This genre is essentially a description of a protagonist’s life story with the writer’s perception of its significance. From Table 4-2, in Mrs. Bowdich-Lee’s “The Life of a Hero,” Philip was born to be a hero. His father and all the villagers watched him grow and were impressed with his heart and spirit. His father thought that he should have named him Alexander instead of Philip. Being the second son, Philip had to join the East India Company while his older brother was sent to Sandhurst and the regular army. He distinguished himself and was soon promoted to third officer on an East India sailing ship. Philip was then thrown into Newgate Prison after he was unjustly accused of murdering a recalcitrant seaman. He was tried and acquitted. Philip resigned from the East India Company and enlisted in the British army to serve under his brother in India. In India, he rapidly rose from infantryman to the position of Lieutenant. Unfortunately, Philip was blinded in a battle where he showed greatbravery. He was discharged from the army and while returning to England he was cheated of his savings by opportunists. Poor, but determined, he made his place in the village of his birth where he married his sweetheart, and died a contented man. This ironic biographical representation undercuts common conceptions of heroic deeds in the service of the Empire in favor of personal bravery and moral resilience in overcoming adversity. A similar Victorian novel is George Meredith’s The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) related by an ironic narrator. Other novels of this genre are Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre as well as Charles Dickens's David Copperfield and Great Expectations.
Child and Adolescent Fiction
Stories involving children as heroes have sometimes become classics of children’s literature, such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) and Captain Frederick Marryat’s Midshipman Easy (1836). John & Michael Bainum’s story, “The Hall of the Castle,” appearing in The Keepsake, has two young boys as just such unlikely heroes. In 1390, James, Earl of Ormonde, occupied Kilkenny Castle in Ireland for the English King Richard, and was at war with Irish troops led by Desmond and Dickens Utlaw. In the story, Desmond defeats and kills James, occupies the castle, and threatens Lady James, her son Thomas and his half-witted foster brother Simon Seix. The two boys escape from the castle by a secret passage known to Simon and ride to alert King Richard at Waterford, where he is landing his troops. The boys find Richard, and he helps the young heroes rescue Lady James and retake the castle.
Gothic stories appeared in the annuals in abbreviated form with all the apparatus of full-length novels, as evidenced by John Bird’s “The Convent of St. Ursula” listed in Table 4-2. In this story, Alphonso de Mondemar was released from captivity as a prisoner of war, and on returning home to Cordoba, finds that his fiancée, Donna Juana de Guidova, is to become a nun the next day. He tries to get permission from the prioress of the convent, to speak with Donna Juana, but is refused. Alphonso is befriended by a priest at the inn, and confesses that he believes the church is trying to prevent Donna Juana from finding out that he is alive, because they want her riches that she will relinquish when she becomes a nun. The priest tells Alphonso not to worry, because he will make every thing right, and shares a bottle of wine with him. The next morning, Alphonso is very ill. He staggers to the Convent of St. Ursula, where he interrupts Donna Juana’s induction ceremony that the priest and prioress are conducting. Donna Juana runs to the dying Alphonso and also dies from kissing his poisoned lips from the treacherous priest’s wine. This Gothic story has near-abduction, deception, clerical villainy, and murder, reminiscent of Matthew Lewis’s The Monk,
These stories are usually sentimental, with idealized characters and romantic actions. The settings are customarily remote in time and place and often employ real historical figures. A good example is Mary Shelley’s “The False Rhyme, A Tale” listed in Table 4-2. Margaret, Queen of Navarre, made a wager with Francis the First over a rhyme concerning man’s inconstancy versus woman’s fidelity. She defied him to instance the falsehood of any woman who was noble and well respected. Francis chooses Emilie Da Lagny, the Queen’s maid of honor, whose husband had been recently condemned by Francis to perpetual imprisonment for traitorously surrendering one of his fortresses to the enemy. Emilie often visited her husband in prison, but suddenly fled to France with her jewels and her page. It was rumored that the page and the lady often occupied one bedchamber. Margaret believed Emilie to be guiltless and bet Francis that within one month Emilie would be cleared. On the eve of the final day of the month, Da Lagny’s jailer brought a message saying that if he were pardoned the Queen would win the bet. Francis refused at first to see the prisoner, because the bravest knight in the battle who remained incognito brought news of a great victory. After honoring the knight, the prisoner was revealed to be Emilie who had taken the place of De Lagny, the honored knight. Margaret won the bet! Mary Shelley was a frequent contributor to The Keepsake; she published eighteen works identifying herself only as “the author of Frankenstein.” Examples of historical romance in Victorian novels are in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott’s novels and include Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and Dickens's The Tale of Two Cities.