark plates in The Daltons: this is Phiz's longest program for a Lever novel.

Working methods

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham.


Brown, John Buchanan. Phiz! Illustrator of Dickens' World. New York: Charles Scribner's, 1978.

Burton, Anthony. "Vision and Designs. Review of John Harvey, Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. Sidgwick & Jackson, 1970. £3.50." Dickensian, 67.2 (1971): 105-109.

Downey, Edmund. Charles Lever: His Life in Letters. 2 vols. london; William Blackwood, 1906.

Fitzpatrick, W. J. The Life of Charles Lever. London: Downey, 1901.

Harvey, John R. "Conditions of Illustration in Serial Fiction." Victorian Novelists and Their Illustrators. London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1970. Pp. 182-198.

Lester, Valerie Browne. Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004.

Lever, Charles. The Daltons, or, Three Roads in Life. Illustrated by "Phiz" (Hablot Knight Browne). London: Chapman and Hall, 1852, rpt. 1872.

Lever, Charles James. The Daltons, or, Three Roads in Life. http://www.gutenberg.org//files/32061/32061-h/32061-h.htm

Skinner, Anne Maria. Charles Lever and Ireland. University of Liverpool. PhD dissertation. May 2019.

Stevenson, Lionel. "The Domestic Scene." The English Novel: A Panorama. Cambridge, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin and Riverside, 1960.

_______. Dr. Quicksilver: The Life of Charles Lever. New York: Russell & Russell, 1939, rpt. 1969.

Sutherland, John. "Davenport Dunn." The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford, Cal.: Stanford U. P., 1989. 172.

Created 24 March 2022