In the first chapter of Lorna Doone, Blackmore plunges the reader into the midst of a regional dialect so thick that it at first seems a foreign language, as it in fact is to many British and American readers:

But suddenly there came round the post where the letters of our founder are, not from the way of Taunton but from the side of Lowman bridge, a very small string of horses, only two indeed (counting for one the pony), and a red-faced man on the bigger nag.

"Plaise ye, worshipful masters," he said, being feared of the gateway, "carn 'e tull whur our Jan Ridd be?"

"Hyur a be, ees fai, Jan Ridd," answered a sharp little chap, making game of John Fry's language.

"Zhow un up, then," says John Fry poking his whip through the bars at us; "Zhow un up, and putt un aowt."

The other little chaps pointed at me, and some began to hallo; but I knew what I was about.

"Oh, John, John," I cried, "what's the use of your coming now, and Peggy over the moors, too, and it so cruel cold for her? The holidays don't begin till Wednesday fortnight, John. To think of your not knowing that!"

John Fry leaned forward in the saddle, and turned his eyes away from me; and then there was a noise in his throat like a snail crawling on a window-pane.

"Oh, us knaws that wull enough, Maister Jan; reckon every Oare-man knaw that, without go to skoo-ull, like you doth. Your moother have kept arl the apples up, and old Betty toorned the black puddens, and none dare set trap for a blagbird. Arl for thee, lad; every bit of it now for thee!"

He checked himself suddenly, and frightened me. I knew that John Fry's way so well.

"And father, and father — oh, how is father?" I pushed the boys right and left as I said it. "John, is father up in town! He always used to come for me, and leave nobody else to do it."

"Vayther'll be at the crooked post, tother zide o' telling-house.* Her coodn't lave 'ouze by raison of the Chirstmas bakkon comin' on, and zome o' the cider welted." — chapter 1, pp. 6-7, Lorna Doone

*[Blackmore's note explains that "'telling-houses' on the moor are rude cots where the shepherds meet to 'tell' their sheep at the end of the pasturing season."]

In thus employing dialect unknown to most readers, Blackmore anticipates a technique of much postcolonial literature. Authors from England's former colonies often uses words from languages and cultures other than those disseminated by the imperial center, thereby implicitly arguing that the dialect has such authenticity that colonizers (or former colonizers) have to learn strange words in the same way that colonized peoples did. In postcolonial literatures, this technique provides an emphatic example of the way the Empire Writes Back. What does Blackmore intend by using such techniques in a novel about a region of the UK rather than about one of its colonies?

References

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literatures. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.

Blackmore, R. D. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor. New York: Clarke, Given and Hooper, 1890. [e-text of this edition at Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library.


Victorian Overview Setting

Last updated 25 April 2006