Home  »  Volume XIII: English THE VICTORIAN AGE Part One The Nineteenth Century, II  »  § 19. Lorna Doone; John Inglesant

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.

XIII. Lesser Novelists

§ 19. Lorna Doone; John Inglesant

In the historical novel, date, as well as setting, is of importance; many variants of Scott’s established form make their appearance: the novel of classical times in Lockhart, Lytton, Wilkie Collins (Antonina, 1850), Whyte-Melville, Kingsley and others; the autobiographic type, initiated by Hannah Mary Rathbone in her Diary of Lady Willoughby (1844), and developed by Anne Manning in The Maiden and Married Life of Mistress Mary Powell (1849); the slight pictorial Lances of Lynwood (1855) and other such works of Charlotte Mary Yonge. Two novels only are of outstanding rank; the Lorna Doone (1869) of Richard Doddridge Blackmore and the John Inglesant (1881, privately printed in 1880) of Joseph Henry Shorthouse. In Lorna Doone, the proportion of history is exceedingly small, and the episode of Monmouth’s rebellion of no great significance; the form of the historical romance is modified, therefore, in various ways. First, known personages, such as Charles II and the notorious Jeffreys, come only into the remote background of the story; secondly, the theme treated is that of a medieval romance, the deliverance of a lady in duress from the robber race and stronghold by a chivalrous knight of low degree; thirdly, there is the more occasion for romance; and the story is steeped in romance of many kinds—romance of adventure and action, romance of youthful passion, romance of the legendary deeds wrought by the Doones, the herculean John Ridd and the highwayman Tom Faggus, romance of the glorious hills and valleys that lie between Porlock and Lynton. Some of the material existed in manuscript, some in lingering memories of the countryside, some of it is pure happy invention. The scene is thickly peopled with bucolic originals and characters, speaking their own dialect and living their placed lives until the peril of the marauders overtakes them. The style is a little too near the rhythm of verse and overloaded with fantasy and embroidery; at the same time, it is redolent of the scents and stained with the hues which come of the tilling of the soil and the tending of stock; and it has engaging tricks of humour, often played in the unexpected clause tacked on to the end of a sober sentence. Of Blackmore’s other novels, Springhaven (1887), which gives a charming picture of a small southern port threatened by Napoleon’s fleet and visited, from time to time, by Nelson, is nearest to Lorna Doone in its blending of chivalry, romance, adventure and villainy. John Inglesant is a tale of the time of the civil war in England and of the uprising and suppression of the Molinists in Rome; and the fortunes of the hero Inglesant become credibly interwoven in the web of European politics. In his preface, Shorthouse suggests that the innovation that he is making is the introduction of a larger measure of philosophy into the historical framework; more exactly, it is the type of hero which is new to novels of this kind. Inglesant is presented in the analytic way, and he is a figure as complex in inner mental life as are the personages in purely psychological novels. He is mystic, to whom apparitions and voices are borne through the thin veil of the material world; he would have spent his life in the pursuit of the beatific vision, had not his Jesuit tutor distracted his high-wrought, sensuous, subtle spirit and turned its powers to the service of intrigue and cabal. The vision does not desert him; it withholds him at the verge of temptation by the world, the flesh and the devil in the three crises of the story; he is one of those whom “God saves by love.” It is a relief to turn from the tense emotional strain of the mystical story to the episodes of diplomacy, crime, revenge and passion; to the historical portraits and to the imaginative scenes—the court at Oxford, the community of Little Gidding, the papal election at Rome, Naples under the scourge of the plague: these are firm in historical and intellectual substance, picturing an age not only in external detail but in temper and spirit. The novel connects itself with the Anglo-catholic movement which preserved the seventeenth century Anglican alliance with learning and culture; the mystical fervour of the movement rather than its symbolic ritual appealed to Shorthouse as being that with which he could blend most congruously his strongly held Platonic beliefs.