George Henry Borrow’s THE ROMANY RYE is the sequel to LAVENGRO. In both books the narrator, a man of wide-ranging interests whose adventures are based on those of the author himself, is the same eccentric intellectual who must become a tinker to make a living. Lavengro’s poverty, however, gives him access to an area of nineteenth century existence that generally remained a mystery to English readers. His life among the gypsies, particularly, held a deep fascination for the middle class: dark, perhaps with an unrecognized sexual attraction, their migratory lives had no seeming pattern. Moreover, the gypsies were purported to have special powers that drew Lavengro to them, seeking their knowledge and experience.
The popularity of LAVENGRO and the THE ROMANY RYE was also a part of a new interest in the underside of life. Like Charles Dickens’ novels and the perceptive sociological observations of Henry Mayhew’s LONDON LABOUR AND THE LONDON POOR (1851-1864), Borrow’s two books, even though in fictive disguise, informed their Victorian audience of life on the road with such eccentric character studies as those of Belle and the Petulengros. Borrow’s subject matter also included events from everyday life in rural England. Lavengro’s adventure at the fair, the bartering for the horse, and the attendant atmosphere broadened the experience of the average urban reader.
To add further interest,...
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