Critical Evaluation

Crotchet Castle is something of a historical novel, not because it attempts to re-create the past but because it reflects so clearly the life and times of its author. Published in 1831, the work was written during the preceding year or two. The setting of the novel extends from the valley of the Thames to Oxford, through a canal to the Severn, and from there to northern Wales. These areas were well known to Thomas Love Peacock, who undertook a walking journey upriver from the Thames valley in 1809 and then wrote a long poem about it, The Genius of the Thames (1810). In 1815, accompanied by the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and some other friends, Peacock made a boat trip up the Thames from Windsor that included visits to Oxford and Lechlade. The same itinerary appears in chapters 9 and 10 of Crotchet Castle, except that in the novel the group is able to afford passage through the canal, an economic hurdle that in 1815 forced Shelley and Peacock to change their plans.

Peacock’s first trip to northern Wales was in the winter of 1808-1809. During that visit he went on long walks to enjoy the mountain scenery, and he met Jane Gryffydh, the well-educated daughter of a Welsh clergyman, with whom he discussed books. Peacock himself was a prodigious reader, as is apparent in his works, and it is surprising to learn that he attended school only from the age of six to thirteen. However, he read not only English literature but also Greek, Latin, French, and Italian, all in the original languages. Predictably, he was scornful of the university education he never had, an attitude that appears in several of his novels but never more prominently so than in the Oxford portion, chapter 9, of Crotchet Castle.

Peacock lacked not only formal education (for which he more than compensated) but also significant vocational experience. Only in 1819 did he apply for and attain a position in the Examiner’s Department of the East India Company. Now financially secure and at age thirty-four in want of a wife, he proposed by mail to Jane Gryffydh (whom he did not see for years) and was accepted. Though the marriage was not entirely a success, Jane’s knowledge of Wales and of its language and literature influenced several of Peacock’s novels. She was almost certainly the original of Susannah Touchandgo, the nymph of Merionethshire. Peacock writes meaningfully...

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