Meaney, Mary L.
MEANEY, Mary L.
Born circa 1840; death date unknown
Most of Mary L. Meaney's works are thinly disguised religious tracts written to inspire loyalty to the faith among young Catholic readers. Grace Morton; or, The Inheritance (1864) is one of Meaney's more successful treatments of the conflict between apostasy and constancy. Grace Morton and her brother are adopted by Gerald Althorpe after he disowns his son for marrying a Catholic. Grace befriends the disinherited family and converts to Catholicism, although it means breaking her engagement with Powhattan Clifton and being disowned by Althorpe. When Althorpe dies intestate, his son's family gets their fortune and Grace's loyalty is rewarded by a reunion with Powhattan, who accepts her religion. In its attempt to demonstrate that virtue is rewarded, the novel is flawed by a melodramatic plot and weak character development.
Meaney's best work, The Confessors of Connaught; or, The Tenants of a Lord Bishop (1865), is based on the Partry evictions that took place in Ireland from November 21st to the 23rd, 1860, on the estate of Lord Plunket, a Protestant Bishop. Catholic tenants were evicted for not sending their children to Bishop Plunket's school. In The Confessors, the Protestant curate Reverend Gillman refuses to proselytize and instead works cooperatively with Father Dillon, the parish priest. His wife is Meaney's best character. A foil for the Bishop's daughter, Mrs. Gillman is shrewder and stronger than her husband, and unafraid to confront the Bishop over his eviction plan.
Gillman proves too charitable for the Bishop's plan and is replaced by Reverend Robinson and new teachers who contrive to make themselves popular with their pupils; however, the school fails. When the tenants remain steadfast, the Bishop calls in the military to evict them. Word of the eviction spreads and becomes the subject of a debate in Parliament. Even the London Times is moved to protest. Contributions, including money raised by Reverend Gillman, help Father Dillon resettle his parishioners.
The Confessors succeeds for several reasons. The historical facts of the Partry evictions help structure the plot; Meaney's theme, the triumph of real Christianity over sectarian bigotry, is broader than her narrower Catholicism; Mrs. Gillman is a more developed character than sentimental protagonists like Grace Morton and Elinor Johnston; and finally, the tone of this book is less moralistic and more humane than the tone of Meaney's other works. Unfortunately, Meaney's later books did not reach the standard of The Confessors, and her books are of interest only as examples of pious Catholic literature of the late 19th century.