In chapter 39 Lorna Doone, which bears the title "A Troubled State and a Foolish Joke," shortly after John Ridd escapes Carver Doone and his followers, he encouunters Jeremy Stickles — "a man of courage, and presence of mind, and much resource" (312) — and warns him that the Doones are lying in wait to ambush him. The next day Stickles, the king's agent, explains his triple mission, which involves stopping smuggling, capturing the Doones, and protecting and preserving the monarchy. At this point Blackmore pauses in the narrative (for the benefit of the Victorian reader) and has Ridd explain the political situation in England:

Disaffection to the King, or rather dislike to his brother James, and fear of Roman [Catholic] ascendancy, had existed now for several years, and of late were spreading rapidly; partly through the downright arrogance of the Tory faction, the cruelty and austerity of the Duke of York, the corruption of justice, and confiscation of ancient rights and charters; partly through jealousy of the French king, and his potent voice in our affairs; and partly (or perhaps one might even say, mainly) through that natural tide in all political channels, which verily moves as if it had the moon itself for its mistress. No sooner is a thing done and fixed, being set far in advance perhaps of all that was done before (like a new mole in the sea), but immediately the waters retire, lest they should undo it; and every one says how fine it is, but leaves other people to walk on it. Then after awhile, the vague endless ocean, having retired and lain still without a breeze or murmur, frets and heaves again with impulse, or with lashes laid on it, and in one great surge advances over every rampart.

And so there was at the time I speak of, a great surge in England, not rolling yet, but seething; and one which a thousand Chief Justices, and a million Jeremy Stickles, should never be able to stop or turn, by stringing up men in front of it; any more than a rope of onions can repulse a volcano. But the worst of it was that this great movement took a wrong channel at first; not only missing legitimate line, but roaring out that the back ditchway was the true and established course of it

Against this rash and random current nearly all the ancient mariners of the State were set; not to allow the brave ship to drift there, though some little boats might try it. For the present there seemed to be a pause, with no open onset, but people on the shore expecting, each according to his wishes, and the feel of his own finger, whence the rush of wind should come which might direct the water.

Now, — to reduce high figures of speech into our own little numerals, — all the towns of Somersetshire and half the towns of Devonshire were full of pushing eager people, ready to swallow anything, or to make others swallow it. Whether they believed the folly about the black box, and all that stuff, is not for me to say; only one thing I know, they pretended to do so, and persuaded the ignorant rustics. Taunton, Bridgwater, Minehead, and Dulverton took the lead of the other towns in utterance of their discontent, and threats of what they meant to do if ever a Papist dared to climb the Protestant throne of England. [314-15]

In the course of describing the political situation, Blackmore has Ridd make elaborate use of the ancient image of the Ship of State. Does this passage fulfil Ridd's frequenly description of himself as neither very bright or well educated? If it doesn't, is this an example of the author's voice dominating or even supplanting the voice of his narrator? Can you think of another explanation for the author's decision to use such an elaborate metaphor?

How does a knowledge of the Glorious Revolution that took place soon after the action describedx affect the reader's understanding of the passage?


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 History

Last updated 7 May 2006

Last modified 8 June 2007