George Manville Fenn: Devon Boys

Not as good as my first Fenn novel; in fact, one of the main character’s constant grumbling and pugnaciousness, while obviously meant for a humorous effect, was at first so annoying that it almost made me stop reading the book. The later moralising about loyalty and dutifulness towards authorities being more important than friendship was fairly unpleasant too.

An interesting thing though: the whole of Three Boys and the second half of Devon Boys deal with males in their mid-teens, yet there’s not a single hint of the existence of (let alone the characters’ interest in) females of that age. Makes one wonder whether Fenn was a closet gay – or whether such a suspicion simply means misapplying 21st-century standards to 19th-century writings, this welcome absence being simply a result of Victorian ideas about what was ‘chaste’ and ‘educative’.

After all, when the 17-year-old narrator describes at some length a weird dream (not all that weirder than dreams usually are) and concludes with the words “That comes of eating cold beef and pickled cucumber for supper”, it may be hilarious nowadays, but for all I know may have looked quite normal when first published in 1880.


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