Lorna Doone is a classic historical romance by R. D. Blackmore. It's heavy reading--literally. My 500-page Alderman library volume was too heavy to take to work for lunchtime reading. I think the guilding on the pages added a lot of weight.
R. D. Blackmore was a masterful storyteller and Lorna Doone has many satisfying plot points and a few well-drawn characters. It's set in the 1670s and has all the romantic characters associated with that age: courteous highway robbers, cavalier soldiers, blackguard villains, and beautiful ladies in distress. Since reading John Evelyn's diary, I had been wanting to read something set in the 1600s and Lorna Doone satisfied that desire.
John Ridd is a young boy from Somerset, England, an area infested with the terrible Doone clan. The Doones, aristocratic Catholic refugees from the turmoil earlier in the century, are sequestered in a carefully guarded valley. They make their living by plundering the countryside and robbing travelers and one fateful evening, they murder John Ridd's father during a roadside altercation. A year later, thirteen-year old John accidentally crosses the boarder into the Doone's secret valley and encounters a beautiful little girl who says her name is Lorna Doone, granddaughter of Sir Esnor Doone, the clan's leader. The years pass, Lorna and John reach young adulthood and fall in love, which is problematic, due to Lorna's criminal family and the fact that she is expected to marry the villainous Carver Doone. You can see where this is leading, and there is a lot of action and some plot twists even up to the last chapter of the book.
Overall, I enjoyed Lorna Doone, but with some reservations. The book was written in the 1860s, and the Victorian sentimentality in the writing clashes with the more prosaic 1600s setting. John Ridd himself is something of an oaf. He's physically huge and perhaps a tiny bit slow . However, he's sexy when he's angry.
The real problem is Lorna Doone herself, who is hardly a character at all. She's almost entirely passive and doesn't do much of anything other than allow herself to be rescued. According to the infatuated John Ridd, Lorna's perfections are endless. She is so beautiful and dainty and good-tempered! She has a tiny waist and a nice figure, and hardly opens her mouth except to say complimentary or loving things to John. The emphasis on her daintiness is particularly infuriating. When she borrows a dress from John's sister Annie, the waist has to be taken in. When she's locked up for days without food by the evil Carver, John rescues her and produces a mince pie, but Lorna can only manage to eat half a portion because of her dainty fairy appetite. John remarks that in general, Lorna eats only about one fourth the amount that his sisters and mother do. I found myself rooting for Ruth Huckaback, Lorna's rival for John's affections.
Overall, this is a nice, cozy, book for winter reading. It also has been translated into film several times and published in many different editions with interesting cover art:
|John Ridd and Carver Doone fight to the death|
|This is a movie poster, but it illustrates Lorna's wimpy behavior|