Places: The Divine Fire

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1904

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological

Time of work: 1890’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedCourt House

Court Divine Fire, TheHouse. Home of Lucia Harden; an idealized English country estate in Harmouth that contains the valuable Harden Library. After Lucia’s father dies in Italy heavily in debt, she sells the library at an undervalued low price to the father of the gifted young poet Savage Keith Rickman, who then begins an eight-year quest to earn enough money to return the library to its rightful owner and nearly dies from starvation and overwork in the process. At Court House, Rickman discovers both his love for Lucia and, simultaneously, his greatest poetic inspiration. The emergence of this inspiration in a rural, natural environment establishes an urban/pastoral motif that runs throughout the novel.


*London. City in which Keith Rickman and several other characters live and work. It is often referred to throughout the novel as simply “the City.” Rickman’s poetic inspiration, like many of the so-called Decadent poets of the 1890’s, comes first from the urban environment of London. Rickman both works and socializes within the world of literary magazines and journalism on Fleet Street, where petty rivalries between the editor of The Planet and the editor of Metropolis damage Rickman’s potential literary success. Gossip about Rickman is often circulated at the Junior Journalists’ Club, an organization of newspapermen, editors, and literary critics located in the Strand. The city also represents the source of Rickman’s struggles between his artistic genius and various mundane requirements: his moral obligations to others, financial security, and his desire for physical love.

Rickman’s Book Store

Rickman’s Book Store. Bookstore owned by Isaac Rickman, Keith’s father, that is located in the Strand, an area of London known for its publishing houses and bookstores. Poorly lit and oppressive, the store has a strong odor of old books. Early in the novel, Keith is torn between his poetic career and his familial obligations to his father’s business. His father has built a successful business and secure reputation selling new and rare books to the London literati, thanks in large part to Keith’s unfailing judgment in appraising books. However, his business begins to fail after he has a falling out with Keith over his purchase of the Harden Library. After he dies, Keith inherits both the store and the debt incurred through the mortgaging of the Harden Library, which he must pay off in order to salvage the library for Lucia.


*Bloomsbury. London suburb known for its close-knit artistic community in the early part of the twentieth century. After Rickman’s work at Court House is completed, the novel shifts location to Mrs. Downey’s boardinghouse on Tavistock Place. Mrs. Downey imagines that her boarders represent the elite of London intellectual society, with Rickman as her house’s jewel, and she fashions her dinners and nightly gatherings as cultural events. Rickman is eventually reunited here with Lucia when she makes an extended visit to her former tutor, Miss Roots, another boarder at the house. Rickman’s later physical decline, when he commits almost all of his finances to the recovery the Harden Library, is marked by his progressively diminishing living arrangements, from the boardinghouse in Bloomsbury to a cheap attic room on Howland Street that he shares with a prostitute.


*Hampstead. Fashionable northwestern suburb of London in which Horace Jewdwine, the editor of the successful literary periodical The Metropolis, lives. His gracious accommodations contrast with Rickman’s decline into poverty.


*Ealing. London suburb where Rickman buys a house for his planned marriage to Flossie, whom he meets in the boardinghouse. After Flossie breaks off the engagement, Rickman maintains the house as a small source of rental income, and he and Lucia eventually decide to live there at the end of the novel.

BibliographyBloom, Harold, ed. May Sinclair. Twentieth-Century British Literature 14. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. Excerpts from several sources summarizing Sinclair’s accomplishments as a novelist. Includes excellent reviews of The Divine Fire from the time of the novel’s first publication.Boll, Theophilus. Miss May Sinclair, Novelist: A Biographical and Critical Introduction. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1973. Detailed though somewhat favorably biased study of Sinclair’s life and career. Comments on the significance of The Divine Fire to her reputation, and offers brief analyses of plot and narrative techniques.Brown, Penny. “May Sinclair: The Conquered Will.” In Poison at the Source: The Female Novel of Self-Development in the Early Twentieth Century. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Discusses Sinclair’s work as an example of the way twentieth century female novelists portray difficulties faced by women trying to develop a sense of identity. Links The Divine Fire with other early Sinclair works that share affinities with Victorian fiction.Kaplan, Sydney J. Feminine Consciousness in the Modern British Novel. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975. A chapter on Sinclair included in a study of five female British novelists who focus on the tensions between the ideal of sexual equality and the realities of female subordination. Comments on the use of psychological techniques in her fiction.Zegger, Hrisey. May Sinclair. Boston: Twayne, 1976. Good general introduction to the novelist’s career. Classifies The Divine Fire as an idealistic novel, calling it an allegory of the individual’s journey through life. Considers it one of Sinclair’s least successful artistic productions, despite its popularity.
Categories: Places