Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

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,...

(The entire section is 731 words.)