Critical Evaluation

The plot of Ashes is romantic and fanciful, although often embellished with a realistic covering of details and description. At times it suggests the picaresque tales of Henry Fielding and other eighteenth century novelists, but it also has a lushness and romanticism that are more German than English. The idealistic hero of this novel, Raphael Olbromski, questions the meaning of existence; certainly, in the course of his life, he has reason to doubt the purpose of human suffering. Yet he has an idealism centered in his love for Helen and in his patriotism.

Raphael is essentially passive, letting others work on him; his actions are unpremeditated and often foolish. His father, the prince, the brigands, and others send him hither and thither, changing the course of his existence, and because he has no particular ambitions, he obeys or yields to these forces. He is, for example, led to join the Masons, but through no convictions of his own. He is impressionable, impetuous, and naïve, and he often gets into trouble, as when he and Christopher return to school naked, when he runs away, when he kisses Elizabeth after rescuing her, and when he and Helen flee together. More than once, his character and his adventures come close to straining the reader’s credulity.

Stefan eromski possesses a gift for describing action. The novel is filled with excellently drawn scenes, including the hunting scene that opens the book, the scene of the...

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