R.D. Blackmore and Sexuality in ‘Lorna Doone’

By M.J. Porteus, author of Lorna Doone: The Wild and Wanton Edition

Lorna Doone: The Wild and Wanton Edition, Volume 4Now I know that the whole point of the Wild and Wanton series is to intersperse the original text with more detail and for it to be as seamless as possible, but now that you have read all of the novel (you have, haven’t you?! If not, please finish Volume 4 and then refer to this blog post if you wish) you may be interested to reflect on how Blackmore himself handles the suggestion of sexuality in the original — because although he wrote it in the more prudish eighteenth century and had several close relatives in the clergy,  and this aspect of his writing is not often referred to in analyses of his work, he certainly alluded to the more openly sexual and suggestive climate apparently to be found in the seventeenth century. (If any of you doubt this, try getting hold of books such as The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500 – 1800 by Lawrence Stone!)

The encounter with the lady’s maid is the first example, when she, in “a brazen manner,” makes a play for him, then later pretends that she has never seen him before, though later on confesses she has often longed to see him again. Other scenes include references to the women being carried off by the Doone outlaws and taking kindly to it; men losing their activity if too long in the saddle; “a yeoman every inch …even when [he is] naked”; Tom Faggus being the lover of his sister; the tingling going through John when Lorna is near;  one of the “great, rough men” kissing Lorna so that John heard it and would have shot them had he had a gun; Squire Marwood’s intentions for Annie such that John punches him; and the Snowe girls and their fondness for John amongst others including Parson Bowden (old enough to be their grandfather.)

And if we examine the fact that John is not driven to exact revenge when the Doones kill his father, but is stirred to anger and action whenever he thinks of or sees their interaction with Lorna, (in fact he kisses her the very first time he meets her), then we get a growing picture of his love and lust.

Blackmore also introduces additional love interest with Cousin Ruth in whose company John is content to drink wine and to dance with her and bask in her attentions; sucking at Ruth’s arm to remove poison he asks her if she thinks he does it for pleasure?!

Other cousins get a scant mention, though it is: “[they] led me to a blessed bed, and kissed me all round like swan’s down.” Even Lizzie is eventually flirting with her soldier and has to be chaperoned in her “long stay in the saddle-room.”

I don’t want to reference every mention here, and of course it can be argued that some of the language such as someone’s “lover” may not have been intended to have quite the same connotation as nowadays, but there is little doubt in my mind that although Blackmore has John professing his ignorance and lack of experience at times, he wants to portray a young man growing in curiosity and desire — and opportunity! He’d even hurry for a woman but not a man, and if he didn’t have Lorna’s love interest he would be happy to be with Ruth: “I would have been glad to have married her to-morrow, if I had never seen my Lorna.”

So the Wild and Wanton version builds on the sensuality and sexual innuendo of R. D. Blackmore’s original text — and with such a handsome hero and heroine, why not?! (For more on this subject you might want to read my first blog here, or head over to www.mjporteus.com where you’ll find more information about Lorna Doone.) I do hope you have enjoyed immersing yourself in the seventeenth century and reading the novel.