*Cambridgeshire. Marshy fenland region around Cambridge, where most of the novel’s action takes place. Kingsley’s opening pages are a paean to the great beauty of this landscape, a site of historic importance because there the Saxons continued to fight the Norman forces of William I for seven years after the Norman Conquest in 1066. This expansive marshy area, now diked and cultivated, was forested in medieval times. On the low rolling uplands above the open flat lands that housed towns of the Danelaw and Christian monasteries at Crowland, Ramsey, and on the Isle of Ely, there Hereward builds his “Camp of Refuge.”
The novel was published on the eight hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, and its subtitle identifies Hereward as the “Last of the English” because the race subsequently included a French strain, associated with the softening effects of civilization. In contrast, Kingsley regarded the preconquest invasions as a happy marriage, and he uses the imagery of gender to characterize them: the Anglo-Saxon woman impregnated by the Norse Viking, the “great male race.” Kingsley believed that such revitalization was urgent for a Victorian England weakened by effete indulgences. Hereward’s battle cry “A Wake!” proclaims his salient quality of alertness, and Kingsley called upon his nation to “awake” and rise from their decline.
Kingsley gives to England’s early Anglo-Danish nobility, who lived in a hard but “cheerful”...
(The entire section is 622 words.)