Novel 028: Lucas Malet, Colonel Enderby's Wife (1885)

Hubert von Herkomer, Clematis

Hubert von Herkomer, Clematis


A quiet middle-aged man falls in love with a beautiful but strangely childlike young woman.

Mary St. Leger Harrison (1852-1931) was the daughter of novelist and reformer Charles Kingsley.  Under the pseudonym Lucas Malet, she wrote some 16 novels beginning in 1882; this one, amid more commentary on the human condition than might seem altogether necessary, presents vivid characters in helpless conflict.

“In these days of hurried workmanship it is a welcome contrast to encounter a story which combines imagination, observation and finish in such a high degree.  This is no sketch, but a whole gallery of portraits which have not suffered from the author’s elaborate method, but only gained in lifelikeness”; even if “the author, especially in her moralizing moods, is too uniformly, and perhaps consciously, clever.” Athenaeum, June 6, 1885

The novel's style has “a quiet self-confidence and reserved power”; the author is “vivid and effective in her descriptions, and telling in her portraitures”; but “there is a morbid strain running through it; one is tempted to ask whether the imagination which conceived and executed this book has not a touch of inflammation.” Literary World, July 11, 1885

“It is poignant, grievously pathetic, a fateful, disheartening book, but it is unquestionably clever.” “Everything in ‘Colonel Enderby's Wife’ is clever--the talk, the author’s pessimistic reflections, the arrangement of incident...and above all the delineation of character."  Westminster Review, October, 1885

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