decorated initial 'G' . A. Henty's enormously popular adventure stories are replete with all the attributes of this genre. Each tale follows a prescribed formula: the boy hero exemplifies British pluck and is soon cast upon adventures in an exotic setting. Teller's survey of British children's literature aptly illustrates Henty's writing in noting that: "You can be quite sure of the same basic situations, the same over-insistence on manliness, patriotism and 'the stiff upper lip', whether the blameless young hero serves Under Drake's Flag (1883), With Clive in India (1884), With Wolfe in Canada (1887), With Lee in Virginia (1890), With Cortes in Mexico (1891) or With Frederick the Great (1898); whether his fortunes take him With Roberts to Pretoria (1902) or With the Allies to Pekin (1904), or whether he serves his country For Name and Fame (1886) or In Freedom's Cause (1885) or Held Fast for England (1892), or finds himself Out in the Pampas (1868), In the Reign of Terror (1896), On the Irrawaddy (1897), In Greek Waters (1893) or In the Heart of the Rockies (1895): wherever he be and in whatever age, you may be sure that he will prove himself to be The Bravest of the Brave (1887) and In Times of Peril (1881) however desperate, and however often Facing Death (1883), still remain True to the Old Flag (1885)" (83).

Despite Teller's somewhat disparaging categorization of Henty's application of rote formulas, Henty writes in a bold, colorful manner that imparts charm and excitement. Moreover, although Henty remains the quintessential boy's adventure story writer, his tales reflect his mass appeal in also engaging girls. For instance, in One of the 28th, Ralph Conway's adventures on the continent occur simultaneously with his mother's adventures in England. Thus while Ralph and his regiment march upon Waterloo, Mrs. Conway dons a maid's disguise and goes to Penfold Hall to search for Herbert Penfold's missing will and her son's rightful inheritance.

One of the 28th can, in fact, be easily separated into four sections. The first remains the quintessential youth's adventure, young Ralph falls into French hands while on a fishing trip. This episode highlights all the fantastical elements of this genre, at the height of Napoleonic hostilities, the young British boy from Dover finds himself upon a French privateer vessel but remains uncowed by the prospect of imprisonment. Ralph staunchly addresses his French captors:

"I am quite ready to do my best to learn the language and to make myself useful," Ralph said. "It is always a good thing to know French, especially as I am going into the army some day: that is if I get back again in time."

"Oh, I think you will do so," the man said. "You keep up your spirits well, and that is the great thing. There are many boys that would sit down and cry if they found themselves in such a scrape as you have got into."

"Cry!" Ralph repeated indignantly. "You don't suppose a boy of my age is going to cry like a girl! An English boy would be ashamed to cry, especially when Frenchmen were looking on." [55-56]

Note here that Ralph's intention to join the British army and actively repel his French enemies is, if anything, encouraged by his French captors! Henty also takes the opportunity to display staunch British patriotism, English boys do not cry before the French. This charming if highly unrealistic account continues with Ralph actually helping his French captors, Ralph justifies this by noting that he must survive somehow and passive aggressively sabotages the French privateers. Instead of running as fast as he can to alert the French that the British are approaching their hideout, Ralph only runs as fast as the other men.

A second theme is, of course, Ralph's commission. His regiment appears merely to be an extension of public school, his captain remarks:

"You will do, my lad. I can see you have got the roughness rubbed off you already, and will get on capitally with the regiment. I can't say as much for that young fellow Stapleton. He seems to be completely puffed up with the sense of his own importance, and to be an unlicked sort of cub altogether. However, I have known more unlikely subjects than he is turn out decent fellows after a course of instruction from the boys; but he will have rather a rough time of it at first, I expect. You will be doing him a kindness if you take an opportunity to tell him that a newly joined ensign is not regarded in the same light as a commander-in-chief. It is like a new boy going to school, you know. If fellows find out he is a decent sort of boy, they soon let him alone; but if he is an ass, especially a conceited ass, he has rather a tough time of it. As you are in the same cabin with him, and have had the advantage of having knocked about the world a bit, you might gently hint this to him." [130-31]

This reference to schoolboy camaraderie provides a concise illustration of what was most appealing about school stories and extends this to the military arena. And indeed, much of Ralph's adventures with the regiment read like schoolboy adventures. Even the horrors of Waterloo are largely muted on the battlefield when Ralph ingenuously confides in his captain:

"I feel all right now," Ralph said; "though I thought just now that it as all over with me. A big Frenchman was just dealing a sweeping cut at me when a musket shot struck him. Still this is a thousand times better than standing still and being pounded by their artillery. I confess I felt horribly uncomfortable while that was going on."

"I dare say you did, lad." [312]

The third portion of Henty's story actually occurs entirely within the domestic sphere. While Ralph is off defending his country, his benefactor, Herbert Penfold, conveniently passes away, but his will remains missing, and it appears that the miserly Misses Penfolds will not allow anyone to enter Penfold Hall to search for their brother's will. Here, Ralph's mother escapes from her generic role as homemaker and instead embarks upon her own adventure. She disguises herself as a housemaid and enters into service at Penfold Hall where she duplicates the house keys and searches the Hall disguised as a male burgler late at night. Of course Mrs. Conway's adventure occurs strictly within the household and she looks for treasure which rightly belongs to her son. However, she successfully overcomes the generic fragility of her sex, demonstrating that she also has a fair share of British pluck. She finally discovers the secret compartment where the will is hidden in a nail-biting sequence, just as the dastardly Miss Penfold is on the verge of discovering Mrs. Conway:

Breathlessly she listened. Presently she heard a sharp click in the wall behind her. She had scarcely time to wonder what this meant when she heard a sound in the lock close to her. It was repeated again and again. Then she felt a slight tremor of the door as if somebody was trying to shake it. Her heart almost stood still. Miss Penfold was evidently trying to open the chamber; and, though she knew the lock could not open so long as she held the pistol in the place, she felt her breath coming fast and her heart beating. For five minutes the attempts to open the door continued. Then all was still again.

Although Mrs. Conway's mission to protect her son and his inheritance liberates her from the trope of Victorian domesticity, Mabel Withers, Ralph's somewhat desultory love interest, is not so fortunate. First introduced to the reader and Ralph as a young tom-boy, she must quickly grow into feminine maturity for Ralph to find her even interesting: "Mabel was seized with a fit of shyness for the first time in her life when Mr. Penfold insisted that the ladies should all kiss the young officer in honor of the occasion" (128-29). Mabel re-enters the story at the very end, where she eventually marries Ralph and moves up into the Hall whereupon Mrs. Conway can then pass over the "reins of government" (357) and also pass away, her mission fulfilled.

These four main themes in Henty's story highlight the major themes in children's literature towards the end of the nineteenth-century. One of the 28th remains at heart a boy's adventure story replete with the adventure at sea and the honorable battles on the Continent, but within this structure, Henty's side story concerning Mrs. Conway demonstrates the understanding that Victorian girls also read and enjoyed boy's stories. Finally, the fate of Mabel Withers serves to remind readers of both genders how good boys and girls should grow up to be. The heroic youth returns from his adventures on the continent to become a comfortable gentleman of means and wins his properly modest pretty bride.


Henty, G.A. One of the 28th. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1894.

Last modified 20 August 2007