The Broad Highway, Jeffrey Farnol’s highly visual novel of the late 1800’s English countryside, took top honors on the 1911 bestseller list, and its good-natured, bookish hero’s absurd adventures still draws guffaws from readers.
The story starts in a mock fairy tale manner. Peter and Maurice Vibart inherit 20,000 pounds and 10 guineas, respectively, from their late uncle, with the promise that whichever succeeds in marrying Lady Sophia Sefton within a year will inherit the rest of the estate.
The cousins know each other only by reputation. To Peter, Maurice is a blackguard; to Maurice, Peter is a “terrible example of Virtue run riot.”
As Peter’s tastes in women (of whom he knows nothing) incline him to soft, clinging females, he decides to hike around England until he finds a way to earn a living short of marrying the tempermental Lady Sophia. By the end of the first day’s hike, the story has more loose ends than a yarn basket full of kittens.
A series of misadventures transforms Peter into an apprentice blacksmith, living in cottage believed by locals to be haunted. As Peter Smith, he rescues beautiful Charmian Brown from being abducted. And that’s just the beginning of Peter’s adventures.
In a style reminiscent of Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy, Farnol mingles slapstick with witty commentary on his hero’s deficiencies, all amply illustrated in a string of absurd situations.
Farnol dawdles to let Peter be ridiculed, then streaks through more active scenes with hardly time for readers to note who was in them.
The Broad Highway is not a great novel, but it’s sunny silliness is a joyous escape from the gloomy seriousness of the twenty-first century. I wish someone would make it into a Masterpiece Classic presentation.The Broad Highway
by Jeffrey Farnol
1911 bestseller #1
Project Gutenberg E-text #5257