Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rejecting Tonypandy

It’s not often that you can pinpoint the beginning of an obsession. My obsession with Richard III began in around 1978 in the library at Lalor North High School in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. I picked up a detective novel by an author I’d just discovered. But, this was no ordinary detective novel. This was The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Since then, I’ve read the book at least a dozen times, it’s become one of my favourite comfort reads. I’ve gone on to read many other books about Richard III, the Wars of the Roses & medieval history, both fiction & non fiction. I’ve joined the Richard III Society. All this because I read a slim book about a detective, stuck in a hospital bed after injuring his back chasing after a criminal, who relieves his boredom by investigating one of the greatest crimes in history – the murder of the Princes in the Tower.

Inspector Alan Grant features in most of Josephine Tey’s detective novels. He’s a detective in the style of Alleyn & Campion – urbane, civilised, handsome & intelligent. Lying in his hospital bed, bored with the pile of novels given to him by well-meaning friends, he’s visited by Marta Hallard, an actress who became a friend after Grant retrieved her emeralds from a thief.  She brings him a pile of prints, portraits of famous historical figures who were the principals in classic mysteries. Grant can’t do any physical detecting but why shouldn’t he exercise his brain on a classic historical mystery instead?

Grant has made a study of faces, becoming an expert at separating the villains from the good guys by the way they look. When he picks up a portrait of a man in 15th century dress, he thinks he must be a great judge or noble because of the expression of nobility & suffering in the man’s face. He is shocked to discover that this is a portrait of Richard III, the wicked uncle of horror stories. The man who not only murdered his nephews but old, mad Henry VI, Henry’s son Edward, poisoned his own wife & scandalously wanted to marry his niece. How could Grant have got it so wrong? He begins by getting hold of Nurse Darroll’s schoolbooks, then Marta gets him a copy of Thomas More's History of Richard III & his colleague, Sergeant Williams, brings him a stodgy history of England & a historical novel about Richard’s mother, the Rose of Raby. Thoroughly confused by now, Marta introduces Grant to Brent Carradine, a young American doing research at the British Museum as a way of staying in England to be with his girlfriend, an actress in Marta’s company. As Brent says when they start the investigation,

Look, Mr Grant, let’s you and I start at the very beginning of this thing. Without history books, or modern versions or anyone’s opinion about anything. Truth isn’t in accounts but in account books.

Brent goes back to the original sources & they discover that most of the stories told about Richard were written to please the Tudor dynasty after Henry Tudor defeated Richard at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. History is written by the victors & Thomas More’s account of events he was too young to have witnessed influenced Shakespeare who wrote the play that has defined mainstream opinion of Richard as a traitorous hunchbacked murderer of innocents ever since. Grant & Carradine realise that much of the history they learnt at school is just wrong, manipulated by the victors & accepted as fact, which is where Tonypandy comes in.

Tonypandy is a village in Wales where government troops were said to have shot striking miners in 1910. The facts were quite different & Tonypandy becomes shorthand for every falsehood written down in history books & taught in school as gospel truth hundreds of years after the fact. The result of their research is that Grant & Brent conclude that Richard had nothing to do with the Princes’s deaths & that they probably survived him & were murdered by order of Henry VII. Josephine Tey paints such a heroic picture of Richard & such a dastardly one of Henry that thousands of readers have been convinced of Richard’s innocence on the strength of this one book. Many people cite the novel as the beginning of their fascination with Richard & it leads many to join the Richard III Society.

Of course, The Daughter of Time is fiction. It was published in 1952 & research has uncovered a lot more information about the period since then. Vital contemporary sources such as Dominic Mancini’s account of life in London at the crucial period when Richard assumed the throne weren’t discovered until after the book was published. The “white” version of Richard’s story promoted by early Ricardians to counteract the extremely “black” version of More & Shakespeare is just as biased. After reading The Daughter of Time, Richard was my hero. I believed that he was a noble, kind, wise, generous man who would never have killed his own nephews & who only took the throne because he believed he was the only legitimate heir.

Over the last 30 years, I’ve read dozens of books & articles about Richard & I lean more towards a “grey” version of the legend now. The 15th century was a brutal period when violence was often seen as a solution to a dispute & power was the ultimate goal. Richard was no different & probably no more scrupulous than any other prince of his time. I don’t believe there will ever be a definitive account of the death of the Princes now but the fact that they were never seen alive after about August 1483 (two months after Richard’s accession) is a damning fact that does not go away, no matter how many books I read that paint Richard as more sinned against than sinning.

However, the fact that my feelings about the historical Richard have changed can’t diminish my enjoyment of this wonderful novel. I still read it at least once a year, for the nostalgic picture of London in the 1950s, to read about the excitement of research & to visit Alan Grant in his comfortable hospital bed, eating rissoles & rhubarb, rewriting history in the most entertaining detective novel ever written.

16 comments:

  1. Lyn, I love this book as well. In fact, I love all the Josephine Tey books I've read. I reread DAUGHTER OF TIME all the time and fall head over heels under its spell every time. I've always hoped her version was the true one though I realize it's practically impossible to actually know. Grey is good enough, I suppose. ;)

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  2. I read this last year and really enjoyed it, especially since I studied some history in university. Sad to know it's not actually true, but I did love the combination of history and mystery!

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  3. I first read this in my teens and have re-read it several times since. Wonderful book! and I too love all of Josephine Tey.

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  4. I remember the first time I read this in my teens and feeling just the way you did about it, after all the black legends a white version was so alluring. I no longer have a copy - but think I need to look out for one.

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  5. Hayley, the US paperback edition is lovely. That's it on the left in the first photo. The other copy is my ancient Penguin paperback from the 70s. I also have the Folio edition but I don't like the illustrations, apart from the title page incorporating Millais's picture. The illustrations are photo collage & I think they're just not my taste at all. I need to find time to reread the rest of Tey!

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  6. I also read this book a year or two ago. The premise is good and it really kept me interested.

    Unfortunately, being from an English working-class background, Tey's obvious middle-class prejudices rather irritated me - for example her view of the British "bobby".

    I then did some research of my own on the facts of Tonypandy and discovered that Tey's version is as faulty and biased as the propagandistic version that she criticises!

    However, this only shows that we should be skeptical of *everything* we read - including novels pointing out the importance of being skeptical.

    Geoffrey from Brisbane

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  7. Geoffrey, I agree that Tey's prejudices show but that's true of any book, especially the middlebrow middle class books of the 20s & 30s that I love. She doesn't include some anti-Richard material in the book but she is writing fiction. I don't believe she imagined the book would be so influential & that it would lead so many people to do more reading & join the Richard III Society. Amazing for a detective novel.

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  8. This is the only book I have read of Tey's and I love it; but my obsession with Richard III began before that. My current thinking is I guess more "grey" too in that I think he may have coveted the throne and the power but I don't think he murdered his nephews. I enjoyed Grant's deducing and the looking for breaks in normal pattern. I mean, Elizabeth Woodville was put away wasn't she, or is that in doubt? Besides that, being a Yorkshirewoman originally (me that is, not EW)I have to say it is hard to fool those shrewd, no-nonsense northern English folk and he was loved up there. That's on record. I have been to Middleham Castle and to the Museum in York (at Monk Bar?) where they run a sort of trial of Richard and you get to give your verdict. Sharon Penman's Sunne In Splendour and Pamela Belle's The Lodestar are good reads too, no detective element though. if you really want a new obsession read Dorothy Dunnett! Start with the Lymond Chronicles, Game of KIngs, and keep going through the first third (before which most people give up) and you could well be hooked. been such a fan for 30 years and more she still remains not that well known. or you might like her King Hereafter, about Macbeth. happy reading! caroline in adelaide

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    1. Hello Caroline, thanks for commenting. I agree with you about the delights of reading about Richard. I think Elizabeth Woodville was either pushed or strongly encouraged into that convent. I can't believe she went willingly, especially as her daughter had just had a son & she could have expected to play some role at Court. Maybe Margaret Beaufort was jealous of her beauty?! I'd like to blame Henry for the murder of the princes but where did they go after 1483? I've read all the books you mention. I enjoyed the Lymond books & her Macbeth book (Macbeth's another obsession of mine, it's my favourite Shakespeare play) but I'm not passionate about them. I don't think I could reread them. Have you read DD's detective/suspense novels? I read them a very long time ago. I loved Penman & Belle. I loved Pamela Belle's Civil War trilogy too. I've been to York, visited Monk Bar & gave my verdict. I like to think the Northerners were right about Richard, he's certainly a fascinating enigma.

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  9. Ah, I should have guessed that you had read DD and the others. I don't think i go a year without reading the Lymond chronicles, or at least re-reading Checkmate. See, obsessed! Curiously,i don't feel the same way about the Niccolo series. I enjoyed PBelle's Civil War trilogy too. I was a bit dismayed when she moved into the SCI-fi genre. has she come back from the dark side? :> I will look at your other reviews for recommendations. I need a new author to beguile me. I haven't read any of the Johnson stories. I really should....
    Caroline Mc

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    1. Oh, I'd forgotten that PB had started writing science fiction. I was wondering last night what had happened to her when I realised the Civil War books were written 20 years ago. I'll have to investigate. Have you read Ann Bridge's Julia Probyn books? They're travel/suspense fiction, in the style of the Johnson books or Mary Stewart. Bloomsbury have recently released them as e-books. Click on Ann Bridge in my tags list to read my reviews. I hope you find a new author.

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  10. In a contemporary legal record (Term 2 in 1484), Edward V is described as a bastard; Plea Rolls of the Common Pleas - as seen in the top entry, line 7 of
    http://aalt.law.uh.edu/AALT3/R3/CP40no888/aCP40no888fronts/IMG_0254.htm

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  11. Oh my goodness - I was just reading an article in which they've found the bones of Richard III and it made me think of Tey. She too had me convinced of RIII's innocence because of Inspector Grant. How lovely to see I'm not the only one. Tonypandy, indeed!

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    1. Won't it be wonderful if the skeleton really is Richard? The discussions that will result will just go on & on. I can't wait. I think I'm one of the many who joined the RIII Society because of this book.

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  12. And nearly 5 years after the last comment was published, and for the first time, I'm reading Tey's compelling book. From black to white to grey indeed. Richard's history is fascinating. Anything that prompts people to study history is welcome.
    The bones have now been proven to be those of RIII thanks to DNA testing of a Canadian descendant.

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    1. The historical fiction I read as a teenager started my fascination for history & it's never left me. I read more historical non-fiction now than fiction but I still love my favourites like DOT. I still read every book about Richard I can find.

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