Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 402

Appropriately, Henry Kingsley dedicated his second and best novel, RAVENSHOE, to his older brother Charles; not only did the brothers hold each other in high esteem and affection, but their writing shared some common virtues and reflected similar interests and predilections. RAVENSHOE, like WESTWARD HO!, is distinguished by typical Kingsley virtues: lively descriptions of noble, manly deeds; beautiful pictures of English sea and countryside; a good-humored joviality of tone; and an invigorating sense of the author’s enthusiastic love of life. At the same time, Kingsley’s characteristic weaknesses are also evident in RAVENSHOE; the plot is encumbered with too many incidents, the style is careless, the narrative flow is disrupted by too frequent authorial intrusions, and the story line is often melodramatic and implausible.

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The most attractive feature of the novel is the characterization of Charles Ravenshoe. He hovers somewhere between obstinacy and determination, foolishness and whimsy, rebelliousness and independence; in the end, however, he always has the reader’s affection and sympathy. The novel is essentially the story of the good-hearted, exuberant boy who must learn, through suffering and hardship, to accept the responsibilities of manhood. He needs to temper his boyish boisterousness with levelheaded, adult patience and discipline; his animal energy and high spirits must eventually find constructive and worthy outlets. Kingsley shows the external steps of this growth process in Charles, who at the close of the novel is a sober, dreamy, and even somewhat melancholy man, although he does not probe deeply into the hero’s private thoughts, emotions, or motivations. In addition to Charles, RAVENSHOE contains some memorable minor characters. The implacable enemies, Lady Ascot and Lady Hainault, are delightful comic creations; the villainous Jesuit, Father Mackworth, while he is a one-dimensional figure, nevertheless gains depth and life temporarily in scenes such as the moving description of Cuthbert’s drowning. Lord Saltire, the atheist considered in his youth to be the devil incarnate, is an excellent example of the traditional type of the elderly and respectable reformed roue.

RAVENSHOE is distinguished by its atmosphere of vitality and humor pervaded by a regretful sense of melancholy at the passing of the traditions of England’s old rural houses. Although even the most avid admirers of Kingsley’s fiction do not claim him as one of the great British novelists, they know the enjoyment that awaits readers of RAVENSHOE in the form of spirited fun and excellent entertainment.

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