In "Another Dangerous Interview," chapter 19 of Lorna Doone, the narrator's beloved (whose name provides the title of the novel) describes thr beautiful country in which she lives in terms reminiscent of the prince's idyllic Happy Valley in Samuel Johnson's Rasselas: ""Many people living here, as I am forced to do," Lorna tells John,

would perhaps be very happy, and perhaps I ought to be so. We have a beauteous valley, sheltered from the cold of winter and power of the summer sun, untroubled also by the storms and mists that veil the mountains; although I must acknowledge that it is apt to rain too often. The grass moreover is so fresh, and the brook so bright and lively, and flowers of so many hues come after one another that no one need be dull, if only left alone with them. [150]

Of course, whereas Johnson's earthly paradise, which is truly idyllic, has been created to show that fallen human beings can and will never be happy even in perfect surroundings, Blackmore's version quickly turns out not to be so perfect after all, for as Lorna explains,

all around me is violence and robbery, coarse delight and savage pain, reckless joke and hopeless death. Is it any wonder that I cannot sink with these, that I cannot so forget my soul, as to live the life of brutes, and die the death more horrible because it dreams of waking? There is none to lead me forward, there is none to teach me right; young as I am, I live beneath a curse that lasts for ever. [151]

Comparing the two versions of seemingly perfect earthly paradises, we see the differences between the Neoclassical and Victorian uses of these hidden enclaves: Johnson, who devotes little space or effort to describing the landscape of his earthly paradise, instead emphasizes how all the human needs of his protagonist are met within its confines. Blackmore, like most Victorians who discuss nature, shows an external world whose beauties sharply contrast with the unpleasant, often terrible, lives of those human beings who live amid these apparently idyllic scenes. Many presentations of shipwrecks and castaways, emphasize nature's indifference. Ruskin's brilliant word-painting of nature's indifference in the fifth volume of Modern Painters, however, has a social and political valence, since what at first seems delightfully picturesque, upon inspection turns out to be a matter of lower-class hardship. Blackmore uses the typical Victorian contrast between the glories of nature and human misery, not to make religious ior philosophical points, but (merely?) to dramatize the heroine's perilous, painful situation: this physically and morally beautiful young woman finds herself amid a family of criminals whose actions mock the beauties of nature.


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

Last modified 8 June 2007