John Halifax, Gentleman

by Dinah Maria Mulock

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592

Norton Bury

Norton Bury. Small town in the county of Gloucestershire in the west of England; it lies on the flood plain of the River Avon. The River Severn and its estuary can be seen from the nearby Cotswolds Hills. There, Phineas Fletcher, the novel’s narrator, is brought up, his Quaker father owning a tanner’s yard and, later, a mill. The main historical features of the town are the abbey, now in ruins, and its gardens. The nearest large town, Coltham, a center of fashion, lies ten miles away.


Longfield. Second home of John and Ursula Halifax, who earlier live in a modest house in Norton Bury. Located some six miles from Norton Bury, Longfield is a small farmhouse that is periodically enlarged. It is the house to which John and his friend Phineas attach the greatest emotional warmth. John and Ursula’s dream is to retire there—a dream cut short by their relatively early deaths. It is “a nest of love and joy,” a place of blessing, where “liberty, fraternity and equality” are practiced. In fact, it is seen as Arcadia, the ideal pastoral setting in which to bring up a young family.


Enderley. Town in the Cotswold Hills, most of which is owned by the earl of Luxmore, where John Halifax leases a stream-driven mill that he tries to develop into a profitable cloth-weaving business. Lord Luxmore’s refusal to upgrade the mill or workers’ tied cottages leaves John to raise the capital for improvements himself. Luxmore’s denial of adequate water to keep the mill running prompts John to install steam-driven machinery, which ensures his mill’s success. John thus becomes an early industrialist, an ideal one in that he concerns himself with the well-being of his workers.

Beechwood Hall

Beechwood Hall. “Great house” at Enderley that John Halifax buys to become a public figure and mix with people of influence in the county. John also sees that it is a fit setting for his sons to find a similar place of altruistic influence. The domestic desire here is expressed in terms of service and faith. As the center of the growing family, it is also a place of strife among the grown-up children. The loss of John and Ursula’s blind daughter at Longfield is paralleled by their son Guy’s self-imposed exile from Beechwood. The novel makes it clear that Eden is not achievable in any pastoral quest.

Mythe House

Mythe House. Home of Richard Brithwood, the local squire, and his wife, Lady Caroline, in Norton Bury, the first of the novel’s “false” houses. Its great iron gates symbolize the barriers of class and privilege that Brithwood seeks to erect against the democratic likes of John Halifax. However, for Brithwood the outcome is divorce, debauchery, and the loss of his political influence. His failure to establish a family in his house is the sign of the moral bankruptcy of inherited power.

Luxmore Hall

Luxmore Hall. Home of Lord Luxmore at Enderley; the second of the novel’s “false” houses. Historically, the house served as a shelter for Roman Catholics when they, like the Quakers, were persecuted outsiders. However, it has lost its vocation as a place and is burdened by massive debts accrued by Luxmore before he dies, and the renunciation of title and place by his son, Lord Ravenel. The latter’s marriage to John’s surviving daughter signifies the final triumph of democracy and the possibility of a new home based on merit and hard work rather than privilege.


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Topics of the Day in the Victorian Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University, 1991. Covers a large number of Victorian novelists, showing how they used everyday materials and experiences to satisfy readers’ interest in the contemporary scene and ordinary social life. Specific discussions of John Halifax, Gentlemen.

Brantlinger, Patrick. The Spirit of Reform: British Literature and Politics, 1832-1867. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977. An excellent discussion of the novel in chapter 5, “The Entrepreneurial Ideal,” identifies the strengths and weaknesses of Mulock’s social idealism. Index.

Gilmour, Robin. “Dickens and the Self-Help Idea.” In The Victorians and Social Protest, edited by John Butt and I. F. Clarke. Newton Abbot, England: David and Charles, 1973. Much of the chapter is a detailed comparison between Great Expectations and John Halifax, Gentleman. Bibliography and index.

Gilmour, Robin. The Idea of the Gentleman in the Victorian Novel. London: Allen & Unwin, 1981. Gilmour sees John Halifax, Gentleman as “the classic novel of self-help . . . in its purest, least critical form.” Notes the idea of retrieval of status and the way that John’s self-culture is colored by sexual desire and social ambition. Index.

Mitchell, Sally. Dinah Mulock Craik. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A useful life-and-works study, with a good section on John Halifax, Gentleman. Bibliography and index.


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