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Customer Review

on 1 January 2009
Warning: this review contains spoilers

Hugh Walpole was a hugely popular author in the 1930s but he has fallen out of favour with readers since his death in 1941 and is not widely read nowadays.

I first came across him when Radio 4 dramatised his 'Herries Chronicle' in the early 1970s. The Chronicle consists of four novels which tell the story of a Cumbrian family over two hundred years, from 1730 to 1930.

'Judith Paris' is the second in the series and I re-read it recently to see what my reaction to it would be after 38 years.

Walpole's greatest strength lies in his descriptive powers. His description of the Lakeland scenery and the effect of the weather on the countryside is as good as anything in Hardy. He is also excellent at conjuring up atmosphere, whether it be describing furniture, clothes or food. He knows his period well (the novel covers the years 1774 to 1822) and he uses his knowledge to good effect.

Walpole's weakness lies in his delineation of character. He fails to make any of his characters well-rounded with the exception, maybe, of his eponymous heroine. Walpole paints on a very broad canvas, his characters have powerful emotions and they display grand gestures.There is nothing inherently wrong with such an approach, but I find it unsatisfactory. For example, the suicide of one of the characters dosen't convince as we have not been shown adequately enough why he should have taken his own life.

Some episodes are included which, whilst being well done, don't really add anything to the development of the plot, for example the description of a hanging.

An enjoyable read, but not a great novel.
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4.2 out of 5 stars