Closely resembling Charles Kingslpey's "muscular Christian," R. D. Blackmore's hero John Ridd fights for identity and virtue as much as love and country. A Yorkshire farmer, Ridd becomes embroiled with the outlaw Doone family of Scotland when he falls totally in love with Sir Ensor Doone's granddaughter, Lorna. Though aristocrats, the Doones are rebels, thieves and Catholics—the opposite of John Ridd, a devout Protestant, a simple yeoman, a man of his word.
A rousing adventure story, Blackmore's masterpiece investigates the nature of masculinity, and the hierarchy of allegiances every man faces. It's also a celebration of pastoral life, romantic love, and Victorian ideals from the domestic life to religion and morality. By having Ridd narrate the story, Blackmore effectively removes himself, leaving a firsthand defense of the good life in narrative form, rather than relying on philosophic digressions to relay his message.
Ridd struggles throughout the novel to resolve the tension between his love for Lorna and his love of country and family. He often ponders true manhood: immensely strong of body yet plain-minded, in every situation he pursues the manliest course. While often obsessed with outward displays (at one point he carries sheep two-by-two under his arms through a snowstorm), his less visceral feats are the ones that finally earn our admiration (his wooing of Lorna, for instance).
Praised by writers as diverse as Thomas Hardy and Robert Louis Stevenson, Lorna Doone is an often overlooked classic that is both thoughtful and well-crafted. In an era when manliness is either villified entirely or characterized by machismo and violence, Lorna Doone is a breath of fresh air. Adeptly blending scenes of agrarian bliss with exciting and even scary adventures, Blackmore's novel, while intensely relevant in his own day, is just as powerful and universal today.