My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wynfield's Kingdom is subtitled A Tale of the London Slums, which is true for most of the book, but the novel also presents an interesting look at the upper classes in nineteenth century England. Wynfield is introduced to readers as a young orphan, who has been viciously beaten by members of a local gang. He had been a member of that gang, but had turned on them for a number of reasons, including his desire to save a little girl. This frail girl had been selected by the leader of the gang to be sold into a situation which would have killed her.
Wynfield and Diana, the girl he saved, are adopted by Tom Grant, a former surgeon turned barkeep. As they grow older, Wynfield rises to power in the Bermondsey slum while Diana takes on more and more radical ideas. Wynfield's friends call him the King of Bermondsey and he refers to Diana as his queen.
Wynfield is raised in the slums, but has an interest in literature that is not shared by most of the others around him. He is particularly fond of one French writer in particular. Here's how he explains his fascination to his adopted father.
“Dr. Grant, you wonder why I inhale Victor Hugo's writings? My life practically mirrors his plots. I could easily be one of his characters. I drink seawater like Han of Iceland, swing my axe like Cromwell, sing like Hernani and write poems like Gringoire. Hugo doesn't merely justify rebels. He glorifies them.”
Wynfield is right. The most obvious argument for his life mirroring a Hugo plot is his interest in Diana, a waif who could have easily been found in a Hugo novel. M.J. Neary's prose in Wynfield's Kingdom seems modeled after Victor Hugo. The story is long and winding with lots of coincidences, which is typical of nineteenth century writing, and the characters are all larger than life. Also, there is a supreme romanticism to the story.
Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul, White Horse Regressions, and Hopatcong Vision Quest
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