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‘But who are you? I’ve never seen anyone like you before. My name’s John Ridd. What’s your name?’
Doone! To me, the name was terrible! She was one of the Doones who had killed myfather. But her voice touched my heart and I could not hate her. Her beautiful hair fell down onto her shoulders. There were lights and shadows in her eyes, like sunlight in a deep forest.
In 1673, in a high, wild valley, a farmer’s son called John Ridd meets a gentle little girl called Lorna Doone. The Doones are a family of robbers and murderers. One of them, Carver Doone, is the killer ofJohn Ridd’s father. The boy leaves the valley, but he cannot forget Lorna. Seven years later, he returns to the valley as a young man and meets her again. She is now a beautiful young woman, and the two start meeting secretly. But Lorna is not allowed to leave the Doone valley. Carver Doone wants her to be his wife, and if she refuses, he will force her to marry him.
John is ordered to go to London. A rebellion against the king is planned, and the government want information from John about it. They also want him to help destroy the Doones. But can John destroy the Doones and save Lorna?
The writer of this book, Richard Doddridge Blackmore, was born at Longworth in Oxfordshire, England, on 7 June 1825. His mother died of a serious illness when he was only three months old, and young Richard was sent away to live with his aunt. Six years later, he returned to live with his father, who had married again. Almost immediately, the whole family moved to Devon, in south-west England. Richard went to Blundell’s School in Tiverton, where we meet John Ridd in the first chapter of this book.
Blackmore studied Latin and Greek at Oxford University and later studied law in London, but as a result of illness he never worked in the law. Without his father’s knowledge, he married Lucy Maguire. They never had their own children, but one of Lucy’s niece’s, Eva, lived with them as a daughter. His illness forced Blackmore to move out of London, and he taught Latin and Greek at a school in Twickenham. He also started to write poems, although he did not use his real name - he used the name ‘Melanter’.
His life changed in 1857 when his uncle died and left him a large amount of money. Blackmore was able to stop teaching and, in 1860, he and Lucy built their own house in Teddington, which was in those days a small village just outside London, near Hampton Court. He started growing and selling flowers, fruit and vegetables, although without much success. He was also interested in local politics, and argued publicly against the building of the railway and the station in Teddington. More importantly, Blackmore then had time to write. At first he wrote discussions and stories about fruit growing. Then he translated poems by Virgil, the Roman writer. As with his own poems, he did not use his own name. He said that the translations were by ‘a market gardener’.
Blackmore was almost forty years old when his first story, Clara Vaughan, came out in 1864. He had written it in 1853, while he was still living in London. Again, he did not use his real name. This was followed by Cradock Nowell (1866) and, in 1869, his most famous story, Lorna Doone.
When it first came out, Lorna Doone was very long and was not a great success. To Blackmore’s surprise, though, it slowly became more popular. Then in 1871, the book was shortened and cost less money to buy. In that same year, Princess Louise, a daughter of Queen Victoria, married a man who was not from the royal family. People became very excited about the wedding.
A journalist compared the royal marriage to the story in Lorna Doone. After that, everyone wanted to read the book. Lorna became a very popular name for girls, Blackmore became famous and he was able to spend the rest of his life writing. He wrote several other books, most of them romantic historical stories like Lorna Doone. They include Cripps the Carrier (1877), Christowell: A Dartmoor Tale (1881) and Sprinhaven: A Tale of the Great War (1887), which is a story about southern England during the time of Napoleon. His last book, Dariel, came out in 1897. Blackmore’s wife, Lucy, died in Teddington in 1888. Blackmore himself died in 1900 at the age of seventy-five, and his body lies in the same Teddington churchyard as Lucy.
Of all Blackmore’s stories, Lorna Doone is the one for which he is best remembered. It is an exciting story of love and murder and of the battle between right and wrong. As a love story, it was especially interesting at the time. In Victorian England, it was unusual in real life for people to marry someone from another level of society. But they were very interested in stories about people who did! Usually, these stories were about men who married women from a lower social class (for example, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, 1813, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, 1847). If the man in a love story came from a lower class level than the woman, the results were usually very unhappy (for example, Heathcliff and Cathy in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, 1847).
Lorna Doone is one of the first love stories in which a man comes from a lower social class than the woman but the lovers have a happy ending. At first, the reading public probably found this a difficult idea to accept. But when Princess Louise married a man who was not from a royal family, the idea suddenly seemed less strange, and Lorna Doone became a great success.
Lorna Doone is also interesting because of its historical details and descriptions of the Devon countryside and life in the late 1600s.
In 1673, when the story of Lorna Doone begins, Charles II was king of England. He and his wife had no children, and when he died in 1685 his brother, James II, became king. But many people did not like James, because he did not share the same religion as his brother. These people wanted another man, the Duke of Monmouth, to be king. The Duke was Charles II’s son, but Charles had not married the Duke’s mother.
When James II became king, the Duke of Monmouth was
living in France. Four months after Charles’s death, the Duke arrived in Dorset, in south-west England. Many people from south-west England fought for the duke, but they were not professional soldiers and James II’s army beat them very easily at the Battle of Sedgemoor. This battle is described in Lorna Doone.
The Duke of Monmouth was taken to court and was killed for leading the rebellion against the king. Many of his supporters were punished by Judge Jeffreys, who also appears in the book.
Judge Jeffreys was known as the ‘hanging judge’ because of the large number of rebels that he sent to their death.
In this story, the Doone valley is in Exmoor, which is a large area of wild land in Devon, south-west England. Most of it is high, sometimes more than 500 metres above sea level. It is about thirty-five kilometres from east to west, and about nineteen kilometres from north to south. In the higher parts there are no trees, only low bushes, rocks and marshes. There are some very beautiful valleys in Exmoor, and in one of them lies the village of Oare, which really exists.
With his older brother, Henry, Blackmore spent much of his childhood in Exmoor and among the high hills of the future fictional Doone Valley. By one of the lakes along the Bagworthy river, there is a stone in memory of Blackmore and his famous story. In those days, the people who lived on Exmoor were very poor, half-wild, and did not go to school. Life was hard. The wild, rocky areas of Exmoor were perfect hiding places for criminals and others who were escaping from the law.When he was young, Blackmore probably heard many stories of highwaymen, murder and robbery.
The first film of the story was made in 1922. It was a silent film and was made by Maurice Tourneur, father of the famous film maker Jacques Tourneur. Since then there have been many films of the story for both the cinema and television. One of the great love stories of English literature, Lorna Doone is as popular today as it has ever been.
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