Henry Kingsley 1830-1876
English novelist and short story writer.
Generally considered a minor novelist, Kingsley is chiefly remembered for his early works, The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859) and Ravenshoe (1861), the former viewed as the first truly important Australian novel and the latter typically regarded as his finest work. The principal theme of Kingsley's fiction is based upon his belief in a robust Christianity and the essential nobility of the human soul, as well as his conviction in the power of unassailable friendships. Many of his novels depict narratives of aristocratic families in decline, yet display an optimistic moralism as virtue is rewarded and evil punished. While uneven quality, careless and hurried writing, and absurdity of plot mar much of his fiction, Kingsley's works are nonetheless recognized for their compelling stories, memorable characterization, and rich evocation of the Australian landscape.
Kingsley was born in the Northamptonshire village of Barnack, the son of a clergyman, Charles Kingsley, Sr. In 1832 the family moved to Devonshire and later to Chelsea, where Kingsley was raised. While his elder brothers became prominent Victorian intellectuals—Charles, a renowned novelist, and George, a scientist—Kingsley was generally considered the failure of the family. He was educated at King's School, London and attended Worcester College in Oxford for three years. At Worcester Kingsley focused his attention more on athletics and camaraderie than academics. He left the institution without a degree in 1853 and promptly traveled to Australia, looking for adventure and the prospects of gold digging. Throughout Kingsley's expeditions through the Australian countryside, he painted small watercolors of the landscape, but found lasting success elusive. After struggling for several years without communication to his family, Kingsley returned to Chelsea and began to write a novel based upon his recent experiences. The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn was published in 1859 and proved to be a notable achievement. He followed with his second novel, Ravenshoe, which first appeared serially in Macmillan's Magazine from 1861 to 1862 and solidified his reputation as a popular writer. In 1864, he married Sarah Haselwood, his second cousin, and later settled in Wargrave, near the riverside town of Henley. He continued his literary career with numerous novels, including The Hillyars and the Burtons: A Story of Two Families (1865), a modest success. While the pace of his writing quickened, the quality of his novels declined, as did critical and popular regard. Despite contributing occasional articles and reviews to periodicals, by the end of the decade Kingsley found himself in great financial distress. With hopes of renewing his popularity as a novelist nearly evaporated by 1869, Kingsley moved to Edinburgh after taking a position as editor of the Daily Review. Day to day journalism did not suit him, and Kingsley departed Britain the following year to cover the Franco-Prussian war. The conflict provided source material for his Valentin: A French Boy's Story of Sedan (1872), but little income. After returning, he wrote several more novels, most of which were poorly received by audiences and almost universally denigrated by critics. Having contracted cancer of the throat, Kingsley died in May 1876.
Written with the slight pretext of recounting actual events through the words of its aging, bachelor narrator, The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn presents Kingsley's imaginative transformation of his experiences in Australia into an episodic and generally optimistic family chronicle. Focusing on Sam Buckley, an Englishman born in Australia to aristocratic parents, the work details the intertwined histories of three families, the Thorntons, the Brentwoods, and the Buckleys, and culminates in Sam's heroic ride to save his love, Alice. Like Geoffry Hamlyn, Kingsley's second novel, Ravenshoe, is a blend of romance and realism. The story describes the life of a charming but fallible gentleman, Charles Ravenshoe, who must prove himself worthy to recover his lost family rank and claim his inheritance. Austin Elliot (1863) follows its eponymous hero to prison for his part in a duel, but ends in Austin's felicitous marriage. A family narrative set in Chelsea and Australia, The Hillyars and the Burtons presents the connected fates of the aristocratic Hillyars and middle-class Burtons. Examining contrasting social groups in a colonial setting, the novel depicts the rise of the proud and once prosperous Burton family to wealth and notoriety after leaving England. Unlike the panoramic narrative of The Hillyars and the Burtons, Kingsley's fifth novel, Leighton Court: A Country House Story (1866), focuses on character, featuring a pair of love triangles, a reckless heroine, and a melancholy villain. Mademoiselle Mathilde (1868) portrays the actions of the D'Isigny family during the French Revolution, concentrating on Mathilde D'Isigny's climactic sacrifice of her own life in exchange for her sister's. A blend of fantasy, allegory, and jumbled satire, The Boy in Grey (1871) follows a young prince in pursuit of a grey-clad peasant boy through a fairyland and around the world, until he finally catches up to him in Australia. Representative of some of the more glaring deficiencies of Kingsley's later novels, the largely incoherent Oakshott Castle: Being the Memoir of an Eccentric Nobleman (1873) offers an absurd amalgamation of murders, suicides, and exotic intrigues.
Critics have almost unanimously scorned Kingsley's novels of the late 1860s, among them Silcote of Silcotes (1867) and Stretton (1869), for their generally careless writing, and improbable and unmotivated action. Most commentators have also dismissed Kingsley's final works of fiction, including Old Margaret (1871), The Harveys (1872), and others, novels that are said to suffer innumerable flaws and frequently wallow in tedium. In contrast, critical estimation of Kingsley's works has principally concentrated on his first several novels. Though marred by some futile digressions and dubious plotting, Ravenshoe was a popular success upon its publication and has since been appreciated by critics as Kingsley's masterpiece for its originality, humor, descriptive power, and characterization. Likewise Geoffry Hamlyn has been noted as the most influential novel in nineteenth-century Australian fiction. Additionally, a number of critics have studied the colonial implications of Geoffry Hamlyn and Kingsley's other Australian novels, probing the ways in which these stories reflect and interpret the values and indigenous culture of Australia from the point of view of an English outsider. In general, critics have hastened to point out that Kingsley is not a major novelist, but that instead many of his books, especially the Australian novels, do exhibit a charm and originality that has endeared them to readers willing to overlook their frequent flaws of confused narrative, irrelevant digression, multiple climaxes, and melodrama.
The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (novel) 1859
Ravenshoe (novel) 1861
Austin Elliot (novel) 1863
The Hillyars and the Burtons: A Story of Two Families (novel) 1865
Leighton Court: A Country House Story (novel) 1866
Silcote of Silcotes (novel) 1867
Mademoiselle Mathilde (novel) 1868
Stretton (novel) 1869
Tales of Old Travel Re-narrated (short stories) 1869
The Boy in Grey (novel) 1871
Hetty and Other Stories (novel and short stories) 1871
The Lost Child (novel) 1871
Old Margaret (novel) 1871
The Harveys (novel) 1872
Hornby Mills and Other Stories (short stories) 1872
Valentin: A French Boy's Story of Sedan (novel) 1872
Oakshott Castle: Being the Memoir of an Eccentric Nobleman [as Granby Dixon] (novel) 1873
Reginald Hetherege (novel) 1874
Number Seventeen (novel) 1875
Fireside Studies (short stories) 1876
The Grange Garden: A Romance (novel) 1876
The Mystery of the Island (novel) 1877
The Works of Henry...
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SOURCE: “Big Brothers,” in The Saturday Review, Vol. 62, No. 794, August, 1859, pp. 446-48.
[In the following excerpted anonymous review, the critic connects Henry Kingsley's writing to that of his older brother Charles, sarcastically commenting on the virtues of familial similarities of mind.]
Mr. Kingsley has a brother, and this brother has just published a novel. Of its literary merits, its plot, characters, and general worth, we intend to speak elsewhere. At present we merely notice it as a curious specimen of the way in which the big brother's influence tells in a family, and how cordially and completely the smaller brothers fit themselves into his groove. There is plenty of originality in Mr. Henry Kingsley's book—he takes us to new scenes, and writes with freshness and vigor. But he adopts in a simple, hearty way, the creed of the Rector of Eversley. He has no misgivings. He lays down as axiomatic all the old familiar tenets. His heroes are God-fearing men, accustomed to the prize ring, and combining the highest spiritual with the highest animal vigor. His heroines are dainty and high bred, and go daily through life, picking up God's buttercups from God's own greensward. The writer is wholly and humbly of his big brother's persuasion. He is troubled with no doubts, and is never tormented with the perplexing consideration, that in order to be a worthy disciple of this creed it is necessary,...
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SOURCE: “Review of ‘The Hillyars and Burtons’,” in North American Review, Vol. 101, July, 1865, pp. 293–99.
[In the following anonymous review, the critic denounces The Hillyars and Burtons as illogical.]
“The old question between love and duty,” says the author in his Preface, “I have in this story used all my best art in putting before the reader.” A bad best, we are constrained to say, Mr. Kingsley's best art seems to be.
It is true that, like most other problems given us to solve in this world, the problem of love and duty is so difficult, and so overlaid by confusing circumstances, that we go wrong oftener than right, and as men and women we do little more than repeat in a larger school our experience as children, when, after long puzzling over our sums, we used to work back from the right answer, and discover too late when it was that a false method misled us, making the correct solution thenceforth impossible, and the rest of our labor vain. But in books, in “novels of purpose,” which professedly aim to teach, even if we say nothing of the implied obligation resting on them to be artistically constructed, it must be regarded as a fault if there are gathered around the main subject so many extraneous and utterly irrelevant circumstances that it is wholly hidden from view, and we learn only from the Preface that there is a main question at all; and it...
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SOURCE: “Henry Kingsley's Novels,” in The Critic, Vol. 26, March, 1895, p. 176.
[In the following anonymous review, the critic applauds a reprinting of Kingsley's novels and responds to negative criticism published in The Saturday Review.]
We heartily welcome this tasteful reprint of the best of Henry Kingsley's novels, which are certainly not inferior to those by his more famous brother, if, indeed, as some excellent critics have maintained, they be not superior to them. He might have been the more famous of the two if he had happened to come before the public first; but Charles, being the elder by eleven years, had the start in authorship by about that period. In such cases the critics are apt to think that the younger man is aping the elder, and hopes to float his poor imitations of the latter on the strength of the family prestige. We recollect that, when Henry Kingsley's first book came out, The Saturday Review, in one of its familiar sarcastic articles, under the heading of “Big Brothers,” sneered at the author as a smaller and weaker “muscular Christian,” who was trying to gain popular favor by working the vein in which Charles had already made a literary fortune. We doubt whether the critic had read the novel he treated so contemptuously. If he had, he was either prejudiced or blind; for, whether Henry's books are inferior to Charles's or not, they cannot fairly be...
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SOURCE: “Henry Kingsley: A Portrait,” in Edinburgh Review, Vol. CCXL, October, 1924, pp. 330-48.
[In the following essay, Sadleir offers a brief overview of Kingsley's life and explores reactions to his writing, linking Kingsley's personal struggles with his disappointing literary career.]
Henry Kingsley's life-story—at once vivid and melancholy—is just such a one as would have appealed to his own romantic imagination. No writer of the mid-Victorian age had so delicate a sympathy for splendour in decay, so sensitive an admiration for the forlorn present of a noble past. He is the prose laureate of wasted beauty and his name persists, among those more solid names of his contemporaries, as some frail ruin will survive—ivy-throttled, rotten with neglect, but always lovely—among dwellings more carefully preserved but not so exquisite.
And the record of his books follows the same sad curve as that of his biography. Both started with vigorous achievement and with the praise of eager friends; both drooped and revived and wilted once again; both—like a little stream that leaps the last few pebbles of its bed and in a patch of sand soaks rapidly away and is forgotten—faded overnight.
Henry, fourth son of the Reverend Charles Kingsley, then rector of Barnack in Northamptonshire, was born in 1830. Of his elder...
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SOURCE: “Editor's Introduction,” in Ravenshoe, by Henry Kingsley, edited by William H. Scheuerle, University of Nebraska Press, 1967, pp. vii-xxv.
[In the following introduction to Ravenshoe, Scheuerle recounts Kingsley's life and writings, and gives a generally positive assessment of the novel.]
One evening in the summer of 1961, my wife and I were enjoying dinner in a small restaurant in Bloomsbury, when an elderly lady at the next table said to her companion: “Do you remember Sam Buckley's ride on that wonderful horse Widderin?” As one who had just spent many days in the Bodleian Library reading nineteenth-century reviews of Henry Kingsley's novels, I was stunned to discover that Charles Kingsley's lesser-known brother had two more admirers just a couple of feet from my table. Those two ladies—as any Henry Kingsley devotee well knows—were recalling a scene from his first novel, The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859).
My later conversation with those ladies proved them to be like the few admirers who have written about Henry Kingsley. They all agree that he can never be considered a major novelist; even his best work, Ravenshoe (1862) is characterized by a carelessness that cannot be overlooked. But he is a gifted and spirited storyteller, whose prose at its best has a quiet force and a felicity that make it worthy to be placed beside that of the...
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SOURCE: “Henry Kingsley: Ravenshoe,” in Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 4, No. 2, October, 1969, pp. 115-29.
[In the following essay, Wellings studies critical reaction to Kingsley's novels, and responds to charges that the novel Ravenshoe is characterized by careless writing and lack of structure.]
Henry Kingsley is badly served by literary studies of the twentieth century. Mention, let alone critical recognition, is scarce. The Concise Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature gives Henry Kingsley four entries, one of which is a mistaken date of publication for Ravenshoe.1Introductions to English Literature Vol. IV The Victorians and After 1830-1914, edited by C. Batho and Bonamy Dobrée, gives Kingsley more space but less accuracy, mistakes occurring in both first and second editions (1938 and 1950 respectively). There is one extract in The Oxford Book of English Prose, but that given only reinforces an assessment that relegates Kingsley's abilities to a secondary position, namely, his creation of charming characters. Walter Allen's The English Novel: A Short Critical History2 appears to treat Kingsley better. But one reads that Kingsley served in the Crimea as a war correspondent, and hence the ‘vividness’ of the Crimea battle scenes in Ravenshoe. Kingsley did serve as a war correspondent, but in the...
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SOURCE: Henry Kingsley and Colonial Fiction, Oxford University Press, 1971, 48p.
[In the following excerpt, Barnes presents an introductory overview of Kingsley's life and fiction, followed by a largely thematic examination of his major Australian novels, particularly Geoffry Hamlyn.]
When Henry James wrote in 1865 that ‘Mr Henry Kingsley may be fairly described as a reduced copy of his brother’,1 few, if any, of his American and English readers are likely to have disagreed with him. Charles Kingsley was widely known as a clergyman and a man of letters when Henry's first novel, Geoffry Hamlyn, was published in 1859. Inevitably, comparisons were made between the work of the brothers. ‘Fresh from the broad generous views and true representations of human life in the works of Charles Kingsley’, wrote the reviewer of Geoffry Hamlyn in the Sydney Morning Herald, ‘we are chilled with the narrow scope and selfish consummation designed by one who bears that distinguished name’.2 That was an extreme and untypical reaction. More usual was the stress on ‘the famous muscular system of morality’ (as James called it) to be found in the writing of both Kingsleys. Although there have been readers who have preferred Henry's novels, finding them more sympathetic and more entertaining, and others who have protested that Henry is not indebted to his brother to any...
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SOURCE: “The Wargrave Novels,” in The Neglected Brother: A Study of Henry Kingsley, Florida State University Press, 1971, pp. 100-27.
[In the following essay, Scheuerle focuses on Kingsley's novels of the mid to late 1860s, arguing that these works exhibit a general decline into literary absurdity and carelessness, but occasionally demonstrate artistic merit, as in Leighton Court and The Hillyars and the Burtons.]
The Hillyars and the Burtons, Kingsley's fourth novel which had been partly written before his marriage, is a much tighter, more closely knit work than either of his two earlier major ones and could have been his best novel. Subtitled “A Story of Two Families,” the novel traces the misfortunes of the Burtons, the noble blacksmith family, in England and their astonishing rise to wealth and prominence in Australia. Jim Burton, the oldest son, becomes the Honorable James Burton, a commissioner to the International Exhibition of 1862; and his younger brother Joseph, “a hunchback … with the face of a Byron,” becomes a famous orator, Minister of Education, a member of the Governor's Council, and the husband of a young, pretty, and rich widow, Mrs. North. The novel also deals with the Hillyars of Stanlake, an old aristocratic house plagued by the problems of heirship, which, like those in Ravenshoe, focus on the usual confusion of births and the missing document, in...
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SOURCE: “Kingsley's Geoffry Hamlyn: A Study in Literary Survival,” in Southerly, Vol. 32, No. 4, December, 1972, pp. 243-54.
[In the following essay, Wilkes observes that the enduring quality of Geoffry Hamlyn lies in Kingsley's mythic treatment of the Australian landscape in the novel.]
Of all the Australian novels that have achieved a reputation, Henry Kingsley's The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn is among the least demanding. “He has his brother's power of describing”, Alexander Macmillan wrote in 1858, giving his impressions of the manuscript, “but he does not write in the same style at all; it is wonderfully quiet and yet powerful—a kind of lazy strength which is very charming; some of the characters too are drawn with a masterly hand”.1 This impression of leisureliness is still the dominant one given by the book. Published in 1859, it went into a second edition within a year, and was later described by Marcus Clarke as “the best Australian novel that has been, and probably will be written”, and by Rolf Boldrewood as “that immortal work, the best Australian novel and for long the only one”.2Geoffry Hamlyn duly took its place in both World's Classics and Everyman's Library, and has remained steadily in print for over a hundred years.
The latter part of this period has seen a divergence between the opinions of...
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SOURCE: “Is Geoffry Hamlyn a Creole Novel?”, in Australian Literary Studies, Vol. 6, No. 3, May, 1974, pp. 269-76.
[In the following essay, Croft perceives Geoffry Hamlyn as a study of English outsiders in Australia who, rather than adapting to their new environment, exert their own culture upon it.]
When Henry Kingsley wrote Geoffry Hamlyn1 he expressed in it a view of Australian society which was still valid until the Second World War. That view was of a society divided culturally between those who followed in speech, behaviour, and ideology the values of traditional English society, and those who had adopted the differing manners of indigenous white society. Such a division was not wholly the product of the expatriate and the native-born as there were many native-born who followed the English models and probably a number of expatriates of whom the converse was true. I think it is obvious that the traditional arbitrary division of white Australian society into currency and sterling has little relation to this behavioural division in Australian society, so I would like to characterize the group of people who unquestioningly adopted English values as Creoles though in doing so I realize I am putting a new meaning on the word.2
The necessary requisite for a Creole society is a recognizable inferior level of society, preferably one which can...
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SOURCE: “Kingsley's Geoffry Hamlyn and the Art of Landscape,” in Southerly, Vol. 37, No. 3, September, 1977, pp. 274-99.
[In the following essay, Dixon interprets Geoffry Hamlyn within the symbolic and aesthetic contexts of landscape art, describing the work as a historical novel and a “sympathetic social document.”]
When writing on “Geoffry Hamlyn and its Australian Setting” in 1963, J. C. Horner was interested in explaining the quality of Kingsley's descriptions of the Australian landscape with reference to the demands of the novel's genre.1 He wished to correct the “surviving attitude” to the book as a “conventional saga of colonial life, written for the English market”, and asserted unequivocally that “It is not a social treatise, or a travel book, or emigration propaganda disguised as a romance, as many of its predecessors were”. “Other novelists”, Horner suggested, “whose primary aim was not literary, had attempted to give their works cohesion and interest by infusing into them sensational and romance elements, but Kingsley was the first who deliberately made the Australian scene subservient to his main aim of writing a romance” (p. 5). These same assumptions were operative in John Barnes's Henry Kingsley and Colonial Fiction (1971) and, as the Australian Writers series for which he wrote is readily available to the general...
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SOURCE: “Representing Failure: Gender and Madness in Henry Kingsley's The Hillyars and the Burtons,” in AUMLA: Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature, Vol. 82, November, 1994, pp. 35-48.
[In the following essay, Lee analyzes the gendered discourse of insanity in The Hillyars and the Burtons.]
Henry Kingsley's status in Australian literary history rests primarily upon the formal success of his first Australian novel The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859).1 The critical acclaim for his second Australian novel The Hillyars and the Burtons (1865)2 is scant. The attention which this latter narrative has received is primarily directed towards the negative example it provides for an account of the formal development of the Australian novel. In this respect it features as an exemplar of the other in comparisons with Geoffry Hamlyn. The general argument is that while Geoffry Hamlyn represents the successful marriage of the pastoral epic and the romance form, The Hillyars and the Burtons demonstrates the inappropriateness of that form as a vehicle for the representation of the social and political changes which ensued from the substantial working class migration of the mining boom in the middle of the nineteenth century (See James 22, Wilkes 246, Kramer ).3 The ‘successful’ literary representation...
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Ellis, S. M. Henry Kingsley 1830-1876: Towards a Vindication. London: Grant Richards, 1931, 285p.
Apologetic biography of Kingsley.
Kingsley, Maurice. “Personal Traits of Henry Kingsley.” In Leighton Court: A Country House Story, by Henry Kingsley, pp. vii-xiii. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1895.
Remembrance of Kingsley by his nephew.
Mellick, J. S. D. “Henry Kingsley in Australia.” Australian Literary Studies 6, No. 1 (May 1973): 91-94.
Explores biographical references to Kingsley as they provide information about his activities in Australia.
———. The Passing Guest: A Life of Henry Kingsley. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1983, 211p.
Critical biography of Kingsley featuring an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
Melville, Lewis. “Henry Kingsley.” In Victorian Novelists, pp. 239-57. London: Archibald Constable and Company, 1906.
Laudatory sketch of Kingsley and his better-known works.
Scheuerle, William H. “Henry Kingsley and the Governor Eyre Controversy.” Victorian Newsletter 37 (Spring 1970): 24-27.
Probes Kingsley's involvement in a controversy related to an 1865 Jamaican...
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