Narrative Summary of A. W. Kinglake: A Biographical and Literary Study

Overview: I’m diving into the life of Alexander William Kinglake, a fascinating figure known for his captivating travel writing in “Eothen” and his monumental, albeit controversial, history of the Crimean War. Through personal anecdotes and insights from his contemporaries, I will explore his character, his relationships, his political career, and the enduring legacy of his works.

Main Parts:

  1. Early Years: This section examines Kinglake’s upbringing in Taunton, his education at Ottery St. Mary’s and Eton, and his time at Cambridge, where he was a contemporary of literary giants like Tennyson and Gladstone. His early travels, especially his first journey to the East, are highlighted.
  2. “Eothen”: This section focuses on Kinglake’s breakthrough work, a travelogue that captures the essence of the East through his personal observations and experiences. We explore the unique style, the recurring theme of Englishness amidst foreign lands, and the enigmatic persona of the author himself.
  3. Literary and Parliamentary Life: Kinglake’s foray into journalism and his brief but notable parliamentary career are examined. His writings for the “Quarterly Review” and his outspoken political views are discussed.
  4. “The Invasion of the Crimea”: This section delves into Kinglake’s most ambitious project, a detailed account of the Crimean War. We explore the epic nature of the narrative, its focus on Lord Raglan as the central figure, and the author’s incisive portraits of key figures like Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, Louis Napoleon, and the Czar Nicholas. The dramatic narratives of the battles of Alma, Balaclava, and Inkerman are analyzed.
  5. Madame Novikoff: This section explores Kinglake’s close friendship with Madame Olga Novikoff, a Russian aristocrat and influential figure who played a significant role in promoting Anglo-Russian understanding. We learn about their shared intellectual interests, their correspondence, and the complex dynamics of their relationship.
  6. Later Days and Death: This section chronicles Kinglake’s later years, his social circles, and his decline in health. We learn about his habits, his wit, his friendships, his antipathies, and his final days, providing a glimpse into the private life of this complex and fascinating individual.

View on Life:

  • Skeptical and Cynical: Kinglake often exhibited a skeptical view of the world, particularly societal conventions and political machinations. He found amusement in exposing hypocrisy and was not afraid to challenge conventional wisdom.
  • Romantic Idealist: Despite his cynicism, Kinglake harbored a deep sense of romanticism and idealism. His love of beauty, his admiration for bravery, and his fascination with the East reflect this side of his personality.
  • Respect for Excellence: Kinglake revered true excellence in all forms, whether in literature, politics, or military leadership. He admired individuals who demonstrated strength of character, intellectual brilliance, and moral courage.

Scenarios and Situations:

  • Eastern Travel: Kinglake’s travels across the Ottoman Empire in “Eothen” are a crucial part of the narrative, offering unique insights into different cultures, landscapes, and social dynamics.
  • Crimean War: The narrative of the Crimean War encompasses the political maneuverings leading up to the conflict, the battles themselves, the hardships faced by the soldiers, and the eventual fall of Sebastopol.
  • Social Circles: Kinglake’s life is characterized by his involvement in various social circles in London, including literary gatherings, political gatherings, and gatherings at the Athenaeum Club.


  • Maintaining Objectivity: As a historian, Kinglake faced the challenge of maintaining objectivity in his account of the Crimean War, particularly when dealing with his close friend, Lord Raglan.
  • Literary Perfection: Kinglake’s meticulous writing style, while praised for its vividness and detail, was also criticized as overly elaborate. He struggled to achieve the same effortless grace and spontaneity of “Eothen” in his later works.
  • Facing Adversity: Kinglake endured numerous challenges, including his initial failure as a parliamentary speaker, the loss of his seat for bribery, and his later struggles with ill health.


  • Political and Ideological: Kinglake’s strong political views often put him at odds with others, especially those who supported Louis Napoleon or Russia’s expansionist policies.
  • Personal Differences: He was known for his sharp wit and his tendency to disagree with his contemporaries, leading to occasional confrontations and strained relationships.


  • “Eothen”: The narrative of “Eothen” follows Kinglake’s journey through the Ottoman Empire, marked by his personal observations, his encounters with diverse people, and his reflections on the contrasts between Western and Eastern cultures.
  • “The Invasion of the Crimea”: This epic narrative is structured around Lord Raglan’s role in the Crimean War, from the initial diplomatic maneuvering to the battles, the siege of Sebastopol, and Lord Raglan’s eventual death.

Point of View:

  • First-Person Narrative: Kinglake’s “Eothen” is written from his personal perspective, offering a unique and intimate glimpse into his experiences and thoughts.
  • Third-Person Perspective: His “Invasion of the Crimea” is written from a third-person perspective, allowing for greater objectivity and detailed historical analysis. However, his own views and feelings about the war and its participants are often evident throughout the narrative.

How it’s Written:

  • Eloquent and Evocative Style: Kinglake’s prose is known for its lyrical beauty, its rich imagery, and its evocative power. He uses language with precision and artistry to create a sense of immediacy and depth.
  • Sarcastic and Cynical Tone: Kinglake often uses sarcasm and cynicism to comment on political and social issues, highlighting the hypocrisy and absurdity of human behavior. For example, in describing the “Sleeping Cabinet,” he writes: “Before the reading of the Paper had long continued, all the members of the Cabinet except a small minority were overcome with sleep.”


  • Reflective and Thoughtful: Kinglake approaches his subjects with a contemplative and analytical mind. He examines complex issues, dissects motivations, and offers nuanced perspectives.
  • Humorous and Playful: Beneath the surface of Kinglake’s serious demeanor lies a sense of humor. His wit is often dry and unexpected, sometimes even biting.

Life Choices:

  • Embracing a Solitary Life: Kinglake chose a life of independence and intellectual pursuits, avoiding marriage and social obligations that would have restricted his freedom.
  • Focusing on Literary Work: He dedicated himself to writing, choosing to prioritize his creative endeavors above other pursuits.


  • The Power of Observation: Kinglake’s work demonstrates the importance of careful observation and analysis, both in understanding people and in chronicling historical events.
  • The Value of Integrity: His fierce defense of his own principles and his unwavering commitment to truth and fairness stand as a testament to the value of integrity in all aspects of life.
  • The Importance of Friendship: Kinglake’s close relationships, especially with Madame Novikoff and Hayward, highlight the significance of meaningful connections in overcoming life’s challenges.


  • Alexander William Kinglake: A gifted writer, a complex individual, a shrewd observer, a keen critic, a passionate friend, and a solitary soul. His life was a blend of skepticism and romanticism, intellectual curiosity and deeply held convictions.
  • Lord Raglan: The British commander in the Crimean War, a figure of unwavering resolve and quiet dignity. Kinglake admired Lord Raglan deeply, seeing him as a model of military leadership and a man of impeccable character.
  • Lord Stratford de Redcliffe: The British ambassador to Turkey, a powerful and complex figure who played a key role in the diplomatic maneuvering leading up to the Crimean War. Kinglake’s portrayal of Lord Stratford is both admiring and critical, capturing his intelligence, his ambition, and his sometimes-overbearing personality.
  • Louis Napoleon: The Emperor of France, a figure of ambition, cunning, and questionable morality. Kinglake’s scathing critique of Louis Napoleon’s character and actions is one of the most memorable aspects of his “Invasion of the Crimea.”
  • Czar Nicholas: The Russian Emperor, a formidable leader who was both admired and feared by his contemporaries. Kinglake presents a nuanced portrait of the Czar, acknowledging his strength of character, his dedication to his country, and the tragic choices that ultimately led to his downfall.
  • Madame Novikoff: A passionate advocate for Anglo-Russian understanding, a sharp observer of politics and society, a devoted friend, and a brilliant conversationalist. Her friendship with Kinglake had a profound influence on his later years.


  • The Nature of War: Kinglake’s “Invasion of the Crimea” explores the devastating consequences of war, the complex motivations of those who wage it, and the importance of seeking diplomatic solutions.
  • The Impermanence of Power: Through his portraits of Lord Raglan, Louis Napoleon, and Czar Nicholas, Kinglake emphasizes the fleeting nature of power and the unpredictable twists of fate.
  • The Importance of Truth: Kinglake’s work is a testament to the power of truth, both in history and in personal relationships. He believed that uncovering the truth, however uncomfortable, was essential for understanding the world and shaping the future.
  • The Significance of Individuality: Kinglake himself was a unique and complex individual who valued independence of thought and action. His life and work celebrate the power of individuality and the importance of standing up for what one believes in.


  • Intellectual Integrity: Kinglake believed in the pursuit of truth and the importance of being honest with oneself and others.
  • Moral Courage: He admired individuals who stood up for their convictions, even in the face of adversity and opposition.
  • The Value of Observation: Kinglake believed in the power of careful observation and analysis as the basis for understanding the world and making informed judgments.

Intentions of the Characters:

  • Kinglake: To offer a definitive and insightful account of the Crimean War, to expose the flaws and weaknesses of its leaders, and to provide a lasting tribute to Lord Raglan’s character and leadership.
  • Lord Raglan: To serve his country with honor and dedication, to lead his troops effectively, and to maintain the dignity of the British army in the face of adversity.
  • Lord Stratford de Redcliffe: To protect British interests in the Ottoman Empire, to prevent Russian expansion, and to maintain his position as a powerful figure on the world stage.
  • Louis Napoleon: To secure his power, to establish the Second Empire, and to expand French influence in Europe.
  • Czar Nicholas: To strengthen Russia’s position in the world, to protect his country’s interests, and to maintain his status as a formidable leader.
  • Madame Novikoff: To improve Anglo-Russian relations, to promote understanding between the two countries, and to support her native Russia’s interests on the world stage.

Unique Vocabulary:

  • “Eothen”: The book’s title itself is a unique word, a Greek term meaning “from the dawn.” It reflects the author’s exploration of a new and unfamiliar world, and the dawn of a new era in his own life.
  • “Platonic”: Kinglake uses this term to describe England’s sentimental support for different nationalities, implying a lack of genuine commitment and a superficial understanding.
  • “Gerontaion”: This term, meaning “assembly of elders,” refers to Kinglake’s group of close friends, many of whom were aging intellectuals and prominent figures.
  • “State Showmen”: This phrase refers to those who were responsible for exaggerating the significance of the “little Egypt affair” and perpetuating a sense of national triumph that Kinglake found to be exaggerated and misleading.


  • The Sleeping Cabinet: Kinglake’s vivid description of the British Cabinet meeting where the decision to go to war was made and how many ministers fell asleep during the reading of the crucial document highlights the lack of seriousness and urgency with which the decision was made.
  • The “Go Quietly” Order: The description of Lord Raglan’s calm and collected demeanor in the midst of the Crimean battles, particularly his order to “go quietly,” emphasizes the general’s composure and his ability to maintain control even under immense pressure.
  • Lord Stratford’s Temper: The anecdote of Lord Stratford de Redcliffe losing his temper and insulting his attaché highlights his volatile personality and his tendency to overstep boundaries. However, it also demonstrates his ability to swiftly forgive and maintain close relationships.
  • The Penny Trumpet: Kinglake’s use of the nickname “Mirliton” to refer to Count Beust, the Austrian Chancellor, captures his perception of the Chancellor as a superficial and ineffective leader.
  • The “Fair Lady of Claridge’s”: Kinglake’s playful sonnet addressed to Madame Novikoff at Claridge’s Hotel exemplifies the humor and affection he felt for her, even as he satirized their shared intellectual pursuits.


  • The Importance of History: Kinglake’s work highlights the importance of understanding history, not just as a collection of facts, but as a means of learning from the past and shaping the future.
  • The Complexity of Human Nature: Kinglake’s characters, both real and imagined, are complex and contradictory individuals. His exploration of human nature demonstrates that people are driven by a mixture of motives, sometimes noble, sometimes selfish, and often unpredictable.
  • The Need for Moral Clarity: Kinglake’s work consistently emphasizes the need for moral clarity and integrity in political and social life. He believes that leaders should be guided by principles of truth and fairness, and that individuals should be willing to stand up for what they believe in.

Facts and Findings:

  • The Crimean War: Kinglake provides detailed information about the events leading up to the war, the course of the battles, and the suffering of the soldiers.
  • Lord Raglan’s Papers: He had access to Lord Raglan’s personal papers, providing him with valuable insights into the general’s thoughts and decisions.
  • Louis Napoleon’s Deceit: Kinglake unearthed evidence of Louis Napoleon’s duplicity and his machinations to undermine the Crimean alliance.


  • The Size of the Russian Army: Kinglake provides statistics about the size and strength of the Russian army, emphasizing the vast numerical superiority that the Russians possessed over the British and French forces in the Crimea.
  • The Numbers of Casualties: He includes statistics about the number of casualties suffered by the opposing armies, highlighting the terrible cost of the war in human life.

Points of View:

  • British Perspective: While Kinglake aimed for objectivity, his history is written from a predominantly British perspective. His admiration for Lord Raglan and his criticism of Louis Napoleon reflect this bias.
  • Anti-Russian Bias: Kinglake’s views on Russia and its policies were strongly influenced by his antipathy toward Russian expansionism. He viewed the Crimean War as a necessary conflict to curb Russia’s ambitions.


  • Skeptical and Critical: Kinglake’s perspective on the world was often skeptical and critical. He saw the hypocrisy and absurdity in many aspects of human behavior and was not afraid to expose them.
  • Humanist: He had a profound respect for human beings and their capacity for both greatness and folly. His work reflects a humanist perspective, seeking to understand the complexities of human nature and the forces that shape our choices.
  • Gentlemanly: Kinglake’s background and his interactions with his contemporaries reveal a gentlemanly sensibility, characterized by politeness, integrity, and a sense of fair play.

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