Authors: George J. Whyte-Melville

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

British novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Digby Grand, 1853

Tilbury Nogo, 1854

Kate Coventry, 1856

The Interpreter, 1858

Holmby House, 1859

Market Harborough, 1861

The Queen’s Maries, 1862

The Gladiators, 1863

Cerise, 1866

The White Rose, 1868

Sarchedon, 1871

Satanella, 1872

Uncle John, 1874

Katerfelto, 1875


George John Whyte-Melville was born near St. Andrews, Scotland, June 19, 1821, into society, his father being a landowner in Scotland and his mother a daughter of the duke of Leeds. As a boy Whyte-Melville attended Eton, the famous English public school, and at the age of seventeen he became a commissioned officer in the Ninety-third Highlanders Regiment. After seven years with that regiment he transferred to the Coldstream Guards and retired from the British army at the age of twenty-seven with the rank of captain. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, Whyte-Melville volunteered his services to the government and went on active duty with the rank of major. He served with units of Turkish irregular cavalry. During his service in the Crimean War he wrote some poetry, and a portion of it was published. After the war he returned to civilian life to continue writing and hunting, his favorite sport.{$I[AN]9810000039}{$I[A]Whyte-Melville, George J.[Whyte Melville, George J.]}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Whyte-Melville, George J.[Whyte Melville, George J.]}{$I[geo]SCOTLAND;Whyte-Melville, George J.[Whyte Melville, George J.]}{$I[tim]1821;Whyte-Melville, George J.[Whyte Melville, George J.]}

The novels of Whyte-Melville fall easily into two categories: sporting novels, for which he is best known, and historical romances. As a wealthy man of property and a retired officer, Whyte-Melville was completely familiar with the society he depicted in his sporting novels. He wrote from first-hand knowledge of fashionable, military, and sporting people. His novels about fox hunting had a particular appeal for British sportsmen, for they were authentically written, with a great deal of attention to detail. They are also filled with action. The best-known of the sporting novels is Market Harborough, a picaresque account of a series of fox-hunting episodes with considerable realistic description of life among the people in rural England and London society who follow the hounds. Other novels in this category are Digby Grand, Tilbury Nogo, and Kate Coventry. One interesting sidelight to these novels is that horses are often important characters.

Whyte-Melville’s later fiction is largely in the field of historical romance. In 1858 he published The Interpreter, a novel based on the Crimean War and relating the activities of a beautiful female spy. Holmby House is a novel about the English Civil War of the seventeenth century, with an interesting depiction of Oliver Cromwell. In Cerise the author moved from backgrounds he knew well to write a novel about France and the court of Louis XIV. In The Gladiators and Sarchedon appear the times and deeds of exotic countries, the former being laid in Rome and Palestine and the latter depicting Egypt and Assyria under the rule of Semiramis. Perhaps the best of Whyte-Melville’s historical novels is Katerfelto, the story of a famous horse of eighteenth century England.

Whyte-Melville did not write to earn money, and most of his income from his books was spent in charitable activity, especially among the poor people who were hangers-on about stables. Of his personal life little is known except that it was not happy with respect to marriage. Whyte-Melville met his death in the hunting field in White Horse Vale, Berkshire, on December 5, 1878, when one of his favorite horses stumbled and fell while at a gallop, throwing his rider and killing him instantly.

BibliographyBaker, Ernest A. History of the English Novel. Vol. 7. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1936.Drinkwater, John, ed. The Eighteen-sixties: Essays by Fellows of the Royal Society of Literature. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1932.Melville, Lewis. “G. J. Whyte-Melville.” In Victorian Novelists. 1906. Reprint. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Press, 1970.
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