The Chronicles of the Imp by Jeffery Farnol (1915)

Another Jeffery Farnol novel, another exasperated reader! Poor Jeffery. His books sound dreadful, but dreadful in a way not found nowadays. (See the review of The Geste of Duke Jocelyn here.) I am getting the impression that they were read as being charmingly whimsical in their day, and we have no patience with this kind of whimsy today.

Review by Kath R:

This edition of The Chronicles of the Imp begins with ‘An Appreciation of the Author and his work by Clement K. Shorter’ a book editor and critic. Jeffery Farnol was a prolific writer starting with this novel in 1907 and finishing with his death in 1955. (The Chronicles of the Imp was first published as My Lady Caprice in 1907.) His novel The Broad Highway was the number one selling fiction book in the United States in 1911.

Here’s a summary of The Chronicles:

Dick Brent, an author, is considered an unsuitable suitor for heiress Elizabeth (known as Lisbeth) by her guardian, Lady Warburton. Realising the couple are becoming too close Lady Warburton takes Lisbeth to the country away from temptation and to be close to a more suitable, wealthy, but pompous neighbour, Horace Selwyn. Also resident is Lisbeth’s nephew Reginald Augustus, known as the Imp. The Imp enjoys playing  imaginative games involving knights, Robin Hood and the like. The enemy is the humourless Mr Selwyn.  Dick follows Lisbeth to the country, stays at the local inn and goes fishing in the river close to Lady Warburton’s property, unbeknown to Lady Warburton. He meets the Imp, befriends him and joins in his games. Several chapters are devoted to the games in which any meetings between Lisbeth and Selwyn are disrupted by the Imp with the aid of our hero.

The following paragraph is taken from the website of the Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society and is an extract from the Tatler published in 1915 when the book was republished.

This is the plot of Mr. Jeffery Farnol’s charming story, The Chronicles of the Imp.  It is a fairy tale with every fairy but one grown up.  For Lisbeth is no less a fairy because her hair is up, nor is Dick any the less a fairy prince because he is in trousers, nor the Imp any less Puck because he is in the disguise of the dearest, naughtiest, most lovable little boy in the world.  These, then, are the fairies.  The ‘ humans,’ of course, do the deeds usually left for humans to do.  They try to separate young lovers, marry charming girls against their will, and possess no sense of humour.  Happily, they do not count – at least, not at the end.  All who matter are the lovers and the little boy, and these make the happiest, pleasantest, most adorable little trio of romantics with whom to pass a few hours of an April day.  There is about The Chronicles of the Imp that indescribable quality called ‘ charm.’ What matter if you can easily guess the end the moment you have grasped the beginning? The story is not important.  It is the way Mr. Farnol tells it that will place The Chronicles of the Imp among those few books with which every reader falls immediately in love.”

Charm, I think, is not a quality which attracts the 21st century reader. I found the flowery style of writing tedious. The plot was predictable, as the Tatler says,  but for a plot not to be important I think  the author has to give the reader either character,  language or humour – none of which can be found in this novel. The characters are stereotypes. They include the stern aunt who at the end we learn might have had a past.

On the  last page she says: ‘if I had acted forty years ago as you did today, I might have been a very different creature from the cross-grained old woman you think me’.

Other stereotypes include the adult male characters who are a boorish rich suitor and a bohemian hero (who appears to own a Tudor Manor house and does no work so presumably has a private income).

The Imp could have been amusing but the author gives him none of the wit which goes with William Brown or the fun which E Nesbit gives her child characters.

With the final sentence ‘so Lisbeth and I sailed on together through the golden morning to the Land of Heart’s Delight’, this reader breathed a sigh of relief that the whole thing was over. I hope this review has spared someone else.

4 thoughts on “The Chronicles of the Imp by Jeffery Farnol (1915)

  1. I can vouch for the popularity of these books at one time. My mother liked them, partly for nostalgic reasons, I think, because *her* mother read them. Towards the end of Mum’s life, I started picking up cheap but nice copies of Farnol’s books for her (lovely dustwrappers) and she was delighted. Now the books are mine but I’ve only read The Piping Times (mentioned on my blog somewhere) which was quite fun. I read Chronicles when I was a child and only noticed the sections about the Imp.

    • Thanks, Barbara. It’s very good to know how much these books were valued in the past. Some of our copies have dustwrappers, and they really add to the appeal of the book.

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