Home  »  Volume XI: English THE PERIOD OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION  »  § 21. Thomas Hope: Anastasius

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XI. The Period of the French Revolution.

XIII. The Growth of the Later Novel

§ 21. Thomas Hope: Anastasius

It would be impossible to find a greater contrast to them than a somewhat later novel which still belongs, in one respect, to their class—that of books which lodge their name, at least, securely in literary history. This is the Anastasius (1819) of Thomas Hope, a man, like Beckford, of great wealth, varied taste and experience in art and travel, who established himself in literature by a single book. Anastasius became at once popular, and has retained respect, if not popularity, ever since; yet, some persons, not, perhaps, of very uncritical or uncatholic taste, have been known to be disappointed when they read it. It belongs, as a kind of outsider, to the old “picaresque” class; though it has little or nothing of the low comedy which that class originally, and, in fact, generally, affected. The hero is a Greek of considerable ability and courage, but absolutely untroubled with conscience, who becomes renegade and goes through various adventures. The eastern colour which Byron had made popular, and which Hope could give with less monotony and from a more varied experience than Byron himself, may have had a good deal to do with the vogue of the book; but its author’s undoubted command of satirical contemplation of life, of an ornate, if rather too elaborate style, of descriptive power and of other good gifts, must be allowed. Its autobiographical form, though dangerous, is not fatal; but the book is, somehow, heavy reading. Even its continual ironic persiflage, which takes up from Beckford the manner of Anthony Hamilton and Voltaire and hands it on to Kinglake in very similar material, becomes monotonous, though it must be owned that a chapter of Anastasius, boiled down with a whole modern novel, would supply it with ample seasoning of a kind now much called for. Perhaps, what casts a greater cold over it, to some tastes, is a defect very common in novelists, before Scott—the overdose of pure narration, unrelieved and unspirited by dialogue and dramatic action. Nothing happens: everything is told, and there is a fatal suggestion of the rhetorical harangue about it, despite the variety of its scenes and the number of its (recited) characters. Towards the end of the book, the author does, indeed, speak of “getting rid of the eternal” I “which haunts” it. But he does this only by interposing another narrator, not by adopting the livelier mixture of action and speech. On the whole, there are few more useful exercises of speculative criticism than to imagine the story of Anastasius as it would have been told by Dumas.