‘Nature and Art’ – Elizabeth Inchbald
Commands a central place in the history of the English Jacobean novel. Published in 1796, the story explores the opposition between the upbringing and actions of Henry Norwynne, an unspoiled ‘child of nature’ who has been reared without books on an African island, and the corrupt conduct of his aristocratic older cousin, William.
This novel explores the principal of nature versus nurture. Brothers, William and Henry, who go to London to seek their fortune. Whilst William stays in London and pursues his religious studies, Henry travels. Years pass and readers follow the central protagonists, young William and young Henry. Young William has been strictly educated in London and is considered showing proper and impeccable behaviours. On the other hand, young Henry has grown up in Africa, away from books and education.
When young Henry is first introduced to his uncle, (Henry being imprisoned abroad), Henry’s responses to London life and general language use are quite amusing and it reflects Inchbald’s social perceptions of the time. As the novel progresses, the reader sees the difference between young William and young Henry’s natures: the manner in which they treat others around them and how they react to events is to encourage readers what is of more value: education from books and tutors, or education from worldly experiences?
As the novel progresses, I found myself hoping that all wronged characters were redeemed. The fact that this does not happen shows Inchbald’s pessimism and I think this would only be more resounding if readers do a close study of this novel. By this I mean exploring the text’s commentaries and appendices. I had the opportunity of studying this novel at university so feel quite grounded in the context of this story, but certainly feel that this should be taken into consideration if deciding to read this short novel.
I rated this novel so low because I found myself drifting. Despite it being quite short, I did not find myself dwelling on the messages that Inchbald was trying to convey. There is a lot of depth with this story, beyond the short plot, and I think to truly appreciate Inchbald’s work, this should be considered as part of the novel’s offering.