Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Because George J. Whyte-Melville’s works have been cataloged as sporting fiction, they have never been given their rightful place in the history of English literature, and most scholars pass them by completely. Although Whyte-Melville wrote particularly for the sporting world, his novels, especially CAPTAIN DIGBY GRAND (as it was originally titled), interested wider audiences in their time. His writings have an air of liveliness, a note of authenticity, and an ineffable freshness. DIGBY GRAND was Whyte-Melville’s first novel, and it was truly termed by the novelist an autobiography, for the author’s own early career as an officer in a Highland regiment and the Guards is mirrored in the novel. Digby Grand is, in fact, partly young Whyte-Melville. Considered in his time an authority on fox hunting, the author refers to the sport frequently in DIGBY GRAND, as in his other novels.

The values and traditions of Eton play a significant part in this rambling tale of “old boys.” The horseman and huntsman (the two aspects of the “gentleman” considered most important, aside from perfect grooming and decorum) are the models that the motherless hero aspires to emulate. His interests are as narrow as those of the people around him; lacking intellectual drive, he is content with a physically active but superficial existence. The military is considered the only acceptable career for a gentleman or sportsman such as he early considers himself. Cigars, sherry, and horses are...

(The entire section is 618 words.)