Critical Evaluation

As a forerunner of Siegfried Sassoon’s MEMOIRS OF A FOX-HUNTING MAN and Caroline Gordon’s ALECK MAURY, SPORTSMAN, MARKET HARBOROUGH stands at the front of a distinguished, if minor, literary tradition. Like both later novels, the book’s interest lies in the skill with which George J. Whyte-Melville portrays the hunting scenes and the enthusiasm of the principal characters. The milieu of the novel is limited, but within its confines, the book provides a vivid picture of a particular world and range of interests. John Standish Sawyer presents a unique picture of a kind of individual seldom seen anymore; after two world wars, the world does not seem able to afford men who devote their entire lives to fox hunting. Nevertheless, Sawyer is a likable man, for all his narrowness, and the reader is not sorry when, at the end of the book, it is apparent that Sawyer is to continue his life devoted to hunting.

MARKET HARBOROUGH is a particularly English novel; its tone suggests an approach to life that would be difficult to find elsewhere. There is a gentleness and stately grace to the life portrayed in the narrative, a stylized approach to existence that at times seems almost unreal. The horses, the hounds, and the fashionable hunters have nothing whatever to do with the real problems of the world. Children may be working twelve hours a day in London factories, but one finds no sign of that fact within the pages of MARKET HARBOROUGH. This novel of 1861 (the year of GREAT EXPECTATIONS) is far removed from the world of Charles Dickens’ novels, yet its picture of its limited scene is authentic and interesting. The heroine, Cecilia Dove, begins as a picture-postcard figure but develops into a girl filled with life. The strange courtship of John Sawyer and Cecilia Dove is described with a great deal of charm. Perhaps the book is not to everyone’s taste, but it possesses a distinct, if specialized, place in English literature and will always find its devoted readers.