In Rogue Herries, Hugh Walpole turns a trunkful of novelistic faults into a drama that makes Wuthering Heights seem cheerful.
The Herries household moves to northwest England, a dark, foggy, isolated place whose superstition and backwardness is legendary even by 1735 standards.
Some years after his wife dies, Herries falls in love with a girl 30 years younger than he. When her lover is killed, Herries marries Maribell, hoping his love will be reciprocated.
Rogue Herries’ manic-depressive behavior is counterbalanced by the stalwart pleasantness of his unfailingly loyal son, David. The novel gives the impression that Walpole set out to write a book about David, but found his father more interesting.
Walpole opens one secondary plot after another only to abandon it, leaving a trail of red herrings worthy of Agatha Christie.
The ending is so melodramatic as to be laughable if it were not that the entire story is touched with insanity that makes absurdity seem normal.
In this hodgepodge, readers can never be sure whether what Rogue Herries says of his own motives is true. The violence of the period and the gloom of the landscape add to the general impression of a man trapped in a nightmare of his own creation.
by Hugh Walpole
Doubleday, Doran, 1930
1930 bestseller # 7
My grade B+
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Hugh Walpole’s Wintersmoon turns the romance novel on its head.
Janet Grandison and Wildherne Poole marry for companionship and convenience. Love isn’t part of the arrangement. Janet wants to give her sister Rosalind a home; Wildherne wants an heir to his title and estate that the married woman he loves can’t give him.
Nothing goes according to plan.
Rosalind and Wildherne can’t stand each other. She marries a man she doesn’t love to get out of living at Wintersmoon.
Janet gets on the wrong side of Wildherne’s mother and her entourage. Then she finds herself in love with her husband and pregnant with his child.
Wildherne has grown to love Janet as well, but neither says anything because they agreed to a loveless marriage. Their son’s death brings their marriage to a crisis that has far-reaching repercussions.
The plot is predictable. Walpole’s characters are not. They are very distinct personalities. I didn’t like Janet or Wildherne, but they won my respect by novel’s end. Walpole’s minor characters are well-drawn, the minor scenes extraordinarily realistic.
Selfishness masquerades as love throughout the novel, causing no end of problems, just as it does in real life.
Sadly, all Wintersmoon‘s fine points don’t add up to a great novel.
by Hugh Walpole
Grosset & Dunlap, 1927
My grade: C-
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni