I read Lorna Doone as part of my effort to read more of the classics, and I’m glad I did. This is the late 17th century in England, a time of political and religious strife. Charles II has just reclaimed the throne after years of exile.
Told in the first person, it is the story of John Ridd, a simple farmer living in Exmoor with his mother and sisters. Nearby live the outlaw clan the Doones. The Doones had once been wealthy nobles, but had lost their title and lands due to a lawsuit, and have since taken up banditry. John is a young boy when his father is murdered by them during a highway robbery. The Doones live in a heavily guarded valley and are pretty much untouchable.
One day, while out hunting, young John meets Lorna Doone. (She was kidnapped as a little girl and raised as a Doone.) Over the years they meet in secret, and fall in love. Eventually she tells John that she is slated to marry Carver Doone, the son of the Doone leader and a pretty bad guy. The Doones will then take her inheritance. As their romance matures, John becomes determined to save Lorna from her wicked family.
The story starts off slow, but builds and becomes exciting in parts. There is love, loss, battle scenes. Lorna Doone has never been out of print, and it’s easy to see why. The writing is extremely Victorian – Blackmore suffers in some parts from excessive wordiness, and his female characters are a bit one-note. Frankly, I found Lorna herself to be somewhat of a simpering bore. But as a modern kid of girl, I can’t expect a 19th century male author to share my sensibilities!
Where Blackmore’s writing shines, though, is in his descriptions of country life. Taking into account the upheaval in England during the Industrial Revolution, the author’s love of nature and the older ways of doing things are evident on every page. (Now I want to re-read Middlemarch.) Lorna Doone is not a quick beach read, but it’s a good one!
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