Novel 020: Sir Henry Stewart Cunningham, Wheat and Tares (1860)

William Powell Frith, Portrait of Two Girls 

William Powell Frith, Portrait of Two Girls 


A brother and sister, staying at a seaside town with their uncle the archdeacon, are involved in various romantic conflicts.

Sir Henry Stewart Cunningham (1832-1920), a prominent barrister and judge, found time to write six novels between 1860 and 1894.  Here, maybe he ran out of time, for, after three hundred pages of excellent social comedy, he concludes abruptly with a hundred more of badly plotted melodrama.  The beginning and middle, however, are good enough to make up for the end.

“A capital story.  Fresh, sparkling, and cheerful as a summer’s morning”; it provides “a very faithful daguerrotype of the life in an English sea-side town.”  Christian Examiner, November, 1860

"This is a natural work.  It will please all readers, whose tastes and human feelings have not been utterly obliterated by the blood-and-thunder 'sensation' romances of the time….  His book 'has the atmosphere of truth and the vigor of sincerity, and is executed with uncommon freedom, delicacy, and skill.'"  Knickerbocker, (quoting the New York Saturday Press), November, 1860

“The dialogue is unusually brilliant, natural, and easy.  The fun is quiet, subtle, and continuous; and the illustrations of hidden thoughts and the shading off of finer traits of character are at once ingenious and truthful.  But above all, it has throughout the unmistakable impress of a refined and delicate taste.  The people in it who are represented as talking in drawing-rooms talk as if they really were in drawing rooms, and not in the gilded saloons that haunt the fancy of Bohemia.  The ladies are ladies, and the gentlemen are about as wise and foolish, as well-behaved and as ill-behaved, as gentlemen usually are.”  Saturday Review, November 16, 1861

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