R. D. Blackmore is best known as the author of Lorna Doone. I found that novel so enchanting that recently I decided to look for others by Blackmore. He is known, like Thomas Hardy, for his depictions of country life, his West England settings, and his personification of the countryside. But unlike Hardy, he is known for adventure plots.
Blackmore was a horticulturalist and fruit grower, as is his main character “Captain Larks,” in Christowell. Captain Larks is a middle-aged man living in retirement with his daughter Rose. Although they nominally live in the village of Christowell, Captain Larks only admits a few chosen visitors to his property, across the drawbridge over the Christowell River.
But the outside world is about to come in anyway, first through an accident. Dickie Touchwood, a young sportsman who is out ratting on Dartmoor, falls over a cliff and through one of Captain Lark’s greenhouses. Nursed by Rose, he decides he is in love with her. Another young man, Jack Westcombe, meets them while fishing in the river and also falls in love with Rose.
Captain Larks has some kind of shadow over his past to do with when he was in the military. Because of this, he refuses to meet Colonel Westcombe, Jack’s father, even though he clearly knows and likes him. Colonel Westcombe also seems at a loss for how to treat Captain Larks.
But the Captain has an enemy he does not even suspect. A red-faced man named Mr. Gaston is having him watched and has stolen some mail directed to him.
All of this activity is connected with Captain Larks’s former life. He finds that, instead of avoiding the issue of his past, the truth of it must come out.
Although there are many scenes of the rural life of Christowell, including a fascinating treetop dance, this novel also has plenty of adventure, featuring a dangerous housebreaker living on the moor, a threatened kidnapping and murder, a chase across the moor, and a horrendous storm. Some vernacular made it occasionally hard to understand, but in general I found it enjoyable.
Unfortunately, most of Blackmore’s books are out of print. I purchased an old used book in preference to reading a print on demand book. While looking for a copy, I noticed that the print on demand publishers have found a way to make more money by breaking up old novels into several volumes, often unnecessarily.