Sunday, May 1, 2016

Review of Through The Fray by G. A. Henty

Through the Fray

By G. A. Henty

Originally published 1886


The Victorian novelist G. A. Henty wrote a multitude of excellent books during his career.  But many of his stories are “Henty-esque”, that is, they tend to have very similar plotlines.  Not so Through the Fray.  Its main conflict is internal, its main hero (Ned Sankey) is a mill-owner, and its main heroine  (Mary "Polly" Powlett) does not marry the mill-owner.


Through the Fray follows the adventures and misadventures of Edward “Ned” Sankey, a son of a retired officer.  This story is set in the years 1811-12.  It opens with Ned in the school of a brutal tyrant Mr. Hathorn.  As a result of his unjust punishments, Ned leads a rebellion against him, which ends in a courtroom trial and the loss of Mr. Hathorn’s job.  While good came out of Ned’s revolt, and the school is now under the kindly Mr. Porson, Ned’s father warns him about the dangers of his quick temper.  “Beware of your temper, Ned, for unless you overcome it, be assured that sooner or later it may lead to terrible consequences.” (pg. 79)


The school is now run by Mr. Porson, a good-natured schoolmaster with a fondness for cricket.  The boys all love him—well, almost all.  James Mathers believes Mr. Porson’s kindness to be all “gammon”, but the rest of the boys disagree.  However, the school is thrown into an uproar when their teacher’s classical dictionary turns up missing.  It is located in a second-hand bookshop with an ill reputation, but how did it get there?  Did one of the students steal it?  Another theft follows, this time of a gold pencil-case.  Ned and his chum Ripon trace it to Mathers, who is caught.   “He was tempted, you see, and none of us can tell what we may do when temptation comes, unless we have God’s help to enable us to withstand it and to do what is right,” observes their teacher.  (pg. 113)

Now Ned passes through a very difficult time in his life: the death of his father in an accident.  As the oldest child in the family, much responsibility devolves on him, especially since his mother does not like to be troubled.  Ned’s life is made even more difficult when his mother remarries a mill-owner named Mr. Mulready.  Mr. Mulready and Ned dislike each other.  After sparring and arguments for months, their antagonism finally breaks out into a fight.  The next morning Mr. Mulready is found dead.


Most people believe that Ned killed his stepfather in a fit of passion.  Ned denies it, but the circumstantial evidence is against him.  Ned is put on trial and found “Not Guilty” but his mother is certain of his guilt.  Will proof ever appear that Ned Sankey is innocent?


The characters in this book are some of the most vibrant that Mr. Henty has written.  There are three villains of very different stripes, from two-faced Mr. Mulready to thieving James Mathers.  But the heroes of the book are also very well-defined.  Longsuffering Captain Sankey, kindly Mary Powlett, and loyal Bill Marner are some who touch Ned’s life in different ways.


Highly recommended.

This book can be read for free at


I’ll leave the last word with Mr. Henty: “In this story I have left the historical battlefields, across so many of which I have taken you, and have endeavored to show that there are peaceful battles to be fought and victories to be won every jot as arduous and as difficult as those contested under arms. … In the present tale my hero's enemy was within, and although his victory was at last achieved the victor was well nigh worsted in the fray. We have all such battles to fight, dear lads; may we all come unscathed and victorious through the fray! “

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