Lavengro, together with its sequel The Romany Rye, is the most under-rated work of English literature produced in the 19th century. Lavengro's author, George Borrow, had one of the most original and unusual imaginations: his passions included languages (he spoke about 30), Gypsies, and things picaresque. The final chapters of Lavengro and the opening chapters of The Romany Rye contain the only romance I am aware of in 19th c. literature where a man and a woman meet and share common space in terms of complete equality. A book to read and learn from, treasure and return to.
This book (including Romany Rye, the sequel) is not an example of high-minded literature, but rather the account of Borrow's early life, and the beginning of his adventures. All escapades take place in the United Kingdom, of which he is admirably patriotic. As a character, he is actually somewhat quiet; but the situations and especially people he meets are both tangibly real (to a degree that I find unusual in a work of that time) and outlandish by any standards, Victorian (?) England's or ours. Above all the stories were fascinating, and are stamped permanently in my memory. While one needs a taste for the "philological" to enjoy and understand these adventures, they are still only marvelous anecdotes, including brilliant character portraits and memorable descriptions. One small quality that I appreciated, particularly since he writes so much of his experiences with Gypsies, is that Borrow is probably less rascist than many of his contemporaries seem to b! e. By the way: while The Bible in Spain has the same qualities as Lavengro and Romany Rye, it is not nearly as well written; he indulges his taste for dry ramblings much more, and the interesting stories seem almost arbitrary in when he tells them and when he ends them; were he still alive, there would be much that I'd like him to elaborate on. If anyone can tell me about his other writings (I have the impression that the quality can vary) I'd really appreciate some advice through email.