Eleanor Estes/Moffat Books

Saturday, June 26, 2004

G. A. Henty

John Derbyshire on National Review Online had some comments on Victorian "boy's book" author and homeschool favorite G. A. Henty. He references an article in The New Criterion which is worth reading. The conclusion of both is that Henty's historical fiction is (unlike most) better as history than fiction. Derbyshire says:

I can't actually say I am a big Henty fan. I see the home-schoolers' point: His stories convey strong Christian values and masses of fascinating historical information. Set against the sort of PC drivel that makes up much of the "young teen" book market nowadays...they look pretty good.

However, there is one (for me) big drawback to Henty: He was a simply terrible writer. He has no ear for the rhythms of speech, and as Brooke points out in her article, he wrote in haste and didn't bother to edit. At one point in THE CARTHAGINIAN BOY, some people are -- I am not making this up -- precipitated over a precipice. The broader skills of a novelist are also absent. One never feels that Henty has much interest in his characters. Sometimes he just forgets about them for pages at a stretch and drones on about military deployments, diplomatic exchanges, or political squabbles in a dull schoolmasterly style -- not very captivating stuff, surely, for a modern teen. I never find myself caring much about a Henty character. If the author doesn't care, why should I?

One of our boys echoed this criticism: "He describes the camp, then the tents in the camp, then the material the tents are made of..."

We've read very little of Henty and have none of him on our list at this point. I have heard from a number of sources that a few of his books have an anti-Catholic bias. Whether or not this is so (and I have no firsthand knowledge that it is), I do suspect that the Victorian Protestant Christianity of the author is unlikely to be completely congenial to the Catholic worldview.

Still, many of the titles sound intriguing --- I will add some to my to-read list and see for myself.


Anonymous said...

Shame that the writer hasn't read GA Henty, as his comment proves. 'The Young Carthaginian' is fed to us as 'The Carthaginian Boy' !?! Not even the correct title, so how can he be believed as having read the story. The writer also doesn't realise that the books were written for the boys of the time, who made him the most sought after author. His books sold in their thousands both in the UK, the Colonies and America. Henty books are widely collected even now, as well as still being published by a multitude of American publishers. His stories were pretty good then as they are now. The silly comments about Henty and his style of writing are also unjustified as he used an amanuensis and dictated his works. If ever any sensible comment is needed about Henty, contact The Henty Society. We may be biased, but at least we read the material before making inane comments.

Anonymous said...

I do not agree at all! Henty has a sensible way of writing. His books are of course historically accurate.
Most of you probably have different opinions. What is most important is that he mentions God.

Anonymous said...

I would like to give you all a good snubbing

Anonymous said...

I've read lots of G A Henty books and I love everyone of them. one thing I've found the more you read the books the eaisier it is to understand them you have to remember that he wrote them in the 1800's about the monotony ofbattle information they are HISTORICLE if you don't like it read a novel (oh and the editing you have to remember when he wrote them)

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the "average" teen of to day wouldn't like Henty's books, but that is simply because those who eat junk food all the time will not like wholesome food.
I am a teenager and I love Henty's books. By reading them I learned far more history than any where else. And no, I'm not a history buff.
Yes, some times he left his characters for pages at a time, but that did not make me lose intrest.
And for the sceptics out there I'm not a boring book worm. I am a lively young lady studying to be an Independent Film Maker. In fact for those who are interested, I dream of some day turning "In Freedom's Cause" into a top of the line film. Watch me and see if I don't.

Lisa Wong said...

I'm a teen and have ready over 20 G. A. Hentys and love everyoneof them. However, I would recommend that you also read R.M. Ballantyne. His books are much less historical than Henty but are alot of fun. Check them out at www.visionforum.com