Work on editing this text was made possible in part by a Hibernian Research Grant from the Cushwa Center for the study of Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. Research on Moondyne was also made possible by a grant from The Irish American Cultural Institute's Irish Research Fund.
Susanna Ashton, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina.
In 1878, John Boyle O'Reilly published Moondyne.1 Appearing serially in The Pilot for many months, this novel met with critical success and was swiftly reprinted in numerous editions throughout the 19th century. While John Boyle O'Reilly's importance to Irish American culture is well known, his only novel has never been reprinted in the United States since the 19th century.
One of America's most important immigrants, O'Reilly was a hero of national and international stature. His reputation, however, rested on more than his personal charisma, staggering life history and notorious achievements as political activist and editor of The Pilot, the most influential Catholic newspaper of the 19th century. His clout truly stemmed from the way in which other Americans saw him as embodying a cultural role of conciliator, communicator, and cross-cultural ambassador. Both O'Reilly's contemporaries and more recent scholars have hailed him as the great go-between for Brahmin Boston and what was rapidly becoming a city of Irish Catholic immigrants. By situating Moondyne in the context of not just the Australian penal system, and even the Irish Land question, but in the context of questioning how America itself might be a model for how cultures could work together, we can see that Moondyne explores ideas that shouldn't be overshadowed by its swashbuckling tone. Moondyne takes on the question of prison justice, yes. And it certainly poses questions about the United States. But it also asks its readers how we might imagine models for cooperation among seemingly irreconcilable enemies.
The central figure of the tale is the convict called Moondyne a name given him by his Aborigine friends in the Australian outback. A victim of a heartless British system of capitalism and cruelty, our hero was arrested when caught poaching deer in order to feed his starving family. Summarily transported to the convict colonies, he manages to escape with the help of Aborigines who name him Moondyne and share with him the secret of an immense gold mine.
Returning to England under an assumed name, the convict, now known as Wyville, begins life anew. As a mysterious man of wealth and respected humanitarian with special expertise on theories of land distribution, legal codes, and penal reform he becomes friends with a young man, William Sheridan. In the course of his charities Wyville becomes involved with several sub plots; among other projects, he takes up the cause of a young woman, Alice, who is falsely accused of murdering her own child. Hapless Alice is transported to Australia and she, Wyville/Moondyne, Sheridan, and a dozen other characters all end up on the same convict ship bound for Fremantle. Ostensibly returning to Australia upon the request of the British government in order to reform the land policies and penal system out there, Wyville/Moondyne nonetheless manages to save Alice from both despair and false imprisonment, re-unite a pair of lovers, punish the wicked, and make numerous suggestions for how land should be distributed in a just society, all before he dies in an attempt to save a villain from certain death in a raging brush fire.
There's melodrama to be sure and troubling themes of race and nation that complicate much of the novel's impassioned goals. And yet, for all of its exotic setting and themes, the sense that kindness is ultimately more important than nationalism, and that charity to the least deserving is the only charity worth valuing, allows Moondyne to be a novel of singular beauty and moral significance.
The story of O'Reilly's life is spectacular on its own merits and deserves retelling, but the events and themes in Moondyne closely parallel events in his own life, and are a good reminder that the melodrama he might easily be accused of was often very true to his own experience.
In June 28th, 1844, John Boyle O'Reilly was born in County Meath, the son of a schoolteacher William David O'Reilly and orphanage matron, Eliza Boyle O'Reilly. Growing up during the Great Famine of the 1840s, O'Reilly was fortunate to have parents steadily employed with the government rather than dependent upon the potato crop. And so he survived the famine and was educated in his father's school until the age of 11 when, after his brother fell ill with tuberculosis, O'Reilly took over his brother's apprenticeship at the Drogheda Argus, a local newspaper.
After a couple of years there, O'Reilly went to live with relatives in Preston England, who set him up with a job at another local paper.
In 1863, O'Reilly returned to Ireland and enlisted with the British Army's Tenth Hussars then stationed in Dublin. Within one or two years after his enlistment he was approached by representatives of the revolutionary Fenian movement and, in perhaps the most momentous decision of his life, O'Reilly took the Fenian oath.
The Fenians were a secret organization dedicated to overthrowing British rule. O'Reilly joined a scheme to infiltrate the occupying British army in Ireland and he reportedly recruited over 80 other Irishmen to the cause. A double agent eventually betrayed the Fenians and in 1866 the authorities began a series of raids and arrests, taking O'Reilly in March of 1866. As not only an Irish political offender but also as one of 17 military offenders arrested, O'Reilly's treason was considered especially heinous and at his court-martial he was initially sentenced to death.
However, on the grounds of his extreme youth (he was only 21 years old at the time of his arrest), his sentence was commuted instead to 20 years at hard labor. In July of 1866 he used a nail to carve onto his cell walls the words: Once an English soldier; now an Irish Felon; and proud of the exchange. He was to need such bravado, for his hardships had only just begun. Moved from prison to prison, O'Reilly reportedly tried to escape from Chatham, Portsmouth, and Dartmoor prisons, although no official documents record such attempts. As a young man with a long sentence ahead of him and working under cruel conditions, he probably thought he had little to lose. Ironically, his reputation as an escape risk may have been what persuaded officials to send O'Reilly abroad, for many of other military Fenians languished in British prisons for years.2 Whatever the reasoning behind his selection, O'Reilly and 61 other Fenian prisoners were sent to Fremantle, Western Australia, arriving there on January 9th, 1868.
When John Boyle O'Reilly arrived in Fremantle, a settlement on the mouth of Swan's River, his skills were quickly put to use in the comparatively free prison system of that time. He served briefly as an aide to the parish priest and then as supervisor of a small lending library. These attractive duties were altered when, after only a short time, he was sent out to join a Bunbury road crew. His education again served him well and he was given various clerk and messenger jobs with the road crew which allowed him considerable freedom. It was at this point that O'Reilly even developed a friendship with one of his supervisors, Warder Henry Woodman. Woodman introduced O'Reilly to his family and the young and charismatic O'Reilly attracted the affections of the Warder's daughter, Jesse Woodman. Although this unlikely romance seems incredible, journals and testimonials vouch that some sort of affair did indeed occur and it is tempting to read the scenes between Will Sheridan and Alice Walmsley as shaped by O'Reilly's memories of a hopeless love affair. Nothing could come of such a real life liaison, however, and O'Reilly's life took instead another dramatic twist.
Assisted by a local priest, Father Patrick McCabe, and a settler named James McGuire, O'Reilly arranged to be smuggled away on an American whaling ship. The plans didn't work out as they were supposed to. O'Reilly ran off from his work crew on February 18, 1869 and was met by McGuire and friends who led him to the Coast. Hidden in the sand dunes, O'Reilly spent horrible days suffering from the elements and waiting to be picked up. He saw the ship, The Vigilant, which was supposed to take him on, but the captain did not see the small boat O'Reilly was on and so passed him by. Father McCabe and Maguire frantically made other arrangements and found another American whaler, the Gazelle, which agreed to take O'Reilly aboard.
Before O'Reilly could be smuggled aboard, however, McGuire's mysterious errands in the Bush came to the attention of ticket-of-leave prisoner Thomas Henderson alias Martin Bowman, a man sent to Australia after being sentenced for attempted murder.3 Bowman was quick to seize the opportunity to blackmail McGuire and O'Reilly, forcing them to smuggle Bowman aboard the Gazelle as well.
This time the rendezvous with the boat was successful and both Bowman and O'Reilly made it on board. For several months they sailed on the Gazelle and O'Reilly became friends with both the captain, David Gifford, and the third mate, Henry C. Hathaway. When the boat stopped at the British Island of Rodrigues, Government authorities insisted on inspecting the boat for fugitives and stowaways, especially the notorious escapee John Boyle O'Reilly. One of the regular seamen pointed at the hated Martin Bowman, who was immediately led away in chains. Hathaway and O'Reilly feared that as soon as he was in a position to bargain, Bowman would give away O'Reilly and so they schemed a fake suicide. The next day, when the authorities returned to the boat they were greeted by such genuine sorrow on the part of the crew (who believed O'Reilly really had killed himself by jumping overboard rather than be taken back to Australia) that they left convinced. O'Reilly may have forgiven Bowman's treachery but he never forgot it. In Moondyne, the double-dealing Sergeant who reneges on his deal and murders the aboriginal guardians of the mine, is aptly named Isaac Bowman.
This experience at Rodrigues was a terribly close call. And so, when at sea the Gazelle sighted a whaler out of Boston, the Sapphire, O'Reilly look leave of the Gazelle and traveled to Liverpool with the Sapphire as a working sailor. Nervous about staying too long in England, within a couple of days O'Reilly arranged to be taken aboard the Bombay, a ship leaving Liverpool for Philadelphia. It was then finally on November 23rd, 1869 that O'Reilly arrived in the United States. He stayed briefly in Philadelphia and New York with ecstatic and welcoming members of the Irish immigrant community, until in January of 1870 when he moved up to Boston the city with which he was associated for the rest of his life.
O'Reilly's ascendancy through Boston Society was truly spectacular. Within a short number of years he was not only considered the great spokesman for the Irish-immigrants of Boston, but also as a well known poet, public speaker, sportsman, and activist for political causes ranging from labor reform to Civil Rights. He counted among his good friends not only the stalwarts of what was rapidly becoming the Irish Political Machine, but also literati such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and Julia Ward Howe and activists such as Wendell Phillips. He became friends with President Grover Cleveland and with Cardinal Gibbons, the head of the Catholic Church in America. O'Reilly was President of both the literary Papyrus Club and the Boston Press Club. A member of numerous Catholic charities and radical reform movements, O'Reilly was one of the best known men of Boston. Bridging the gap between the Brahmin world of Beacon Hill and what was rapidly becoming a city dominated by Irish-American Immigrants, O'Reilly was hailed as the great cross-cultural ambassador.
Eminent Bostonian Thomas Wentworth Higginson, for one, felt that his friend O'Reilly had been destined to bring about the reconciliation in this community between the Roman Catholic Irishman and the Protestant American. Higginson pronounced this noble destiny just as pre-ordained as if he had been born with that mission stamped upon his forehead.4 Van Wyck Brooks agreed. He wrote that O'Reilly did more than anyone else5 to bridge the great divide in Boston. From his earliest days in the United States, O'Reilly brought people together.
When O'Reilly first moved to Boston he was taken under the wing of the Irish-American community. Within a couple of months he established himself as a reporter for The Pilot, then an eight page weekly newspaper covering Irish and Irish American affairs. He quickly made a name for himself covering events such as a disastrous 1870 invasion of Canada by a group of Irish-American Fenians and bloody Orangemen's riots in NYC between Catholic and Protestant Irish immigrants in 1870 and 71.6 His balanced and critical assessment of such events did much to mitigate his revolutionary past. He wrote: Why must we carry wherever we go those accursed and contemptible island feuds? Shall we never be shamed into the knowledge of the brazen imprudence of allowing our national hatreds to disturb the peace and safety of respectable citizens of this country?7 O'Reilly's increasing conservatism was skillfully parceled out. As a rising celebrity, he had the clout to break the unified front that had often characterized the public discourse of Irish America without alienating his many followers.
O'Reilly was rapidly promoted at The Pilot and soon felt established enough to wed Mary Murphy, a daughter of Irish immigrants. By 1876 he had become part owner and editor-in-chief of The Pilot. From then until his death in 1890, O'Reilly controlled what was probably the second most powerful media outlet in Massachusetts short of the Boston Globe.8 He wrote editorials, hired writers, and built The Pilot up from being a minor Catholic news weekly, to being a major newspaper with an international reputation. Elected president of the Boston Press Club in 1879, O'Reilly's status assured that the "ethnic" papers in Massachusetts would get a serious hearing. As befitted his position as great interpreter of all things Irish, rival newspapers would regularly run to O'Reilly for his analysis of both Irish, and increasingly, Irish-American, issues.
Despite a rather complex position on the issue of racial equality (he believed that enfranchisement had been a mistake) O'Reilly was hailed by many of his contemporaries and by more recent scholars as a champion of a spirit of equality9 which continually allied the cause of Ireland with the suffering of the ex-slaves in the United States. Taking on the mantle of the great liberators with whom he associated, (Wendell Phillips, William Emery Channing and Charles Sumner), O'Reilly used his newspaper to preach brotherhood across religious and racial divides. As O'Reilly announced in one of his editorials, The Pilot was to be the voice of all who yearned to be free no matter what their race, color, creed, or former condition of servitude.
Later critics have pointed out, quite rightly, that O'Reilly's battles were with vague generalities and his bombastic attacks on tyranny often obscured the concrete but more humble causes such as Irish appointments to municipal jobs, or more equality of consideration for Catholics in hospitals or schools. What historian Thomas Brown calls the Jeffersonian wrappings of O'Reilly's philosophies meant that O'Reilly's interest in promoting the equality of all men often got in the way of his comprehension of the problems truly facing the urban Irish population of nineteenth-century Boston. O'Reilly's invocations for men to bond with the great outdoors, for example, doubtless appealed to many of his readers more as escapist literature than as inspiration.10 But appeal it did, and it seems that the Irish population took O'Reilly to their hearts as much for his success in appealing to the Brahmins as for his mixed success in representing their interests.
If his credentials as newspaperman and an Irish revolutionary weren't enough to give him status in the Irish American community, O'Reilly built up for himself a colorful and manly social reputation. He endeared himself to the sports enthusiasts by boxing with John L Sullivan and he regularly participated in public sporting events. And despite his increasingly moderate and assimilationist politics, he never forgot the men he had left behind. In 1876 he helped engineer the daring rescue of five Fenian prisoners held in Western Australia, an event that received considerable press coverage and popular accolades.11
Although O'Reilly's celebrity status was based upon his politics as much as his exploits, what allowed him to truly serve as an informal ambassador for the vast underclass of working Irish-American families in Boston, was his literary work. He had begun writing poetry as a child and continued writing poetry during his long stints in prison and aboard ships. With The Pilot as a ready outlet, O'Reilly was soon waxing poetic with great regularity. His specialty was uplifting verse which, in simple couplets, would call out for freedom and against tyranny. These immensely popular poems, written in a romantic and sentimental tradition promoted a genteel bourgeois sensibility. Nostalgic, often didactic, and essentially proselytizing, these poems appealed to the Irish immigrants who sought assimilation and also to the Proper Bostonians who could read O'Reilly's verses and see that while all was not well in the world, causes were common and values were shared. Through works such as his most famous poem, In Bohemia, written in 1888, O'Reilly attracted audiences from all sides. He had a fervent belief in the arts themselves as bridging the gap between the powerful and the powerless and his easy radicalism cannot be dismissed simply because it was reprinted on Christmas calendars and recited in Boston drawing rooms.
O'Reilly's poetry attracted important commissions and throughout the 1870s and 80s he wrote hundreds of 'occasional' poetry to mark significant events. Some of his most important poems include ones written about the African American Patriot Crispus Attucks, whaling adventures, the American Civil War, Western Australia, and of course, Irish freedom. His poetry was so frequently anthologized and quoted that, after his death Harper's Weekly magazine claimed: [He was] easily the most distinguished Irishman in America. He was one of the country's foremost poets, one of its most influential journalists, an orator or unusual power, and he was endowed with such a gift of friendship as few men are blessed with.12
Thanks to his charisma and mentorship, a coterie of genteel Catholic writers developed around The Pilot of the period, a circle including poets such as Louise Imogen Guiney. But O'Reilly's poetry was part of broader world and in 1889, O'Reilly's commission to write the dedicatory poem for the Pilgrim monument at Plymouth Rock should be seen as one of the most extraordinary moments in American literary history. This foreign-born poet was selected over various Brahmin luminaries to mark the most American of icons. Along with Emma Lazarus's poem The New Colossus (1883) placed on the Statue of Liberty, O'Reilly's symbolic ascendancy to the heights of cultural acclaim marked a moment in which the resolutely complex nature of American national identity was proudly highlighted in the most public of forums.
O'Reilly died suddenly in 1890 as a result of an accidental overdose of his wife's sleeping medicine. He had suffered terribly from exhaustion and insomnia for the months before his death and many scholars have seen his death as the result of the tremendous tensions he was under to constantly appease, explain, and negotiate among various groups. Whatever the cause, his sudden death at a comparatively young age leaving a wife and four daughters shocked Boston and the world. Tributes poured in from Presidents and poets. Memorial services were held in cities and townships around the world. The New York Metropolitan Opera House was filled to capacity for a civic ceremony of remembrance. Reading groups and social clubs were founded in O'Reilly's name, scholarships were endowed, statues put up, and honorary poems were written. The country mourned.
John Boyle O'Reilly certainly left a literary legacy his poems, his newspaper editorials, and, of course, Moondyne. His crusade to actively change the social world around him may have led him to create poetry often criticized as didactic or sentimental and Moondyne arises from the same crusading impulse, to be sure. Nonetheless, Moondyne was written during a period in which sentiment and inspiration were understood as genuine and effective means of motivating genuine political change. The juxtaposition of O'Reilly's often romanticized narrative with the profoundly unglamorous topic of prison reform deserves special attention because in some ways it was precisely the shock value of that juxtaposition which was calculated to get results.
O'Reilly's novel was written after transportation of convicts to Australia had, by and large, ceased. The history of Australia, up until the late nineteenth century, had largely been founded upon the convict settlements and while O'Reilly certainly has strong feelings about how transportation and the settlements should be governed, it is important to note that his novel is not emphatically pro or con transportation itself.
That is not to say that O'Reilly wasn't horrified by the injustice of forcibly separating men and women from their families and the world they had known. While waiting on the Portland dock to be transported, he and his fellow Fenian prisoners witnessed a horrible scene: A woman's piercing shriek rose up from the crowd on the wharf; a young girl rushed wildly out and threw herself weeping and sobbing on the breast of a man in our chain, poor Thomas Dunne. She was his sister, and she had come from Dublin to see him before he sailed away. They would not let her see him in prison, so she had come here to see him in his chains. Oh! May God keep me from ever seeing another scene like that which all stood to gaze at; even the merciless officials for a moment hesitated to interfere. Poor Dunne could only lower his head and kiss his sister, his arms were chained; and that loving heartbroken girl, worn out by grief, clung to his arms and his chains as they dragged her away; and when she saw him pushed rudely to the gangway she raised her voice in a wild cry: O God, O God, as if reproaching Him who willed such things to pass. From the steamer's deck we saw her still watching tirelessly and we tried to say words of comfort to that brother, her brother and ours. He knew that she was alone, and had no friends in England. Thank God, he is a free man now in a free country.13 O'Reilly never forgot this kind of pain. And although he escaped, he never saw his own family in Ireland again. He never belittled the enormous human consequences of transportation. Yet despite his firsthand experience in such tragedy, he nonetheless saw convicts' quality of life so vastly improved from their situation in British prisons that he came to see transportation as having some merits. Later in life he observed: Transportation to a colony where essential freedom and citizenship can be assured will reform almost the entire criminal class that is not abnormally degraded.14 The ambiguous and careful attitude Wyville/Moondyne has towards the Australian penal settlements seeing them as cruel, but nonetheless offering more hope than British prisons could seems to reflect these feelings of O'Reilly. While Wyville/Moondyne recognizes the need for discipline and imprisonment, he believes it should be tempered by a fundamental belief in prison as place for reformation, not punishment.
Wyville/Moondyne's theories are rarely articulated in practical detail, but they are impassionately proclaimed. His new code was shaped by the belief that convicts were expected to rise from bad to good, rather than descend from bad to worse. In other words, it was a law meant for reformation, not for vengeance.(204). Wyville/Moondyne has most whips, guns, and weapons confiscated from the guards and insists that the prisoners be governed on radical principles of humanity(231) and a philosophy of incentives . Upon taking control of the colony he declares: From this day every man is earning his freedom, and an interest in the colony. Your rights are written down, and you shall know them. You must regard the rights of others as yours shall be regarded. This law trusts to your manhood, and offers you a reward for your labour; let every man be heedful that it is not disgraced nor weakened by unmanly conduct. See to it, each for himself, and each helping his fellow, that you return as speedily as you may to the freedom and independence which this colony offers you.(234)
While the radicalism of Wyville/Moondyne's reforms has aptly been called into question by scholars such as Veronica Brady, the repeated philosophy of the novel voiced by Wyville/Moondyne's proclamation that Authority must never forget Humanity,15 had a different resonance during the 19th century than it has today. This conservative doctrine of Christian benevolence emerged from a complex history of the prison reform movement, practical Catholicism, a touch a vague socialism and bourgeoisie liberal ideology.
The lengthy discussions Wyville/Moondyne and others have about prison reform were timely. Even though the ship that transported O'Reilly, The Hougoumont, was the very last ship ever to forcibly transport people to the Australian continent, the issue of how to treat the prisoners who were already there and the many prisoners who would now languish in jails back in England didn't go away. Indeed, O'Reilly's novel pointed out the fact that the problem of civic control had not gone away. Moondyne inserted itself into a historical debate over the role of power and punishment that was at a huge turning point in the late nineteenth century.
In 18th century England, prisons were not used for punishment in the same way as they are commonly used for today. Prisons then were for primarily for waiting. Debtors awaited, often fruitlessly, for remission or bail. Other prisoners waited for trials, executions, whippings or transportation. Punishment was carried out on the physical body and the moral or spiritual body was left to take care of itself. By the late eighteenth century, however, evangelical and economic reformers began to argue that discipline, imprisonment, and hard labor would reform recalcitrant criminals better than executions and whipping.
One such theorist was Jeremy Bentham who promoted a concept of prison construction that would fundamentally alter notions of punishment and social control. Although Bentham's prison, which he called 'The Panopticon', was never built, his arguments against the penal colonies in Australia both established the principles that eventually ended the system of forced transportation and did influence the philosophies of punishment at prisons such as Millbank which are portrayed in Moondyne.
In Bentham's ideal prison, all prisoners would be put in separate cells arranged in circular tiers, ensuring that from a central observation point, they would always be under scrutiny. Constant surveillance, or the illusion of constant surveillance, would ensure both good behavior and appropriate inward reflection. It was supposed to be profoundly efficient, cost-effective, and humane. Later critics, most notably Michel Foucault, have argued that this new philosophy of punishment reflected changing ideas about power and persuasion. Because prisoners were forced to be aware of themselves as continually observed or potentially observed, prisoners would begin to alter their behavior accordingly and eventually participate in their own subjugation. By putting prisoners literally and figuratively under the eye of a controlling power, they would eventually 'eye' and monitor themselves. Whether or not this is a laudable goal is subject to debate, but the alternative to these potential prison reforms, transportation, was seen by many reformers as terribly cruel, highly risky, and financially inefficient. Most of all, according to Bentham, the idea of reformation itself was thwarted by convict settlement. If convicts were working towards their own future when laboring in the colonies, their interest would be in labor and not in reformation of their character.
Unfortunately for Bentham, at the same time that these arguments were beginning to gather strength, the sudden success of the American Revolution meant that British officials no longer had the American colonies to use as a dumping ground for troublesome citizens. As prisoners began to accumulate in overcrowded hulks (boats originally intended as temporary prisons) the government realized that immediate action was needed. In 1779, Parliament passed a bill for the establishment of penitentiaries. Politics and logistics, however, slowed the construction of these institutions and the overcrowding of hulks and local jails continued. In 1786, out of desperation, an alternative plan to send massive number of convicts to the Australian colonies (often referred to generally as Botany Bay) was put into action. This decision bitterly divided social reformers, many who were forever critical of the plan.
Convicts were first sent to various sites in New South Wales on the southeastern edge of the Australian continent from the 1780s through the mid-nineteenth century. Estimates vary but between 1787 and 1868 up to 162,000 convicts were forcibly resettled in Australia. Working for and alongside 'legitimate' European settlers, convicts helped push aboriginal peoples away from the lands they had lived on for centuries and carved cities and towns out of the wilderness. The convicts were largely from Britain, but 45,000 or 28% of the whole were from Ireland. While perhaps 600 Irish offenders were sent to Australia for specifically political offenses, that does not include the many sent without trial or sent for social offenses such as destruction of a landlord's property which were frequent manifestations of Irish political uprisings.16 John Boyle O'Reilly may have been on the last convict ship but he was part of a long tradition of Irish Revolutionaries forced to the Southern latitudes.
Back in Britain, opposition to convict transportation gradually gained force from the anti-slavery movement. The Abolitionist movement in England had fought hard in the early nineteenth century to outlaw all slavery in the British Empire but was opposed by many competing interests. The most persuasive argument evangelicals and abolitionist could make at that time was that slavery lowered the morals of slave owners and slaves alike. According to this line of argument, holding complete power over another person was inherently degrading and corrupt. While slavery was finally banned in the British Empire in 1838, the now familiar argument about the intrinsic evils of slave labor could be applied to the convict settlements in New South Wales.
Convicts in New South Wales were frequently granted 'tickets-of-leave' to work off their final years of sentencing. They would usually be assigned to private farmers, ranchers, or sheepherders, to labor under private supervision. They would earn very little pay and the power of their supervisor was essentially unchecked. Since these farms or ranches were usually far away from any settlement or government officials, there was very little control over any abuses of power that might result. Many objections to the ticket-of-leave system cited the alternating cruelty or inappropriate laxity settlers could inflict upon their ticket-of-leave workers. Invoking the rhetoric of slavery, reformers argued that the system was debasing and corrupting to the few 'innocent' settler communities that existed in New South Wales. While compulsory labor might be redemptive for the individual prisoners, it was shattering the moral health of the colony. The force of these arguments finally led to the outlawing of convict settlement in New South Wales in 1840.
Civilian colonies founded in Western Australia (particularly those around Swan's River and Fremantle) had never met with the success of the eastern coast. Thus, when in 1840 New South Wales forbade any further convict transportation, Western Australians began to lobby for the 'free labor' of convicts, despite any fears they might have over the concomitant dangers it might pose to their moral health.
And so, in 1850 the first convict ship was arrived from England to Swan's River, in Western Australia. Since working for the state apparently didn't pose any dangers to the settler's moral health, vast public works projects were planned. Prisoners first built the huge penitentiary at Fremantle, thereafter known as 'The Establishment' and then began all sorts of quarrying and road building projects. Although convicts were no longer sent to the booming towns and settlements in New South Wales, ships with thousands of convicts arrived between 1850-1868 to the largely uninhabited Western coast. Just as they had in New South Wales, objections to convict labor soon spread to the western settlements. When, in 1850, gold was discovered in Australia, many people began to fear that the punitory aspects of transportation were lost in the increasing popularity of Western Australia as a destination. Despite little evidence that criminals willingly considered forced transportation as a free ticket to the gold fields, the discovery of gold may have been the last straw in the transportation movement. In 1868, O'Reilly's boat, the Hougoumont, was the last convict ship to ever forcibly transport people in Australia.
While O'Reilly's novel is chiefly remembered for the novelty of its setting in the penal colonies of Western Australia ( Moondyne has frequently been identified as the first novel ever set in Western Australia), it is important to recall that much of the novel is concerned with the conditions of prisoners in British jails and on the convict ships. Between his arrest and his transportation O'Reilly had been held in six different British prisons: Pentonville, Millbank, Chatham, Portsmouth, Dartmoor and Portland. Although it is Millbank that dominates many scenes in Moondyne, many of the jail conditions described in Moondyne were generalized from his experiences in so many different kinds of institutions.
Dartmoor Prison, known as the most brutal and high-security prison of its time, figured prominently in The King's Men (1884) a novel he wrote collaboratively with some of his friends in Boston: Robert Grant, Frederic J. Stimson, (J.S. of Dale) and John T. Wheelwright. In that futuristic novel, set in the mid-twentieth century, an imaginary revolution has overthrown the monarchy of Great Britain. A conspiracy by royalists to put their King back on the throne is discovered and the misguided, but sympathetic, King's Men are imprisoned in Dartmoor. Critics hailed this description and others like it as the most vivid and powerful by of the entire novel.
In 1876, one of O'Reilly's Fenian comrades from Dartmoor, Thomas Chambers was released after serving twelve grueling years. Chambers came to Boston but died soon afterwards as a result of the terrible suffering he had endured during his hard labor in the swamps and drains at Dartmoor. O'Reilly, who had regularly attended Chambers in the hospital was so angered and saddened by what he saw as the results of Dartmoor's brutal treatment, he began work on Moondyne.
Although Dartmoor was portrayed in The King's Men, the prison that figures most prominently in Moondyne is Millbank. Millbank Penitentiary was built along the swampy banks of the Thames River and was an establishment for men and women, designed with many of the principles articulated by the evangelical and Benthamite reformers. Laid out in a series of pentagons, the prison was notable both for its private cells and for its codes of silence. Women held there did a great deal of sewing and for exercise they were forced to pace in prescribed circles in the courtyards. The victim of such 'humanitarian' principles, O'Reilly had himself spent seven months there in a solitary cell, designed to force reflection and repentance.
Although he would have had no contact with any female prisoners, his descriptions of the physical conditions of Millbank are full of accurate and vivid details, (the wedge-shaped windows to allow warders to observe unwitting prisoners, the woollen slippers worn by guards so that they might be silent as they patrol the cells) but it is his descriptions of the psychological torture of Alice Walmsley under years of solitary confinement that most command attention and compassion. Five years of silent imprisonment had passed over Alice Walmsley years of daily and hourly change and excitement for the outside world. Five years in solitary confinement are only one day, one day of dreary monotony repeated one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five times. Take a starving beggar from the street, and seat him at your table, and tell him that he shall have food and money if he will turn his plate face downward, and return it face upward, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-five times and the hungry wretch will drop from exhaustion before half the turnings are done, and will run from your house with curses. The solitary prisoner turns the same number of days with harrowing weariness a thousand times multiplied in five years.(104-5)
While O'Reilly was concerned with the physical well being of prisoners, his emphasis upon Sister Cecilia's use of simple companionship to save Alice from despair, demonstrates how well O'Reilly understood the psychological deprivations of solitary confinement. His portrait of the sanctimonious Mr. Haggett similarly illustrates how condescending counsel was yet another instrument of torture in the socially isolating prison cells. While O'Reilly may have shied away from depicting the most brutal of criminals or the most violent of conflicts in particularly realistic or graphic terms, his attempt to portray the women in prison at all sets Moondyne apart from the few other literary attempts to confront issues of prison justice.
Many of the themes in Moondyne echo Victor Hugo's popular Les Miserables (1862). The noble and fully reformed prisoner has to hide his identity in order to rejoin society to do good. And O'Reilly was clearly an enthusiast of Dickens, whose Little Dorrit in 1855 had done much to publicize the horror of the British prisons and whose Great Expectations (1860) depicted an infamous returnee from the Australian colonies. In Great Expectations, the terrifying criminal, Abel Magwitch was sent to Australia and his stealthy return to England hardly made the case for prison reform. Rather, it powerfully made the case for forced and permanent convict emigration to solve England's woes. In the case of Little Dorrit and Hugo's Les Miserables, however, prisoners were portrayed as deeply sympathetic characters largely because they were in prison for unfair and unjust causes. Little Dorrit's father was in prison for debt, and the otherwise honorable Jean Valjean was put in prison because of a desperate act of stealing bread for his starving family. In both cases, the case for prison reform could not be made on the backs of the truly guilty. Sympathetic characters were necessarily vehicles for generating interest in prison life. O'Reilly's Moondyne truly makes a bold departure from this formula and reflects an ethical imagination and literary courage lacking in those other literary enterprises. For despite the almost unbelievably noble character of Wyville/Moondyne, there is little emphasis put upon the unjust nature of his imprisonment. Unlike Jean Valjean who, we are continually reminded, was suffering due to an unfair sentence, Moondyne and his fellow prisoners are not continually separated into those who deserve arrest and those who didn't. Indeed, it isn't until the book is well over half-way done that the reader is even allowed to hear why Moondyne had been arrested in the first place.
In an early scene, for example, convicts on a road crew witness an officer's brutality towards the recaptured Moondyne. The narrator freezes the scene and reflects: Who or what was the man? An escaped convict. What had he been? Perhaps a robber or a mutineer or, maybe, he had killed a man in the white heat of passion. No one knew no one cared to know. That question is never asked in the penal colony. No caste there. They have found bottom, where all stand equal. No envy there, no rivalry, no greed or ambition, and no escape from companionship. They constitute the purest democracy on earth. The only distinction to be won that of being trustworthy, or selfish and false. The good man is he who is kind and true; the bad man is capable of betraying a confederate. It may be the absence of the competitive elements of social life that accounts for the number of manly characters to be met among these outcasts ... the complexities of social life beget cunning and artificiality.(8)
This could easily be cast aside as sentimental idealism, but that idealism should have survived out of first-hand experience being shackled to murderers, thieves, and brutalized individuals is remarkable. His faith in the solidarity among criminals belies cynicism when you further consider that O'Reilly had lived with the perils and privileges of being different from the other prisoners. During the 89 days on the Hougoumont, for instance, the Fenians were kept in a separate cabin from the 'regular' convicts. Even if his status as a political prisoner had not kept him apart, his education and class background would doubtless have complicated any easy identification he might have had with his fellow inmates, most of whom were illiterate and poor. O'Reilly enjoyed many privileges and even managed to escape because of the privileges accorded his separate status. And yet, in his novel he doesn't harp on the evil of the men surrounding him. He seeks to identify them as individuals worthy of dignity and mercy.
This kind of observation, particularly in the previously quoted passage, may seem excessively romantic but it reflects a faith not merely in camaraderie of the suffering but in the genuine redemptive powers of forgiveness.
The Alice/Harriet Draper plot is especially significant here for while it fits into many predictable patterns the mere premise of infanticide, as a topic was truly remarkable in its audacity and ugliness. Alice may have been innocent, and Harriet's guilt is cleansed in her sacrificial death in the brush fire, but featuring a child murderess who deserves forgiveness because of the cruelty she has suffered would itself be a rather spectacular premise for an otherwise sentimental adventure story. Violating all premises of sacred motherhood, the inherent violence and tragedy of this story line can probably best be understood as O'Reilly drawing upon his own experiences seeing the ways in which the ideals of family life were shattered by the devastating effects of poverty and famine in mid-nineteenth century Ireland.
With this ugly plot, O'Reilly was drawing deep in his roots as a man who had first-hand knowledge of poverty and suffering. Unlike the more artfully crafted novels of his fellow Boston writers such as Henry James or William Dean Howells, O'Reilly was applying his romanticism to an urban horror as ugly as anything Stephen Crane painted in Maggie: Girl of the Streets (1893). While the romantic triumph at the end may seem a paean to saccharine sentimentalism, it perhaps may be better understood as a strategic solution to envisioning how faith in the role of God and goodness on this earth could truly bring about social change.
The romantic realism of this novel categorizes it firmly in what Charles Fanning has identified as the third generation of Irish American literature. Unlike the literature novels written by pre-Famine or Famine-immigrant generation, much of which was directed for the working class, O'Reilly's novel promoted middle-class and assimilationist values more typical of the Irish-American writers now more at ease in their new-found cultural importance in the world of urban America. His plot goes to great and absurd lengths, for example, to keep the angelic Alice isolated from the possibly debased or tainted female prisoners who were held in Millbank. This protection of his heroine from the sully of association with prostitutes or other 'fallen' women speaks volumes about O'Reilly's attempt to fit his novel into conservative ideologies of his time. On the other hand, as Fanning also points out the third generation Irish-American writers did make moves toward literary realism which often mixed with their romanticism in intriguing ways.
In Moondyne this can best be seen in the topic itself, penal reform. For no matter how hard O'Reilly worked to make the topic acceptable to a general readership, (and we mustn't forget that Moondyne was first published in a Catholic, family newspaper), it was difficult to inculcate glamour into the descriptions of, say, tar on a deck melting under tropical sun and dripping down to burn the flesh of prisoners in the holds below. O'Reilly was no literary naturalist and firmly believed in the role of art to bring man closer to God. But his willingness to take on the cause of the truly miserable and overlooked victims of society needs to be placed within a context of social realism as much as it rightfully belongs in the world of sentimentalized adventure.
The novel with which Moondyne associated with today is actually not Les Miserables, or Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo (1845), novels which 19th century readers compared it to. Instead, For the Term of His Natural Life (1874) an acclaimed saga of convict life by Marcus Clarke, is considered an important predecessor. It seems likely that O'Reilly would have read the first American edition of the novel that appeared in 1876 and it may have also encouraged him to believe that there would be an audience for his semi-autobiographical novel. Its graphic portrayal of mutiny, murder, and cannibalism among the convict colonies in Australia did much to stoke the audience for thrillers employing an Australian backdrop. Clarke's novel was widely imitated by writers in Australia and elsewhere and those too may well have created a ready audience for O'Reilly story.
Another ready audience for his novel was to be found in Australia. For not only was O'Reilly a notorious escapee and international celebrity, but his novel invoked the history of another notorious Australian outlaw an actual man named Moondyne. 'Moondyne', according to O'Reilly, was a name given to his hero by his Aboriginal friends, meaning 'more than either manhood or kingship'. While there is no evidence for any linguistic truth behind this premise, Moondyne was a term with specific historic and mythological resonance to, at least, the English-speaking settlers.
Moondyne Joe was the name given to an actual convict who became notorious in Western Australia for his daring escapes around the region of Moondyne, a locale slightly north east of what is now Perth. This Australian outlaw, or 'bushranger', was something of a local hero. His robberies weren't terribly ferocious or violent and his escapes under the nose of an unpopular governor made him something of a mythologized Robin Hood. O'Reilly's biographer, A. G. Evans, speculates that it was quite likely O'Reilly met the actual Moondyne as their prison terms in Fremantle overlapped, but whether or not they did actually meet, O'Reilly's portrait of Moondyne Joe clearly drew upon the folk drama as much as the genuine history of this 'noble' outlaw.
The true story was as follows: Joseph Bolitho Johns was the son of a Welsh Blacksmith who was sentenced to 10 years of penal servitude for stealing three loaves of bread, some cheese, and mutton. He arrived in Perth in 1853 and worked as a ticket-of-leave laborer at the small settlement of Moondyne. He was arrested for stealing a horse and put in jail in the nearby town of Toodyay. Escaping, he stole another horse, this time the one of the Resident Magistrate. Discovered two years later (having been found drunk in the cellar of a winery) he was put in a special cell built just for him in Fremantle and chained from his neck to a post. By digging through a wall and hiding his handiwork with a pile of rocks he managed another spectacular escape (the likes of which must have been an inspiration to generations of Fremantle convicts like O'Reilly). Recaptured yet again, he served more time until he was eventually freed in 1873. Once free he married a local widow and lived a life of some renown, further enhanced by his discovery of a massive cave near the Margaret River, now known as 'Moondyne cave'.
Moondyne was received by most of his Catholic and Irish contemporaries with predictable accolades the life of Moondyne is thrilling, grand and beautiful praised the 'New Orleans Morning Start and Catholic Visitor' and the Irish World noted that as an insight into the political and natural history of Australia alone, it is one of the most valuable books written for years past ... The novel was praised by the 'New York Sun' as a narrative which no lover of novels should neglect to read. And by the 'Boston Traveller' as a strong and vigorous romance, in striking contrast with the namby-pamby literature of late offered to the public as exemplars of the 'great American novel'.17
A common reaction to the novel was to comment on its manliness. The Irish World was impressed by Moondyne's grand, rough nature and the 'Boston Post' praised the novel's manliness and virile power. The 'Boston Traveller' even described it as a strong and vigorous romance, in striking contrast with the namby-pamby literature of late offered to the public exemplars of the great American novel. Some of these comments may have been mere puff pieces inserted by O'Reilly's publishers, but the defensive patterns of praise point to the way in which Moondyne's sentiment needs to be put into historical perspective.
The persistent comments about Moondyne's virile qualities reflects the ambivalent mixture of romance and realism noted by Critic Charles Fanning has noted in his studies of Irish-American writing of the late nineteenth century. For while the story is almost laughably romantic at times, there is also touch of agonized reality that makes it powerful. O'Reilly's description of the hold of the Houguemont during a storm, for example, reminds us how little control prisoners had over their own survival and what it must have been like to fear drowning when chained behind barred hatches: The hundred of pent-up wretches are unused to the darkness of the ship, strange to their crowded quarters and to each other, depressed in spirits at their endless separation from home, sickened to death with the merciless pitch and roll of the vessel, alarmed at the dreadful thunder of the waves against their prison walls, and fearful of sudden engulfment, with the hatches barred.(168)
The mix of sentiment and realism perhaps can be understood as perfectly consistent with a world view that has seen horror and while feeling responsibility to depicting it, nonetheless also bases itself in a deep religious and ethical stance that beauty and truth offer evidence of God's will on earth. Like many nineteenth-century Catholics, opposed to Emile Zola and the continental naturalists, O'Reilly felt no obligation to study all that was human. He wrote: The True Realist will not make mud pies and beg the world to behold that they are real mud; but he will mould [sic] beautiful images from the clay, and then his real will become ideal, which is Art.18 On the other hand, O'Reilly was equally suspicious of an irresponsible adherence to art for art's sake. Even if the decadence implied by serious aestheticism weren't troubling enough, the challenge that unbridled allegiance to beauty raised against duty to God and the Church was too much for a good Catholic to embrace. So, with both literary realism and genuine aestheticism closed off, Catholic-Irish writers of Boston, such as O'Reilly, tended to produce sentimental fiction that would gesture towards a Catholic tradition of social reform or compassionate albeit genteel engagement with real world problems.
Another aspect of Moondyne that firmly locates it in the late nineteenth century is its troubled portrayal of race and region. As critic Terry Goldie has pointed out, Moondyne is different from many other Australian novels because in its treatments of the aborigines, it isn't terribly concerned with questions of national identity.19 Unlike much Colonial or Imperial fiction, 'who is an Australian' was not really a pressing issue for O'Reilly a convict and an outsider who never chose to 'identify himself' as an Australian. Thus while his portrayals of the native characters are fretted with racist assumptions and deeply flawed conceptions about culture and representation, he does approach questions about shared humanity from a distinctly different position than the more common viewpoint of the imperial colonist.
Despite writing fiery editorials in The Pilot advocating that African Americans resort to violence if necessary to defend their civil rights a truly radical position in the late nineteenth century O'Reilly's easy condescension towards the aboriginal characters in the text, as well as his whole-hearted embrace of the exploitative nature of colonial expansion, render Moondyne a telling case study for the challenges faced by the ethical and literary imagination. Prefiguring much of Rudyard Kipling and H. Rider Haggard, O'Reilly's notion of cultural righteousness is troubling, at best.
Yet O'Reilly's dedication of Moondyne to all who are in prison suggests that he was concerned with oppression in the most generous and sweeping sense. Indeed, his legacy as activist for the oppressed Irish, American laborers and African Americans suggests that Moondyne would be a novel with an especial sensitivity to the native peoples of the Australian continent. This is, regrettably, not necessarily true. His portrayal of the aboriginal characters in this novel suffers from the limited perspective common to so many nineteenth-century texts, but the perspective O'Reilly's brought to the treatment of aboriginal was especially complicated by the fact that as a prisoner on Australian soil he had a complex relationship to the usual tropes of race and imperialism.
As a prisoner, O'Reilly's sojourn in Australia was shaped by a problematic ideology that particularly manifests itself in his treatment of the Aboriginal characters. To begin with, his portrayals of the life and practices of the aboriginal characters were, on the whole, anthropologically and historically inaccurate. His encounters with Aborigines would have been quite limited and it is not surprising that he drew upon many common myths and misperceptions about the native peoples of Australia. The names he uses, for example, such as 'Te-mana-roa', suggest Maori or New Zealand natives, not inhabitants from Western Australia.
The obsession with secret Aboriginal gold mines, in another instance, reveals far more about Settler mythology than it indicates anything about indigenous Australian culture. Discovery of gold in 1851 had created a rush of exploration and settlement throughout the Australian continent and many European settlers imagined that natives were resisting white dominance by deliberately frustrating the search for gold. This kind of assumption reveals a broader sense of the Aborigines as both as naive and manipulative and, while natives certainly became involved in later prospecting and mining, there was no tradition of secret Aboriginal gold. Indeed, the fact that the cavern is filled with gold that is just sitting there in piles, needing no particular extrication demonstrates and that entire plot should best be understood as an imaginative projection of European insecurities and desires.
Moondyne employs the troubling racist stereotypes common in such nineteenth century literature (the child-like natives who need to be exoticized by their mysterious alien presence and cryptic utterings, rather than given thoughts or complex subjectivity), and it would be inadequate to excuse these limitations simply as historical practices. Our hero may have both respected and been respected by the natives enough to be named Moondyne and revered as a king. But his name and the subsequent name for the entire novel is used to invoke a mystic power which, while awesome, only challenges the status quo in the most vague terms.
The power of aboriginal mysticism may be initially impressive but the best use of it that Wyville/Moondyne can see is to make a more loyal and interesting servant class. Australian settlers had historically hired convicts rather than the nomadic Aboriginal natives, to work as servants. Wyville/Moondyne's long discussions about how genuinely 'trainable' Ngarra-jil and his family were, was intended to counter those assumption as much as it was to broaden ideas about civilization and savagery. With magnanimity, Wyville/Moondyne remarks: Refinement and gracious intercourse, even according to civilized rule, are quite in keeping with the natural character. We assume that to be savage which is contrary to our habit; but this is no proof of inferiority. Degraded civilization is brutal, indeed, but the natural or savage life is not.(85)
Similarly, Wyville/Moondyne's gift of land to Ngarra-jil at the end of the novel is tempered by his understanding that Ngarra-jil will never understand or appreciate the role of title deeds. The papers will be left instead under the safe keeping of Sheridan and Hamerton. This munificent gesture on the part of Wyville/Moondyne encapsulates much of the settler/native problems on the Australian continent: as many scholars have noted, the primarily nomadic peoples of Australia had little appreciation for European notions of settlement and property. The irony of Wyville/Moondyne's 'gift' to Ngarra-jil would have been lost on O'Reilly. Land, nonetheless, figures as an important and complex theme in this novel, drawing together fundamental beliefs in property and freedom arising out of his republican politics and particular experiences campaigning against exploitative landlordism in Ireland.
Wyville believes that poverty and crime are the direct result of the corrupt and enfeebled aristocracy.Crimes, he claimed, spring from the rotting luxuries that fall from the tables of kings and earls and hereditary gentry. The seed of crime is in the flower of the aristocracy.(85) Hamerton's evolution throughout the novel, from being a friendly skeptic to a reformer who sells off his lands the tenant farmers who have tilled the land and uses the profits to establish a technical school for the community, exemplifies how even aristocrats could be redeemed through the recognition of how land ownership above all needs to be fairly distributed.
Sheridan's success with the sandalwood trade is also central to this idea. By streamlining transport and delivery. Sheridan builds a fortune by making useful otherwise 'unclaimed' and mismanaged land. When he discovers that the land actually belongs to Wyville, however, is appalled. Here he had built up the fortunes of an entire company predicated upon the concept of a land as owned by the public or government. The point here is that the land is in flux. As Terri Goldie has argued, O'Reilly's position as a convict rather than as a settler during his sojourn in Australia, meant that his novel did not grapple with the problems of land in the manner of settler fiction.20 And with this observation in mind, it perhaps makes sense then that despite his allegiance to the value of land ownership an anxiety over its actual worth and the justice of identifying power with land at all, seem to manifest itself throughout the novel. O'Reilly's novel espouses and even fixates on the idea of private property as redemptive but there is a repeated gesture towards recognizing the temporary nature of property which indicates perhaps a Christian acknowledgement that terrain is ultimately nothing but dust. The novel ends, after all, with a massive brush fire both cleansing and destroying vast stretches of known and unknown land.
There are Irish references throughout this work. Will Sheridan is of Irish blood, for example, and in one scene is well received by Irish-Australian settlers in Dardanup, thanks to his Irish name. But the bulk of the novel avoids taking on Ireland directly and the striking absence of Irish or even Irish-American material has concerned many of O'Reilly's critics and biographers. It is possible that he didn't want to distract from his crusade to reform prisons generally, but it is also possible that we can see in the choice of Australia itself an attempt to work out questions of justice in a neutral space.
For an Irish writer to write a novel that is rife with questions about the ways in which land and identity are intertwined has a special historical resonance, for the history of Ireland has always been one of agitation over the concept of agrarian control. For O'Reilly, who had grown up seeing the disastrous consequences of government subsidized oppression through landlordism, the opportunity to work out such ideals in a new literary territory must have been irresistible. Idealizing the small farmer and the notion of individual property appealed on one hand to the aspirations of The Pilot 's immigrant audience, but the continual transference of land suggests also an awareness of land as defying concepts of property. And with this understanding the entire premise of Moondyne becomes clearer. For while many scholars have been troubled by O'Reilly's omission of direct references to Ireland in his major literary work, understanding his complex vision of land itself suggests that Australia was an apt and neutral arena for working out the questions of land and nation.
A fiercely anti-imperial novel which nonetheless presents degrading portraits of Aborigines and glowing praise for capitalist exploitation of the British empire, the contradictions of this work manifest deep cultural anxieties over the ethical imagination. For a novel concerned with re-humanizing the most miserable underclass of humanity, it still has trouble conceiving of humanity in its most inclusive sense. Yet, Moondyne offers us views on class, race, nation, and justice that defy easy categorization. A disquieting adventure, it employs stock characters, ridiculous coincidences and saccharine scenes to frame issues that are anything but stock, ridiculous, or saccharine. And while Moondyne himself may not seem as heroic or believable today as he might have seemed in the nineteenth century, the courageous breadth of this novel speaks to us more powerfully than ever. Scorning pity and scoffing at hypocrisy, O'Reilly believed in redemption for people that society would far prefer to forget.