The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

I’ve mentioned before here about books that were cornerstones of my life and influenced my life and views in some way or another. When you stumble upon a book that has this effect, it’s a wonderful feeling, in that it will make you wonder, whether for good or bad. A book that opens your eyes in some way is a rare beast, and of course no book will be one of THOSE books for the same people. I’ve convinced my mom to read Watership Down because I loved it, but I’m skeptical that it will be as remarkable for her as it was for the young me.

The Daughter of Time was one of those books for me in another way. Not because of the remarkable characters involved (there aren’t any) or the magnificent writing (it’s a rather breezy style, only taking a few sentences to sketch things out, competent but not groundbreaking. That’s not to say that she was a bad writer in general or that her other books were no good-she wrote so often and was clearly so comfortable with writing that the talent is there. It’s just that the story and characters were just the means to an end for the book. No, the real treasure here that blew up my young brain was the subject matter.

Shakespeare was reasonably entertaining to me as a high schooler, not dreaded but not loved. That was until we got to Richard III. I’ve always liked the bad guys, the Sith, the supervillians. Heck, I’m wearing a Bizarro shirt as I write this. And Richard of Gloucester was and is one of the best-known villains of all literature. I enjoyed his book, and if you have the opportunity to watch Ian McKellen as Richard, please do so as soon as possible. I actually liked reading the play and I enjoyed the wickedness of the central character, without ever once taking it as more than simply a play.

After we finished the play, the teacher who hadn’t assigned the play (we had two English teachers who worked alternating days-I never quite figured out why this was so) passed out copies of this book. I was hesitant, since a brief and incorrect reading of the back gave me the mistaken impression it was an actual historical mystery set in Shakespeare’s time.

I was very wrong. The book itself is about an invalid English detective who is bored out of his mind and sets about investigating the notoriously bad reputation of Richard out of a sense of curiosity. He’s joined in the search by an eager American graduate student who manages to dig up a lot of interesting backstory on all of the characters in the play, as well as the times and events where they lived. As I said before, the setting and main characters in this book don’t matter, since they are the means by which Tey sets forth her arguments for Richard’s innocence, and that’s the part that left its impression on me so strongly.

I don’t know if Richard was innocent-I haven’t done enough study of the subject. Tey lays down what looks to be a strong argument of it, and I can’t refute any of it. No, it was the investigation itself that really got to me; that something can be well-known, read by millions of people and accepted as true by millions more, and be totally wrong. Call me naive, but the idea of the complexity of history, or the idea that everything we know or are told are only part of the true story, was something that had never really stuck home until then for some reason. Obviously I hadn’t known much about politics until then either.

The book itself is an easy read, written as I’ve said as an exposition piece for the main idea of Richard’s story, and expects you to be at least passingly familiar with the main characters in the play. That aside, it takes the whole thing pretty slowly and goes easy on the heavy historical research for people new to the idea. Tey was not apparently a member of the Richard III Society, a group dedicated to the study and hopeful exoneration of the monarch, but her book is certainly sympathetic to their views and goals. I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in historical scholarship, Richard III, or Shakespeare in general.

 

 

 

 

 

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