Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Broad Highway by Jeffery Farnol

I had already read two Jeffery Farnol books, and quite like them. Although as a writer Farnol labours under many deficiencies—shallow sentimentalism and sensationalism for two—I enjoyed Martin Conisby's Vengeance for its unusual treatment of its revenge theme. From the vantage point of having read The Broad Highway, I am no longer sure whether Farnol is worth salvaging from obscurity, even for Martin Conisby.
The Broad Highway starts out promisingly enough with the reading of a will. Peter Vibart's uncle left him ten guineas, while his rake of a cousin Sir Maurice Vibart is given twenty thousand pounds. But the bulk of the uncle's fortune is to go to whichever of them, within a year, should marry the strong-willed, strong-armed, yet beautiful Lady Sophia Sefton.
The quiet, scholarly Peter strongly dislikes what he hears of Lady Sophia, and so instead of trying his hand for the legacy he sets out alone down the broad highway to Cornwall with ten guineas in his pocket and an idea of finding some way of earning an honest living. After many surprising adventures, in which he is regularly mistaken for his hell-raising, wicked, and violent cousin, Peter finds a job as a humble blacksmith. But then one evening he finds himself defending a mysterious lady known only as Charmian from the dishonourable intentions of his own cousin. Who is Charmian? What terrible scenes will conclude the acquaintance of Peter with his wicked cousin? Will the path of true love run smooth, not just in the main cast but also among the humbler supporting characters? Has anyone any real doubt?
Although entertaining for an idle hour, The Broad Highway contains many of the flaws, and few of the redeeming features, of the previous two Farnol books I read—Black Bartlemy's Treasure and Martin Conisby's Vengenace. It is no more than a very forgettable sensational novel—with little of interest to recommend it, and too much of sensation to make it very healthy. Then there is the particularly distasteful episode in which, for no apparent reason, the narrator takes it upon himself to declare that Our Lord was no more than a wise human teacher. I do not, on the whole, recommend this book.
PS. I must apologise for my writing style today. I have been reading Jane Austen all afternoon, and now I am writing like her. Hopefully it will have worn off in time for my next post.


Christina Baehr said...

If I was writing like Jane Austen, I wouldn't want it to wear off. ;)

Nice to have you back blogging regularly, Suzannah.

Suzannah said...

Neither would I, if I were really writing like Jane Austen. But I fear it's only a superficial similarity!

It's nice to be blogging regularly ;).

Tim Nelson said...

You could try to write the Jane Austen version of "Martin Conisby's Vengeance" before it wears off :).

Anonymous said...

I read your review with interest as I didn't realise anyone younger than myself had even hearf of Farnol let alone read him. I think some of your criticisms cam be ecplained by the fact that the Broad Highway was Farnol's first novel. However the fact remains that most current semsibilities will have difficulty accepting Farnol's over written and sensational style which is in all his books.
George Macdonald Fraser in his memoirs admits to devouring Farol's work while on leave from the Burma campaign during ww2. He sugggests that Farnol's popularity was partly to do with his portrayal of an idealised view of English rural society.
By the way did you notice the passage in chapter XV which clearly inspired Tolkien's portrayal of Ents and especially Old Man Willow?
Regards Kim

Suzannah said...

Oh, I quite enjoy Farnol's overwritten style--as long as there's something a little more substantial there. I can't really recommend this one, though I did recommend the Martin Conisby books.

Anonymous said...

Yes I enjoy him but one has to be in the mood for storms, gibbets and swooning! I'm re-reading some of him now ( when I can find copies at less than extortionate prices) and have found two more passages thst are echoed in workd by other authors.. The first in Black Bartlemy where Conisby disvovers a diary in a cave( Tolkien again) and the second in The Amateur Gentleman where Devenham receives a letter from his father refusing to advance any more money which in content and tone seems to have been re-used by D L Sayers in Gaudy Night.
It has just crossed my mind that both Sayers and Tolkien were practising Christians. I wonder of they found anything more on Farnol than sensatipnal storied? Regards Kim. Ps I think D L Sayers murdered george Orwell.

a highway traveller said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Suzannah said...

I've had to remove this comment according with my comment policy (see right-hand column). I'm very interested, however, to hear that "If you live in southern England/Kent this book has a certain charm in that the route taken by the hero is easily identifiable and the pubs he describes are still operating, especially the Bull in Sissinghurst."

If the commenter would like to resubmit his comment with more civility I'd be much obliged :).

The Yuletide Kid said...

I don't mean to be nasty, but your review of Jeffery Farnol's most popular Regency novel sounds like it came straight out of Time Magazine when Henry Luce was in his prime.

Jeffery Farnol was a remarkable artist who had the great misfortune of seeing his high ideals smashed by modern technology and two world wars. Yes, he can be sappy at times. Still, he more than compensates for that with his unique style and characters that range from The Ancient to Charmian Brown, from Jasper Shrig to Adam Penfeather, from Black Bartlemy to "the fair Spanish dame"- Joanna.

Please try to be more measured in your criticism the next time. Soon after his death more than a half century ago Jeffery Farnol was plunged into obscurity and deemed one of "the Lost Writers." Now, thanks to the Internet, he is making a mild resurgence. As a result, he needs a more sympathetic and sensitive re-evaluation, one that Jane Austin would approve of.

The Yuletide Kid

Suzannah said...

Hello, Yuletide Kid! Obviously, I haven't been able to discover the same artistic depth and ability in Farnol as you have. If you think he needs a more sympathetic re-evaluation, won't you be so kind as to write your own review and share the link here? I'd be very interested in what you have to say. :)

The Yuletide Kid said...

Hi Susannah,

At a decrepit old geezer of seventy-two, I don't feel up to writing another review of The Broad Highway. I wrote a short one years ago for Amazon which captures my overall feeling for Farnol and his work, hence that should suffice.


As stated in the review, Farnol's style does not lend itself to the modern reader, who, by and large, demands a simplified and homogenized lexicon. My favorite English professor, C. P. Lee, identified this trend way back in 1963.

"I have been truly perplexed with the essays of this year's freshmen," Lee said one day in class. "They are all written with the same 2,000 odd word vocabulary. Then last night it hit me. You are the first TV generation to come my way. I don't mean this as a criticism. It is, however, something that must be acknowledged and addressed."

Later, I too would become an English teacher after a long, circuitous route as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand and Western Samoa and as a contract teacher in Japan and the People's Republic of China. Throughout my career, I found Lee's words to be deadly accurate. They explain a number of trends, such as the continued popularity of Ernest Hemingway and the waning popularity of William Faulkner.

As ever,
The Yuletide Kid

Suzannah said...

Thanks for sharing your link! Like you, I'm a fan of capital-R Romance and the triumph of good over evil, and I absolutely agree with you in liking those things about Farnol. However, I would say that other writers do the same thing even better--some favourites of mine would include Edmund Spenser, Torquato Tasso, Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, and John Buchan. I've never read Hemingway.

So even though I don't have the highest opinion of Farnol, I think you and I probably do value similar things in our reading matter. :)

The Yuletide Kid said...

Thank you for such a sympathetic response, Susannah. I agree Jeffery Farnol is not for everyone. Years ago I was an active member of the now defunct website The Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society, remnants of which can still be found on cyberspace.

At the time most of us Farnoholics thought that we were the only readers of Jeffery Farnol on the planet. Comparing notes, we discovered that we had been introduced to Farnol at a young age by an idealistic parent or by some weird happenstance.

We also agreed that there was something addictive or hypnotic about Farnol's style once the reader got used to it. Still, this did not have anything to do with our professional backgrounds. For instance, Pat Bryan in Canada was a topnotch adman and a personal friend of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Dr. Malin was the Director of the Greenwich Meantime Observatory in Great Britain. Sam Remington was a director of a public library in northern England. And I, Gerry Christmas (aka the Yuletide Kid), was a middle school teacher at an at-risk school in North Carolina.

Lastly, we all concurred that we found great humor in Farnol's writing, especially with his tangents regarding romance with a capital R. In other words, we knew that Farnol often wrote about the surface of things, that he rarely plunged into the depth of the human heart. But so what? He did other things, such as characterization and point counterpoint, stunning well.

P. G. Wodehouse, generally considered the greatest humorist in the English language, once wrote that their were two types of writing: fluff and the serious stuff. Wodehouse freely admitted that he wrote fluff on a grand scale. Farnol, in a totally different vein, did much the same thing.

Do not feel alone regarding your admiration of John Buchan. My best friend in primary school, David Godine, grew up to be a famous publisher of a small but highly respected publishing house in Boston, Massachusetts. David is primarily interested in original works but from time to time likes to resurrect writers that he read as a boy. One such writer is John Buchan. You might want to check David's website. His books are beautifully done and a joy to the human eye.

As ever,
The Yuletide Kid


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