Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole Find!

Rogue Herries is the first of four volumes that make up the Herries Chronicle and was published in 1933, with the succeeding titles (Judith Parris, The Fortress and Vanessa) charting the Herries family up until the 20th Century.

Set in the 18th Century, the Rogue which this novel refers to in its title is Frances Herries - an impetuous, handsome, dark and restless man who proves to be a faithless husband and demonstrates violence in his mood swings as well as in the physical treatment of his servants and enemies.

When the novel begins Frances is returning to the delapidated anecestral home in the Borrowdale Valley with his wife Margaret, their two daughters Mary and Deborah, their son David, and the family servants who include Alice Press with whom Frances is having an affair.

As the story unfolds all of Frances' traits and character flaws are revealed in scenes such as the one where he sells his discarded lover, Alice Press, at the the local fair to the highest bidder. But Frances is not unaware of his own failings and he is often haunted by his short comings and behaviour, experiencing periods of self disgust and self loathing.

Yet despite his weaknesses and his excesses he has a number of constant forces which redeem him: his unrequited love for the gypsy girl, Mirabell Starr, his deep and abiding love for the Borrowdale Valley and his love for his son David.

Whilst Frances Herries is Hugh Walpole's and Cumbria's equivalent of Heathcliffe, David, in contrast is probably Cumbria's answer to Ross Poldark. He grows up to be an upright, upstanding, solid man who develops a healthy and successful business, wins the love of his life from adversity, has a fine family and establishes a comfortable family home, and dynasty of his own.

The novel takes in the whole sweep and panorama of 18th century history including the 1745 rebellion with the Jacobite rebel army laying siege to Carlisle, and the reader gets a real sense of what Cumbria was like at that time socially, economically and politically.

But underpinning it all, as both a background and a foundation, is a great depth of love inspired by the physical beauty of the area and the landscape as these two quotes reveal through their description and imagery:

'It would not be so handsome a country,' said Harcourt, 'did it not rain so frequently.' And he turned from them, looking out of window across the lake to the hills where a sudden flash of pale sunlight had pierced the storm, striking an arrow of gold that cleft Cat Bells in two. He loved it, every stick and stone of it! How he loved it! And as he looked, a deep homesickness for his own home at Ravenglass, his little garden, his gleaming book rows, the faint flash of the sea beyond his windows, took him.

All of them in that room caught from him some sense of English soil. The men moved together to the window and stood there side by side looking out. They were Herries in this: that however far they might be drawn from the English soil, they yet belonged to it. Even in Kensington they felt the stirrings of ancient waterways and the tuggings of prehistoric roots.

and

'And out on the Fell I have seen the shepherd whistling to his dog and the sheep come in a cloud, while the sun strikes the stream like mirror-glass. That's what I want and will have, when this is over.'

As I know next to nothing about the author himself, other than the fact that he was a novelist, I did a little online searching to see what I could find out. It transpires that Hugh Walpole, (who was knighted in 1937), was actually born in New Zealand in 1884, the son of a bishop, but he came to England when he was 5, later attending Cambridge University.

He lived in Cumbria from 1924 until his death in 1941, in a house called Brackenburn, overlooking Derwentwater, and here he did a great deal of writing, including the 4 titles which make up the Herries family saga. The manuscripts of many of his novels are now in the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery.

Whilst he was living at Brackenburn he received many literary visitors including J B Priestly, Arthur Ransome and W H Auden.

Whilst his novels may possibly have slipped out of fashion, the Herries series is still in print and Rogue Herries itself can be read online at:

http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks04/0400171h.html

 

29 September 2009 from Helen

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