Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 931

JUDITH PARIS picks up the story of the Herries family where it left off in ROGUE HERRIES, the preceding volume of the Herries chronicle. Therefore, as a chronicle, the action of this second novel moves forward as the reader would expect; Hugh Walpole’s style, however, while remaining the same in many ways, differs significantly from the preceding novel. It is an interesting discovery that the stylistic changes in JUDITH PARIS, when compared with ROGUE HERRIES, appear as weaknesses; yet, ironically, they emerge as strengths in the context of this second novel.

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JUDITH PARIS, like ROGUE HERRIES, is the story of one character. Judith enters the world at the moment of her parents’ death; however, she serves to combine and to perpetuate their strong characteristics. Judith, therefore, inherits aggressiveness and the need to dominate others from her father; fidelity and inexorable honesty from her mother. These prime forces in Judith’s personality make her a dynamic character, although she lacks the vitality and appeal of her father, the protagonist in ROGUE HERRIES. The major weakness in Walpole’s characterization of Judith is not only the lack of a “double” to clarify the protagonist’s character but the fact that there is none of the psychological introspection that figures so strongly in the “rogue’s” personality. In the preceding novel, Francis Herries’ idiosyncracies were, at once, the subject and the results of his search for self-realization and self-fulfillment. Judith’s personality, however, is resolved from the beginning. She inherits a combination of strong characteristics from both her parents with an added touch of practicality developed from her exposure to David Herries. Her personality remains consistent throughout the novel. She does not question her motives; she merely recognizes the qualities of her character and acts according to them.

Although not as intense as in ROGUE HERRIES, an inner struggle does take place in JUDITH PARIS. Judith’s actions are characterized by firm self-control, and she allows herself few indulgences but recognizes temptations as they arise. This is not to say that she does not relish life in all of its facets; like her father, the “rogue,” she exhibits the distinctive Walpole zest for life. Nevertheless, all her actions occur only after careful consideration, in accordance with the primary drives of her personality. Her father, in the preceding novel, does not display any appreciable self-control until the final portion when his destiny is fulfilled in Mirabell Starr, and he becomes an ennobled figure. Therefore, prudence assumes an exalted position in the value systems of the novels, and Judith’s character is enhanced by this quality. Her residence at Uldale, following Georges’ death, is a decision based on her loyalty to her nephew, Francis, and her need to dominate others, in this case to rescue the management of Fell House from the inept Jennifer. Although Judith suffers from Jennifer’s feeling of contempt toward her, she sacrifices her own comfort to obey the more powerful forces of her nature. Later, after Francis’ suicide, she remains at Fell House to manage the Uldale estate and provide the necessary obstacles to Will and Walter Herries’ insanely exaggerated need for revenge after the “broken fan” incident. She chooses to do this while yearning for the peace and good cheer she could find in her adored Watendlath. While Judith’s character is certainly forceful, the characterization is weakened by is predictability and its clearly resolved nature.

In spite of weak characterization, including the figures involved in the various subplots of the novel, JUDITH PARIS gathers its strength from features that were not so strongly developed in ROGUE HERRIES. In the second novel, historical setting plays a much more influential role, and Walpole’s use of the “sensational” is of a different nature from that in the preceding work. Where before the historic setting provided only a backdrop, a context, upon which the drama of the “rogue’s” life played itself out, in the present work historic events prove to be prime factors in the evolving action. The fall of the Bastille, for example, causes the outburst between David Herries and his son, Francis, leading eventually to the father’s death and the resultant chaos at Fell House. The social upheaval felt throughout Europe and England consequent to the French Revolution becomes an underlying motive for the growing dissension among various members of the Herries family. In a similar fashion, while Walpole’s use of the “sensational”—in the preceding novel it was the influence of supernatural forces—served before as an incidental force, in the second novel, the “sensational,” in the form of extreme violence and murder, plays a more substantial role. The French Revolution, Stane’s murder by Georges, Georges’ death at the hands of Stane’s father, the attack upon Fell House, and the violent death of Reuben Sunwood are all events that significantly affect the action of the novel. They are far from incidental occurrences.

In JUDITH PARIS, therefore, shallowness of characterization, lack of psychological investigation, and the failure to make characters better in condition or nature at the end of the novel, are all weaknesses compared to the first volume of the Herries chronicle. Nevertheless, the ill effects of these weaknesses subside somewhat in view of the more integral functions of historical setting and the use of the “sensational.” These positive features, along with the distinctive Walpole zest for life and his perceptive view of the conflict between good and evil forces, emerge as strengths to make JUDITH PARIS a work with a good story and memorable characters, the traditional requirements of a good novel.

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