“Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor” by R. D. Blackmore

Lorna Doone R. D. Blackmore book cover
Image from Amazon.co.uk


Synopsis (via Amazon.co.uk):

Lorna Doone, a Romance of Exmoor is an historical novel of high adventure set in the South West of England during the turbulent time of Monmouth’s rebellion (1685).

It is also a moving love story told through the life of the young farmer John Ridd, as he grows to manhood determined to right the wrongs in his land, and to win the heart and hand of the beautiful Lorna Doone.

Continuously in print since its first publication in 1869, Lorna Doone has remained perennially popular with a wide readership ever since

I saw a BBC adaptation of Lorna Doone a long time ago and it filled me with curiosity about the book it was based on (as TV adaptations usually do). It wasn’t a title that ever popped out at me whilst browsing and it was not recommended to me when I first started delving into 18th and 19th century literature. So, purely based on the adaptation, I downloaded a copy for my e-reader (I love Project Gutenberg) and settled in for an afternoon’s read.

I must admit that when I read the first few chapters I was a little bit disappointed. I was ready for a fast-paced 19th Century adventure novel akin to The Count of Monte Cristo or Treasure Island. Fast-paced it was not. However, after getting through a couple of slow chapters, which probably set the scene more elaborately than they should, the book sets off at quite a pace. So fast in fact that the really interesting parts towards the end of the book feel rather rushed, in my opinion. So if you’re tempted to read it but are put off by the first few chapters, persevere!

I enjoyed the simplicity of storytelling and descriptions of life in the country, so far removed from London that no one much cares about politics or current affairs. Nothing is emotive until the community’s way of life is challenged significantly. I love the detailed descriptions of farming activities and the foods that they store and eat. I suppose the book has to start off slow in order to describe this community’s way of life so the reader can understand their actions.

I really warmed to Lorna as a character, despite the fact that you don’t find out much about her. Everything you know about her is through John’s eyes and therefore biased. But I couldn’t get on with John mainly because he keeps insisting how slow and stupid he is. I didn’t start by thinking that – he’s intelligent in other ways rather than being academically gifted – but his constant repetition of the fact, coupled with the way he treats the strong women around him like delicate flowers that need to be protected and can’t think for themselves, was grating. Even making allowances for the manners and behaviours of 17th century men could not redeem him in my eyes. I ended up feeling that Lorna was a great deal out of his league.

Generally I liked the way Blackmore portrays the love between John and Lorna and how it gradually develops over time. It’s a far cry from the rushed romances in some other 19th century novels. They meet as children, so there’s no underlying tension, just a desire to make another childhood friend. Obviously, they don’t fall in love straight away, but by being in each other’s company and developing a clandestine friendship through the years, by teasing and making each other laugh. Towards the end, when they are in love, it bugged that the language used wasn’t consistent with the beginning of their relationship – sometimes it was much too lovey-dovey and that made it seem fake and misogynistic, somehow undermining the great base of equality they had built before.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book, but I won’t be in a rush to re-read. It left a slightly bitter taste in my month the way things develop for the women in the novel, some of which I felt deserved a lot more and should not have been portrayed so meekly.

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