G. A. Henty – Classic Adventure Stories

G. A. Henty has been one of my favorite authors since I was about 10 years old. A master of historical fiction, Henty’s works have endured for nearly 150 years. And with good reason – despite a few flaws, his books are some of the finest examples of juvenile adventure stories in modern history. Most of his books follow a simple, classic formula: a fictional adolescent protagonist living in a troubled historical period. Quite a few involve British imperial wars which G. A. Henty witnessed firsthand as a war correspondent. Others draw upon the annals of history – the American Revolution, Sir Francis Drake, Wallace and Bruce, the fall of Jerusalem, ancient Egypt, the Crusades etc.

G. A. Henty

Henty’s books are outstanding for a number of reasons. He is unsurpassed in historical accuracy, especially concerning the events he lived through himself. And he meticulously researched those events and eras before his time to ensure the greatest accuracy possible. His heroes are always just that: heroes. Not perfect, of course, but still inherently good. Brave, kind, loyal, chivalrous, with a healthy dose of good sense, each character is someone you can root for. And let’s not forget the stories themselves. Exciting and engaging, they captivate from the first page to the last.

No one is perfect however, and the same holds true for books. There are a few flaws in Mr. Henty’s writing. One of which is his overly detailed descriptions of battles, sometimes several pages long. And usually the hero is not mentioned at all. It’s this regiment did that and that regiment did this and the cavalry charged over here and on and on. I find it tedious, but it is quite easy to skip over those passages. And then too, his imperial zeal is a bit overpowering at times. For these 2 reasons, I tend to prefer the books that deal with ancient times – before the British empire and the many imperial wars that appear in quite a few of his books. The third problem I have with G. A. Henty’s stories is his racial prejudices. I do not blame him as his attitude was quite prevalent in his day. And it’s not pervasive – sometimes I get the impression that he wasn’t entirely sold on the idea himself.

Overall, I approve of G. A. Henty and his books. They are well-written, engaging stories with an old-fashioned moral code. I thoroughly enjoy reading each one at least once – and there are several I read over and over.

What Is Woman?

“The dark-haired Freda, who united the fearlessness and independence of a woman with the frankness and gaiety of a child, had won his heart.” – The Dragon and the Raven, by G.A. Henty

Every once in a while, a passage in a book leaps out at me and demands attention. “Look!” it says, “I’m just what you’ve thought so many times but couldn’t quite put into words. Here I am, all put together for you.” That’s just what this sentence did. In 24 words, it completely and eloquently states everything I ever aspired to be as a woman. The best of both worlds, as it were. To be a strong, confident woman, yet still open and vivacious like a girl, that is what I want to be.

When I was little, I always said I wanted to be a woman, but never a lady. I was something of a tomboy and this was the only way I could say what I meant. To me, “lady” meant being prim and proper, soft and sedate. I have long since realized my mistake – that a woman can indeed be both strong and ladylike. But it was a mistake in word usage only, never in the meaning behind the words. My thoughts made sense to me, but I never found the right words to express those thoughts. Mr. Henty, writing 129 years ago, has done it for me.

In today’s gender-confused world, it can be difficult to know how to truly be a woman. Or how to be a man, for that matter. In G.A. Henty’s day, the lines were more clearly drawn between the sexes. In 1886, there were very specific rules that governed the way a woman should dress, act, and think. I have no desire to return to such a restrictive arrangement – and I don’t think he thought too much of it at the time either. In writing Freda, the romantic interest of The Dragon and the Raven’s protagonist, he leaves no doubt that she is all woman. Yet she is both free-thinking and free-spirited. In today’s world, it is both easier and more complicated – easier because we are encouraged to be ourselves, more complicated because we have to figure out what that means on our own. I certainly haven’t figured it out yet, but every day I learn a little more and become a little better. But that’s life, right? Always learning, always growing, always striving to be a better person.