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69 BLACKMORE'S LETTERS TO BLACKWOOD« THE RECORD OF A NOVELIST'S INDECISION By Max Keith Sutton (The University of Kansas) Why R. D. Blackmore could never duplicate the success of Lorna Doone (I869), his third novel, is a question without a convincing answer. For the next three decades he tried to match his great popular achievement, but by the end of his career in 1897 he was grudgingly resigned to being known as a one-book author.1 Of his thirteen other novels, all but The. Maid of Sker (I872), Mary Anerley (I88O), and Springhaven (I887) have long been out of print, and most of them suffer from enough lapses into sentimental and trivial dialogue, melodramatic plotting, and garrulous narration to offend modern tastes. Though many of their scenes and characters have intense life, the neglected works never quite achieve the coherence of great fiction - even of so sprawling a narrative as Lorna Doone. The source of Blaokmore's difficulties in achieving coherence remains as obscure as the operations of his creative mind. But the context of his frustration can be known by following the record of his efforts to write in the most demanding and immediately profitable mode open to the late-Victorian novelist: serial publication. The difficulties of writing coherent fiction in monthly installments do not explain why his eleven serialized novels fall short of Lorna Doone. which - being rejected by at least three leading magazines-' was published complete in three volumes. Other novelists of the period had thrived on serialization, and Thomas Hardy was to prove that, in spite of editorial constraints, brilliant success by installments was still possible. But in Blaokmore's case this arrangement was unsuited to his health, his working habits, and his weak artistic conscience. The most direct evidence of his problems in writing the next two novels after Lorna Doone appears in his letters to John and William Blackwood, with whom he began negotiating near the end of I870, when the one-volume edition of his latest work showed signs of becoming a best-seller. Its success led him back into the trap of serial publication, despite bitter memories of how Cradock Nowell had been bowdlerized^and desperately revised for Maanillan's Magazine in 1865 and 1866.^ Because Blackwood's accepted and began publishing The Maid of Sker and Alice Lorraine (I875) long before either manuscript was finished, Blackmore soon found himself struggling to keep on schedule while trying to please a publisher whom he almost slavishly respected. His letters record the circumstantial difficulties - the interruptions from visitors, orchard work, or attacks of epilepsy; and they shed some light on the deeper problems of judgment and artistic self-confidence that eventually led to the last-minute surrender of his most ambitious goal: a tragic ending for Alice Lorraine. His desire to please forms a dominant note in the correspondence. When The Maid of Sker was finally accepted some three months after he submitted the first number, he told John Blackwood of his need for approval: "A writer, I think, is much like a singer 1 he may 70 do his best, but can not enjoy it, unless he believes that his audience will. The mere thought of a cold reception takes half the caloric out of him" [15 March I871].* At the outset, his desire to please was part of his desire to sell a manuscript, and he approached the publisher with marked deference to official Victorian tastes. Unlike George Eliot, who at the start of her career convinced John Blackwood that "I cannot stir a step aside from what I feel to be true in character,"6 Blackmore began the correspondence with a readiness to compromise. After calling prudery the "sham virginity of a prostituted age,"7 he had given in to Alexander Macmillan in 1866; now he broached the issue to John Blackwood with submissive caution: If there are any expressions in it [the first part of The Maid of SkerJ, wh. you think too strong for the pages of a magazine like yours, or anything of a tone wh. may appear to some like levity) I shall be quite happy to alter wherever requested. Only if the story...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 69-76
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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