Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time

Josephine Tey

Date: 2005-07-13 17:33:53   —   $9.00   —   Book

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Fiction, Mystery

This is one of my favorite books of all time. It deals with historical research, and how easy it is to accept something you have been told as truth all of your life— and, more importantly, how many people will fight against examining something they've accepted as true, even with plenty of evidence before them. ("You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into" is how I recently heard it put.)

In this story, Tey's Inspector Grant is laid up in the hospital with nothing to do and a serious case of boredom. A friend brings him pictures to study and the one of Richard III, horrible obscene murdering monster, intrigues him because the man does not strike the inspector as a killer at all. With the assistance of a young researcher, he starts to unravel the tale of how Richard III became a reviled name throughout the centuries.

If Tey's research is correct (which is something I have no way of checking), she builds a good circumstantial case for Richard to not be the murderer of his nephews, right down to tracing the contemporary accusation of their deaths to the regions where a particular enemy of Richard was traveling. More to the point, she builds a good case for his successor, Henry VII, to not only have killed them but to have covered up their deaths, especially as it is well known that Henry VII systematically killed all of the potential rivals to the throne over the course of his reign, some within the legal confines he was allowed, but many on as specious charges as he could come up with.

But the point of this book is not its historical accuracy but the examination of preconceptions. In 1951, history books were often flat-out recitations, phrased in unequivocal terms as to what happened. This era truly followed the dictate "History is written by the victors." Nowadays, schoolchildren under ten may learn of perspective in telling history (if they learn history at all, which is another rant), and such a thought as Richard III not being a monster doesn't get the outrage or disbelief that it did in the fifties.

At any rate, I will be in Ashland next weekend, watching Richard III performed by the second-best Shakespearian company in the world. (The Royal Shakespeare Company in England is widely considered the best, as is proper.) So now I get to see the utter monster version, created for the grandaughter of the man who usurped Richard's throne. (There were, in fact, many people who had a better claim when Richard died— and Henry VII killed them all over time.) This ought to be great fun, Shakespeare's vision of an utterly evil character.

(P.S. Don't get me started on the 'Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare' conspiracies. Hulk SMASH!)

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