Westward Ho!

by Charles Kingsley

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Places Discussed

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*Bideford. English town in north Devon in which the novel’s protagonist, naval hero Amyas Leigh, was born and to which he returns after each of his voyages. Bideford was an important port in southwest England during the time in which the novel is set. It slopes upward from the broad tidal river Torridge, which the town bridge, with its twenty-four arches, has spanned since the Middle Ages. The hills above the town are covered by oak woods, through which can be seen fern-fringed slate outcroppings. Below the town, the land flattens into salt marsh and sand dunes. Kingsley knew Bideford well, as part of the book was written in the Royal Hotel in the town. Bideford Bay, into which the Torridge flows, is one of the places in which Amyas likes to bathe. The bay protects the fertile alluvial fields from high tides. Clovelly, Will Cary’s home, is at the western end of the bay. The westernmost headland is Hartland Point on which an abbey stood until the dissolution of the monasteries. This site is now the site of a minor stately home.

Burrough Court

Burrough Court. Bideford home of the Leigh family; it nestles on a wind-swept down amid a ring of oaks. From the gray stone gateway is a view westward of a wide bay bounded to the south with purple cliffs. Lundy Isle is dimly visible out to sea. Below and to the right, the River Torridge flows westward to its estuary. On the other side of the river is Tapeley Park.

Stow house

Stow house. Home of Sir Richard Greville, located near Moorwinstow (now Morwenstow) on the west coast between Bude and Hartland Point. The house is a huge, rambling building, part dwelling house, part castle, on the north side of a wooded valley.

*West Indies

*West Indies. New World archipelago stretching between the southern tip of Florida to the mainland of South America—the Spanish Main—that separates the Caribbean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. At the time in which the novel is set, most of the islands and surrounding landmasses were Spanish colonies, which were subjected to English raids during time of war. The novel depicts the islands and the northern coast of South America as fragrant with flowers and filled with the sounds of insects, tree frogs, and birds. The shorelines are edged with palm trees, and there is fruit in abundance. Amyas makes his initial landfall on the southern side of the island of Barbados, where Bridgetown now stands.

*La Guayra

*La Guayra (lah GWEE-ree-ah). Venezuelan port north of Caracas, at the foot of a mountain eight thousand feet high. The port itself is on a low black cliff crowned by a wall with a battery at either end. A few narrow streets of white houses run parallel to the sea, and behind it is the mountain wall. It is to this place that the new Spanish governor, Don Guzman, takes Rose Salterne, to whom he describes the town as the “loveliest place on earth, and the loveliest governor’s house, in a forest of palms I shall only want a wife there to be in paradise.” His house is approached up a zigzag path from a pebble beach, marked by white shell sand winding between the tall thorny cacti. It ends in a wicket gate. From here, a smooth turf walk passes through a pleasure garden of trees and bushes. The house is long and low with balconies along the upper story. The under part is mostly open to the wind.

*Orinoco River

*Orinoco River. Principal river of Venezuela in whose basin Amyas...

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and his men wander for three years. The river and its tributaries run between green, flower-bespangled walls of forest with trees growing as much as two hundred feet tall and countless birds, insects, and monkeys. Rapids and islands dot the river. On one island, Amyas encounters the presumed Indian maiden Ayacanora, whom he eventually marries. Her village nearby is made up of palm-leaf houses, with hammocks slung between the trees.

*Smerwick Bay

*Smerwick Bay. Bay on Ireland’s cliff-lined Kerry coast where the Spanish army gains a foothold during the Armada’s invasion. The Spanish build a fort at the head of the bay. In a battle between Spanish and English forces, Amyas takes Don Guzman prisoner.


*Plymouth. Major English port on the coast of Devon, on the east bank of the Tamar estuary. To the town’s east is the Catwater, the estuary of the River Plym, from which the English fleet sails to face the Spanish Armada. Plymouth is also the home of Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins. The famous lawn-bowling game that the English commanders play before the fleet sets sail takes place on a green behind Plymouth’s Pelican Inn.


*Lundy. Island off the north coast of Devon that is visible from the hills above Bideford on clear days. The granite cliff that forms the western side ends at the southern end, in a precipice three hundred feet high, topped by a pile of white rock covered with lichens. Below, Gull-rock is a roosting and nesting place for thousands of birds. The waves break across a sunken shelf of rock. The Shutter is a fang of rock projecting from the sea on which the Spanish ship Catharina is wrecked after Amyas pursues it and Don Guzman around the coast.


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Chitty, Susan. The Beast and the Monk: A Life of Charles Kingsley. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974. Using confidential papers that had been closed to researchers for more than a century, Chitty attempts to link Kingsley’s writings with his erotic sensibilities, especially his enjoyment of conjugal love. Chitty includes a chapter that discusses Kingsley’s financial difficulties at the time of writing Westward Ho!, difficulties that influenced his choice of theme.

Collums, Brenda. Charles Kingsley: The Lion of Eversley. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1975. This more conventional biographical approach is a useful introduction to Kingsley’s public life. It includes substantial extracts from the novel as part of its investigation of the background to Kingsley’s writing.

Houghton, Walter E. The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1957. This is a superb survey of the many currents of Victorian thought. Its section on the worship of force includes a good discussion of Kingsley.

Martin, Robert Bernard. The Dust of Combat: A Life of Charles Kingsley. New York: W. W. Norton, 1960. The most well-balanced biography of Kingsley. The author has an excellent analysis of Muscular Christianity.

Sutherland, J. A. Victorian Novelists and Publishers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. This study of the relationship between writers and their publishers argues that financial considerations sometimes determined writers’ choices of form, style, and subject matter. The chapter on Westward Ho! describes the artistic, financial, and personal factors that shaped the process of writing the book. Kingsley worked with his publishers to produce a spectacularly successful book that was distributed with a view to capitalizing on the Crimean War.


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