Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Westmoreland. Secluded section of the Lake District in northeastern England. While on a holiday in the region, the young clergyman Robert Elsmere meets Catherine Leyburn, a serious and pious young woman who, like most inhabitants of the region, exhibits a simple faith based on time-tested rituals. She accepts without question the miraculous nature of Christianity and shows little tolerance for more intellectual approaches to religion.


Burwood. Home of the Leyburns, where Catherine, the eldest daughter of a deceased clergyman, sees herself as responsible for managing household affairs. Elsmere’s proposal of marriage causes Catherine great consternation because marriage to Elsmere would force her to leave her mother and sisters, who may not be able to get along without her.

Murewell Parish

Murewell Parish. Anglican parish in which Robert Elsmere is established as pastor. In a fashion similar to many clergymen of his time, Elsmere inherits his position from a relative who has controlled it for some time. Typical of the makeup of many English country parishes of the nineteenth century, Murewell’s parishioners include a small number of gentlemen and ladies and hundreds of working-class families who are employed within the region in farming or various trades.

Murewell Hall

Murewell Hall. Home of Squire Wendover. Like many historical English estates, Murewell encompasses not only the squire’s mansion but also the parish and several villages in which estate workers live. At Murewell Hall, Elsmere becomes a friend of the squire, a religious freethinker...

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Robert Elsmere Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Colby, Vineta. The Singular Anomaly: Women Novelists of the Nineteenth Century. New York: New York University Press, 1970. Colby, who sees Ward as a flawed novelist but a reliable documentarian of her times, discusses Robert Elsmere and the reasons for its popularity at some length.

Peterson, William S. Victorian Heretic: Mrs. Humphry Ward’s “Robert Elsmere.” Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1976. The only book-length treatment of the novel. Peterson situates Robert Elsmere in its biographical and literary-historical contexts and describes its publication history and treatment by reviewers.

Smith, Esther Marian Greenwell. Mrs. Humphry Ward. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Reviews changes in Ward’s reputation as a novelist, summarizes comments by other late twentieth century critics, and argues for the continuing relevance of Robert Elsmere’s religious issues.

Sutherland, John. Mrs. Humphry Ward: Eminent Victorian, Pre-eminent Edwardian. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. The best available biography of Ward, a sympathetic account of her life and a richly detailed analysis of the changing social contexts in which she wrote. Describes her struggles with the composition and revision of Robert Elsmere, which Sutherland does not think her best novel.

Wolff, Robert Lee. Gains and Losses: Novels of Faith and Doubt in Victorian England. New York: Garland, 1977. Introductory chapter of this study usefully summarizes religious developments in England since the Reformation. Chapter on Ward includes an extensive description of Robert Elsmere, which Wolff, a historian, calls “the climactic Victorian novel of religious doubt.”