Places Discussed

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*Exmoor

*Exmoor. Moorland in southern England overlapping the counties of Somerset and Devon. The flat sweep of moorland south of Plover’s Barrows farm has bogs here and there with brushy areas around them. Deep ravines run inland from the sea. The fertile valleys are either wooded or farmed.

Exmoor has...

(The entire section contains 2700 words.)

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*Exmoor

*Exmoor. Moorland in southern England overlapping the counties of Somerset and Devon. The flat sweep of moorland south of Plover’s Barrows farm has bogs here and there with brushy areas around them. Deep ravines run inland from the sea. The fertile valleys are either wooded or farmed.

Exmoor has changed little since the time in which Lorna Doone is set. From his childhood home in nearby Newton, Glamorganshire, R. D. Blackmore could see the heights of Exmoor. The roads across the moors are often deep in mud and prone to being covered with dense fog. Dulverton, the home town of John Ridd’s great-uncle Reuben Huckaback lies at the southern edge of the moor.

Plover’s Barrows

Plover’s Barrows. Farm of the protagonist and narrator, John Ridd. Located in the East Lynn River valley, it is the largest of three farms in the valley and is the closest to the coast. The farmyard is surrounded by outbuildings—a barn, a corn-chamber, a cider press, a cow house, and stables—and orchards lie beyond. The farm’s rooms are underground so that both people and animals are warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The farmhouse has a kitchen and parlor downstairs and several rooms upstairs. John Ridd’s room, under the rafters, faces east and from the latticed window he can see the yard, the wood-rick, and the church in the village of Oare in the distance.

Doone Valley

Doone Valley. Home of the outlaw Doone clan; an oval-shaped green valley surrounded by eighty-to one-hundred-foot cliffs of sheer black rock. The valley is traversed by a winding stream, on the banks of which are fourteen one-story square houses built of stone and wood. Sir Ensor Doone’s house is closest to the Doone-gate. Carver Doone’s house is lowest in the valley.

Doone-gate

Doone-gate. Entrance to Doone Valley. Approached along a straight track, it has three archways, above which a huge tree trunk is suspended, ready to be dropped to bar entrance to the valley. A ledge twenty feet above the road provides a good defensive position. Inside the central archway, a crude cannon guards the entrance. Sentries are posted in a niche part way along the passage.

Another approach to the valley lies hidden in an ash wood. A wooden door leads to a low, narrow passage which comes out at the top of Doone valley.

*Bagworthy Water

*Bagworthy Water (BADJ-wer-thee). Called “Badgworthy Water” on modern maps, a stream that flows two miles below Plover’s Barrow, into the Lynn River Valley. On either side of Bagworthy Water lies dense Bagworthy Wood. Following the water upstream through the wood, it opens into a pool. At one side water cascades over a cliff as a water slide.

At the top of the cliff is the secluded area of Doone Valley in which John Ridd meets Lorna Doone, an ostensible member of the outlaw family. At the top of the slide, Lorna’s bower is reached by stone steps leading to a narrow ivy-covered crevice. The chamber, open to the sky, is eighteen or twenty feet across, and its walls are adorned with living ferns, moss and lichens. Grass and moss cover the floor, around the edge of which are seats of living stone.

*London

*London. Great Britain’s capital city, which John Ridd first visits in 1683. In contrast to Exmoor, London is a hideous and dirty place, although some of its shops and their signs are very fine. Its streets are very noisy, filled with coaches and people and footmen rushing about. John takes lodgings in the house of a fellmonger abutting the Strand. which runs from Temple Bar to Charing (then a village surrounded by fields). The house of Earl Brandir, Lorna’s guardian, is at Kensington. It is approached along a lane between fields from Charing Cross.

Wizard’s Slough

Wizard’s Slough. Mire in Exmoor in which Carver Doone dies. Located at the end of a gully south of Black Barrow Down, the slough is a black, bubbling bog ringed by yellow reeds. Bright green watergrass hides it from the unwary. On the margins grow plants such as campanula, sundew, and forget-me-not. The surrounding hillsides are dotted with tufts of rush, flag (water iris), and marestail, and a few alder-trees. No birds dwell here. On the far side of the mire is the vertical shaft of the entrance to the gold mine exploited by Reuben Huckaback. There is a path between the cliff and the slough, but it is not easy to find.

Setting

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Exmoor is a large region of moorland, mountains, and forests shared by Devonshire and Somersetshire in southwestern England. The best-selling Lorna Doone gave the Exmoor region a new source of income—tourists. Some complained that the mountains and forests of the region were not as spectacular as Blackmore had led them to believe, but most loved the area. The region remains popular with tourists. Blackmore set Lorna Doone in the heightened Exmoor of his imagination, a fitting place for giants such as John Ridd and Carver Doone.

The novel begins on November 29, 1673, John Ridd's twelfth birthday and his last day at Blundell's School, Tiverton, Devon. Because of his father's murder, John must return home to Plover's Barrows, in Oare, Somerset. This farm, together with the surrounding moorland, is the principal setting for the novel. The outlaw clan, the Doones of Bagworthy, occupy a part of Exmoor called the Doone Glen, where Lorna, the novel's heroine, has lived since her abduction as a child. John spends two brief periods of a few months each in London, but is happy only when in his native region.

Literary Qualities

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Unlike novelists such as Gustave Flaubert or Henry James, who exercised complete control over the materials that went into their fiction, Blackmore let his books develop as he wrote them. As a result, most of his novels, including Lorna Doone, are loosely structured. Endings in particular proved difficult for him, and he freely admitted to his friends that knowing when to stop writing was a lifelong problem. In this manner he resembled the equally longwinded American writer Thomas Wolfe, but Wolfe had expert editorial assistance to help curb his excesses. Editors in the mid-Victorian period were more tolerant of what now would be considered unnecessarily long novels, and the three-volume novel was a standard length. Most reputable critics during the 1860s believed that novels should not leave their readers depressed, and Blackmore's own optimistic nature helped determine that his heroes and heroines met with happy endings.
Literary critics, including Northrop Frye and Max Keith Sutton, have seen Lorna's near-death experience and miraculous recovery as a reenactment of the Persephone myth of Greek mythology. The daughter of Zeus, the king of the gods, and Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and protector of marriage, Persephone was abducted by Pluto to be the queen of Hades but was allowed to spend six months a year above ground. Lorna escapes from captivity and death in spring, and so she, like Persephone, is a goddess of the vernal season. Critics have also compared John Ridd to such mythological figures as Leander, who swam the Hellesport nightly to meet his beloved Hero, and Hercules, famed for his strength and physical exploits. Blackmore, with his strong background in the classics, instinctively invests his hero and heroine with the qualities and adventures of mythological figures.

Blackmore's strongly rhythmical prose and striking imagery raise passages almost to the level of poetry. A master at describing the life and scenery of the English countryside, Blackmore celebrates the beauties of each season, from the industry and promise of the spring planting to the elaborate pageant of rituals surrounding the autumn harvest. In passages that won the admiration of Victorian writers Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Hardy, Blackmore evokes the harsh beauty of a storm that deposits a mass of snow near the Ridds' home: "This great drift was rolling and curling beneath the violent blast, tufting and combing with rustling swirls, and carved (as in patterns of cornice) where the grooving chisel of the wind swept round." And later, when the storm subsides: "For when the sun burst forth at last upon that world of white, what he brought was neither warmth, nor cheer, nor hope of softening; only a clearer shaft of cold, from the violet depths of sky." Despite a tendency to overuse such descriptive passages, at his best Blackmore gains the right effects from his strong cadences, imagery, and near rhymes. Among his contemporaries, George Meredith comes closest to matching Blackmore's prose, and among twentieth-century American writers, similarities to Thomas Wolfe and William Faulkner are evident.

Humor also characterizes Blackmore's writing. During Ridd's second stay in London, he leaves his lodgings with his face disfigured by bedbug bites. Ridd's landlord encourages him to stay on despite the bugs, saying that he expects, "in two days at the utmost, a very fresh young Irishman, for whom they would all forsake me." John Fry, a cowardly and transparent liar, serves as a good comic figure. The humor is often too broad for sophisticated tastes, but it frequently enlivens the narrative.

Max Keith Sutton has pointed out that Lorna Doone reads like an American western novel. Its hero and heroine are types that appear again and again in the writings of Owen Wister and Zane Grey, and the Doones can be seen as seventeenth- century predecessors of such famous western outlaws as "The Hole in the Wall Gang." A more obvious comparison is to Victorian novelists George Eliot and Thomas Hardy, who also wrote about rural England. Eliot and Hardy, of course, are major novelists, a status Blackmore never quite attained, but as Sutton says: "In depicting the intricate life of nature, Blackmore can stand comparison with any British novelist of his century." Lorna Doone, more than a hundred years after its publication, has proven to be ageless in its appeal.

Social Sensitivity

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In John Ridd, Blackmore presents a man of unusual strength and strong conscience. A devout Christian who feels he is closely in touch with the world God has created, Ridd loves the countryside of Exmoor and its people with their conservative ways. As he jokingly remarks "many of us still looked upon wheels (though mentioned in the Bible) as the invention of the evil one, and Pharoah's especial property." Certain that God has a purpose for everyone, he muses on God's ways throughout the novel. Despite his exhaustion after his great struggle with Carver Doone, he tries to assist his helpless opponent out of the Wizard's Slough. He has grown since the years of his teens, when revenge was his main purpose in life.

Some readers consider Ridd one of the more outstanding male chauvinists in literature. He thinks that all women, with the exceptions of his beloved Lorna and his sister Anne, are liars. He has little patience with his bookish sister, Eliza, and wishes she had been given more feminine instincts. Ridd becomes somewhat more tolerant of Eliza when she draws on her reading and explains how to make snowshoes, enabling him to visit the Doone Valley and find out how Lorna is faring during the terrible winter. But in general Ridd expects little more of women than cooking skills and constant tears. Blackmore's women weep regularly; it never occurs to Ridd that seventeenth-century society allows them few outlets other than tears and deceptions.

The Exmoor that Blackmore knew as a child had changed little since the seventeenth century, the time period in which his novel is set. In the later nineteenth century, however, it was changing, and not for the better. Out of nostalgia Blackmore presents country life in a much too idyllic fashion, glossing over the fact that wages and standards of living had always been low for English farm laborers. For the most part, though, Lorna Doone gives an authentic picture of a way of life that has long since vanished.

For Further Reference

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Baker, Ernest A. The History of the English Novel. Vol. 9, The Day Before Yesterday. 1936. Reprint. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1951. Baker believes that Blackmore wasted his talents on romances and that he was capable of writing better novels.

Burns, Quincy Guy. Richard Doddridge Blackmore: His Life & Novels. 1930. Reprint. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973. One of the few books devoted to Blackmore, this biography is particularly good on his relationship to other Victorian novelists and their works.

Ellis, S. M. Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu, and Others. 1931. Reprint. London: Constable, 1951. This book devotes a chapter to Blackmore. Ellis believes that all of Blackmore's novels are excellent.

Elwin, Malcolm. Victorian Wallflowers: A Panoramic Survey of the Literary Periodicals. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1966. Elwin says that Blackmore had read a story called The Doones of Exmoor" in the Leisure Hour, a popular magazine of the day, and based Lorna Doone on this material.

Graham, Kenneth. English Criticism of the Novel, 1860-1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965. Graham explains the criteria used by critics in Blackmore's day, most of whom found Blackmore's work poorly constructed.

Stevenson, Lionel. The English Novel. London: Constable, 1960. Stevenson discusses Blackmore's contribution to the Victorian romance.

Sutton, Max Keith. R. D. Blackmore. Boston: Twayne, 1979. A complete study of Blackmore's novels, this book explains the use of myths in Lorna Doone.

Bibliography

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Budd, Kenneth George. The Last Victorian: R. D. Blackmore and His Novels. London: Centaur Press, 1960. A good introduction, connecting the plot to legend and to children’s nursery tales. Analyzes Blackmore’s style and lyricism, rebutting accusations of wordiness and lack of realism. Favorably compares Blackmore to other Victorian rural novelists.

Burris, Quincy Guy. Richard Doddridge Blackmore: His Life and Novels. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1973. Discusses Blackmore’s attitudes about nature and civilization, analyzing plot, character, and theme. Compares Lorna Doone with other Blackmore novels, tracing symbol and imagery, recurring ideas, and character types.

Dunn, Waldo Hilary. R. D. Blackmore. New York: Longmans, Green, 1956. Although marred by some inaccuracies about Blackmore’s father, provides the best introduction to his life and work. Discusses details of various editions and Blackmore’s changing views about Lorna Doone by comparing the prefaces to various editions of the novel.

Elwin, Malcolm. Victorian Wallflowers. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1966. Presents Blackmore as an unjustly neglected author by providing a literary history of the period, comparing Blackmore’s works with Anthony Trollope’s and Thomas Hardy’s. Asserts Blackmore’s portrayal of rural England ranks with Dickens’ portraits of cockney London.

Sutton, Max Keith. R. D. Blackmore. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Provides an excellent beginning source, the most detailed critical study of Lorna Doone. Short biography provides updated information about Blackmore’s life. Extensive discussion of the novel’s mythic nature, both as an initiation rite and as a re-creation of the story of Persephone and Demeter. Analyzes character, theme, symbol, and language.

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