Critical Evaluation

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422

WINDSOR CASTLE illustrates various ways in which serious organizational problems can arise despite the author’s careful adherence to what looks like neat structural division. The book shares with the body of William Harrison Ainsworth’s fiction a variety of significant features: a complicated series of more or less interwoven actions and intrigues interlaced with historical matter, introducing a complex dimension all its own, as well as important architectural and scientific backgrounds and supernatural events, or what appear to be fated occurrences. The book is also well researched, and descriptions and action scenes are as superbly drawn as in Ainsworth’s other novels. The author’s use of subplots, however, is a feature that is disturbing and requires some consideration.

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It must not be assumed that Ainsworth’s subplots are always mere padding. Frequently, such subplots significantly enlarge the scope of the principal action of the novel, but in WINDSOR CASTLE, Ainsworth repeatedly introduces motifs that he fails to develop fully. For example, the unhappy romance of Surrey and the fair Geraldine, although it serves to illustrate the power of Henry VIII, is too sketchily treated to sustain interest.

There are other loose ends in the book, but they do not really impair the structure. Book 6, for example, takes place seven years after the first five parts, but, showing as it does the downfall of Anne Boleyn, it is a logical consequence if not an integral part of the main action. Furthermore, it is not disturbing to have the supernatural dimension involving Herne the Hunter and his repeated incursions, because they consistently affect the king and have a definite place in advancing action and creating atmosphere.

This interesting novel of the reign of King Henry VIII combines two traditions of English fiction: the historical romance and the Gothic romance of mystery and terror. An element of the weird is imparted to the novel by the mysterious figure of Herne the Hunter, an apparition out of the imagination of medieval England and still a creature of legend in the history of Windsor Castle. In his novel, Ainsworth gave Herne the function of a somewhat disorganized conscience. Linked to forces of evil as well as to those of good, he never has a clearly defined symbolic value.

Although Ainsworth allows himself to stray too often from the main track of his narrative, the average reader will not be disturbed by this lack of unity since the novel contains all the exciting action, colorful descriptions, and living history for which the author is justly famous.

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