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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1795

First published: 1913

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Sentimental romance

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: England

Principal Characters:

Peter Westcott, a young writer

Stephen Brant, a friend

Clare, Peter’s wife

Bobby Galleon, a student at Dawson’s School

Jerry Cardillac (Cards) , another...

(The entire section contains 1795 words.)

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First published: 1913

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Sentimental romance

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Locale: England

Principal Characters:

Peter Westcott, a young writer

Stephen Brant, a friend

Clare, Peter’s wife

Bobby Galleon, a student at Dawson’s School

Jerry Cardillac (Cards), another student

Mr. Zanti, a bookseller

Nora Monogue, Peter’s friend and adviser

The Story:

Peter Westcott lived with his harsh father and his invalid mother at Scaw House, near the town of Treliss in Cornwall. As he grew up, Peter made friends with Stephen Brant, a farmer who occasionally took the child to the Bending Mule Inn. One Christmas Eve at the inn, Peter watched Stephen fighting with another man over a girl. That night, he arrived home late from the Bending Mule, and his father gave him the most severe whipping he had yet received. On another day, Stephen took him to the curiosity shop operated by Zachary Tan. There Peter was introduced to jovial Mr. Emilio Zanti, from London, who treated the boy with special consideration. At supper that night, Peter’s father told him that he was to go off to school in Devonshire.

The next phase of Peter’s life revolved about Dawson’s School, where his best friends were Bobby Galleon and Jerry Cardillac. Bobby was the son of a famous writer. Cardillac, called Cards, was Peter’s idol; he was everything that Peter would have liked to have been but was not. After Cards left at the end of Peter’s second year, affairs did not progress smoothly for Peter. One day, he found Jerrard, the best bowler in school, forcing whiskey down the throat of a small boy. It was the eve of a big game in which Jerrard’s services were needed; nevertheless, Peter, in his capacity as a monitor, turned him in to the authorities. Jerrard was expelled, and Dawson’s School lost the game. On the last day of the term, the whole school joined in hissing Peter when he called the roll. Bobby Galleon was the single exception.

He was spared the indignity of returning to Dawson’s School when it was closed after the summer holidays because of a lack of funds. His father then sent Peter to read law in the office of Mr. Aitchinson in Treliss. Meanwhile, Peter became aware of his mother. For many years, she had been an invalid who never left her room, and Peter was not encouraged to visit her. One day when his father was away, Peter went to her room. He found that she was dying as the result of his father’s cruel and harsh attitude toward her, and his visit hastened her death. A short time after her funeral, Peter again saw Mr. Zanti, who offered the lad a job in his bookshop in London. Finding life at Scaw House intolerable, Peter decided to leave home. On Good Friday, he met a little girl who gave her name as Clare Elizabeth Rossiter. According to his plans, Peter left home, but only after fighting with his father.

In London, Peter worked in Mr. Zanti’s bookshop as an assistant to Gottfried Hanz. Mr. Zanti had found him lodgings with Mrs. Brockett, and there he met Nora Monogue, who encouraged Peter when he began to write. A strange aspect of the bookshop was the great number of people who visited it without buying any books, visitors who passed mysteriously into the back room of the shop. For seven years, Peter Westcott worked in Zanti’s shop and wrote in his room at Brockett’s. In November, 1895, he finished his first novel, REUBEN HALLARD, and began to look for a publisher. One day, he again met Clare Rossiter, who had come to visit Nora Monogue. Almost at once, Peter found himself falling in love with her. Meanwhile, strange things had been happening at the bookstore. When the Prince and Princess of Schloss visited London, one of the visitors to the shop threw a bomb at Queen Victoria as her procession passed. Shortly afterward, Stephen Brant appeared to take Peter away from the shop. They found lodgings in the slums of Bucket Lane.

Neither of the two was able to find steady employment. When Peter became ill from lack of food, Stephen notified Peter’s friend from Dawson’s School, Bobby Galleon, whom Peter had met in the city. Peter was relocated to his friend’s house, where Bobby and his wife nursed him back to health. In a short time, REUBEN HALLARD was published. It was an immediate success, and Peter Westcott became known in literary circles. He then met Mrs. Launce, who was finally instrumental in bringing Peter and Clare together. After they were married, they moved into a house in Chelsea. There a child was born to Clare, a son named Stephen. The marriage, however, was not a success. Clare disapproved of Stephen and Mr. Zanti. Peter’s second novel brought little money. Peter’s old school friend, Jerry Cardillac, came back to London and aroused Clare’s interest.

The final blow to Peter’s happiness came when little Stephen died. Peter blamed Clare for the child’s death. A short time later, she left him to join Cardillac in France, after refusing Peter’s constant offers to try to make her life as she wanted it. Then Peter’s third novel proved a failure. He decided to leave London and return to Scaw House. In Treliss, he encountered Nora Monogue; she had been sent to Cornwall because she could live, at the most, only a few weeks. At Scaw House, he found his father sodden in drink and sharing the musty house with a slatternly housekeeper. Peter was slipping into the same useless life. Nora Monogue, however, felt that Peter, now thirty years old, could still be a successful writer, and she used the last of her rapidly failing strength to persuade him to go back to London. As a final resort, Nora admitted that she had always loved him, and her dying request was that he leave his father and return to London to start writing again. Therefore, Peter became a man, realizing for the first time that his attitude had been childish during his whole life. He learned fortitude from the dying Nora, and he became the master of his own destiny.

Critical Evaluation:

Hugh Walpole wrote the first page of FORTITUDE in Edinburgh on December 24, 1910. He came to regard this place and date as lucky, because the book enjoyed immense popularity when it was published in 1913. Thereafter, whenever possible, he had the habit of starting his other novels—thirteen of them—in the same city on Christmas Eve, even if he had to travel some distance for the occasion. The circumstance is worth remembering, for Walpole is best understood as an unabashed sentimentalist.

Although he counted as his close friends such masters of psychological Realism as Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Arnold Bennett, and W. Somerset Maugham among others, Walpole is curiously Victorian rather than modern in his approach to fiction. FORTITUDE, a sentimental romance that imitates the format of realistic “apprenticeship” (or “education”) novels successful at the time—Forster’s THE LONGEST JOURNEY (1907), Wells’s TONO-BUNGAY (1908), Bennett’s CLAYHANGER (1910), Compton Mackenzie’s SINISTER STREET (1911), to mention a few examples—is different from representative books of this type. Subtitled “Being a True and Faithful Account of the Education of an Explorer,” FORTITUDE is neither true (that is to say, mostly autobiographical) nor is it an authentic “education” novel. To be sure, the early part of the book recalls the author’s own miserable childhood; Peter Westcott’s public school resembled Walpole’s unhappy experiences at Marlow; and two minor characters are based upon real people: Mrs. Launce upon Mrs. Belloc Lowndes and Henry Galleon upon Henry James. Nevertheless, the novel as a whole is not the story of Walpole’s life. Moreover, the education theme is only fitfully developed. Peter, Walpole’s protagonist, learns from life a single and rather simplistic lesson: courage and fortitude are necessary for success. Walpole states the theme, which is no more than a truism, in the opening sentences of the novel: “’Tisn’t Life that matters! ’Tis the courage you bring to it.” As the book progresses, Peter comes to understand the importance of this advice in his education to maturity.

From the standpoint of a modern reader, however, it is Peter’s lack of maturity at all stages of his career that weakens the force of the novel. He is sentimental and naive to the point of foolishness. He falls hopelessly in love with the self-indulgent Clare Rossiter when their fingers happen to touch. Clare proves to be a cool wife and careless mother; bored with her marriage, she finally runs off with a lover, one of Peter’s former schoolboy chums. Shortly after this scene, Walpole melodramatically writes: “Peter Westcott was dead.” The statement, however, must be taken as hyperbole. Peter is by no means dead; he is only wretched. Because of his obvious immaturity, he continues to be wretched throughout most of the novel. Structurally, the three major crises of the book concern Peter’s misery on the occasions of the deaths of his mother, of his son, and of his true friend Nora Monogue. Only with the last tragedy is he able to evidence some maturity. Because life is difficult, he decides that one must face it with courage. If Nora (whom he had once described, with typical infelicity, as “the nicest ugly woman to look at I’ve ever seen”) is able to die with dignity, Peter resolves that he can live with fortitude.

Five years after he published his novel, Walpole wrote in his diary: “FORTITUDE seems to me now an incredibly childish and naive affair.” Despite its obvious faults—sentimentality that approaches mawkishness, melodramatic exaggeration, feeble psychology—the novel nevertheless charmed readers in 1913 and continues to hold a dwindling but faithful audience. One reason for the survival of FORTITUDE is that the book is entirely sincere. Unlike other twentieth century sentimental romances that are written to produce calculated effects of pathos, Walpole’s novel is obviously heartfelt. Peter’s hatred of his father, his affection for Stephen Brandt (a friendship that is closer to love than is his supposed adoration for Clare), and his childhood terrors of punishment are episodes that are handled with fervor. Although Walpole is not a writer of Realism, he can simulate with realistic intensity the emotions that are close to his own feelings. Therefore, the reader, swept along by the author’s emotionalism more than by his fiction, may finally be moved by Peter’s trials as a child-man, vulnerable and alone, in a man’s world.

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