Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534
The third of Robert Smith Surtees’ novels treating the comic misadventures of “Cockney sportsman” John Jorrocks, HILLINGDON HALL is somewhat less episodic and more conventionally plotted than the picaresque JORROCKS’ JAUNTS AND JOLLITIES (1838) or HANDLEY CROSS (1843). The author continues the career of Jorrocks, now in his late middle age and fairly prosperous from the success of his London grocery business, who determines to settle down with his wife and hounds at a country estate in order to enjoy the vigorous life of a sporting squire. By placing his parvenu hero among the landed gentry, Surtees is able to develop the amusing possibilities of an idea that he had proposed in his first novel: that if Jorrocks’ lot had been “cast in the country instead of behind a counter, his keenness would have rendered him as conspicuous—if not as scientific—as the best of them.”
The test of this proposition occurs at Hillingdon Hall. In spite of his urban background in vulgar commerce, Jorrocks is entirely at ease among both the aristocrats and simple country folk of the vicinity. Jorrocks is, after all, “frank, hearty, open, generous, and hospitable”—possessing virtues certain to prevail no matter where fortune leads him. There is no question that the onetime grocer is shrewder than his lordly neighbors, the effete Duke of Donkeyton and his blue-blooded but insipid son, the Marquis of Bray. Furthermore, Jorrocks is honest enough to recognize his own limitations in dealing with farm matters that he cannot comprehend and so allows the pragmatic James Pigg—another of Surtees’ memorable creations—to manage the business part of the estate.
Thanks to his common sense (along with a measure of luck and the political acumen of Pigg), Jorrocks even wins a contested Parliamentary seat from his highborn rival Bray. Although the election issue at stake—the question of repealing the Corn Laws—is treated farcically, Surtees was in earnest about the matter in his personal life. A staunch conservative, he feared that a rising middle class would destroy the privileges of wealth and the stability of country life as he had known it. Jorrocks’ Hillingdon Hall, to be sure, is a very modest estate compared to Surtees’ own inherited properties: Milkwellburn, Byerside Hall, Espershields, and Hamsterley Hall in Durham.
Because of his experience in public life as well as his high social station, Surtees could view Jorrocks from two vantages: that of an aristocrat laughing at the common man’s foibles, but also that of an adopted Londoner who appreciates the rugged strengths of the ambitious middle class. Consequently, he treats his hero both as bumpkin and solid citizen—or “cit.” In the third novel of the Jorrocks series, the grocer is not so much a sportsman as he is a landholding squire. Much of the impetuous hilarity of the hunting scenes from the other two novels is missing; in its place, however, is a fuller portrait of the “cit” as a man of warmth and dignity. By the time Surtees takes his leave of Jorrocks, the master of Hillingdon Hall, he seems to resemble less Dickens’ Sam Weller, the Cockney who similarly confuses his v’s and w’s, and more the greathearted gentleman Pickwick.
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