Charles Kingsley: Overview

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Author: K. V. Bailey
Editor: David Pringle
Date: 1996
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,072 words

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There is a certain dichotomy in the mood and modes of Charles Kingsley's writing. He was a realistic novelist, whether the realism was in the service of such socially conscious, didactic fiction as Two Years Ago and Yeast; or whether it gave colour to historical romances like Hereward the Wake and Westward Ho! But he was also a teller of tales which either drew on the myths and legends of mankind, as in The Heroes and his long narrative poem "Andromeda," or invoked an original vein of fantasy, as in The Water-Babies.

Although Kingsley's literary reputation was founded mainly on his sociologically oriented novels, now readable chiefly as documents of his age, it is only in The Heroes and The Water-Babies, both written for children, that he finds any popular readership today. Before considering these, however, it is worth looking at certain of the major novels from the point of view specific to this appraisal. Sir Leslie Stephen wrote of Kingsley that he "called himself a Platonist in philosophy and had a taste for the mysteries, liking to recognize a divine symbolism in nature". This attribute favoured a constant breaking through of the fantastic into even his most realistic fiction. In Yeast, for example, a novel that was pro-Christian Socialist and anti-Benthamite propagandist, background and dialogue are prosaically realistic, yet Kingsley's perception that "consciousness is a dim candle—over a deep mine," is time after time realized in dream, reverie and metaphor. The gigantic gamekeeper, Tregarva, lamenting his plebian status, says that "he feels sometimes as if he was enchanted, pent up, like folks in fairy tales, in the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420004603