Delderfield, R.F. God Is an Englishman.
This is a book that I've heard about for years without ever seeking it out, so I'm grateful to Sourcebooks for sending me a review copy (even if I'm way behind in reading and reviewing this book and others).
It is a classic and deserves to be.
In 1857 Adam Swann leaves the military with a tiny secret or two or three, a handful of rubies from his service in India. He has a dream, and he intends for the rubies to help finance it. Adam Swann is a capitalist with very liberal leanings; he believes in commerce, but not at the expense of his fellow man.
This is the story of how he establishes his business and grows it from the ground up with wonderful enthusiasm and attention to detail. It is also the story of the men and women who, for various reasons, come to believe in Adam Swann and his dream.
From Hamlet Ratcliff (lion tamer extraordinaire) to young Rookwood who rises from an orphaned boy to a gaffer; from the bawdy Falstaffian character of the old coachman Blubb to Edith Wadsworth of the Crescents -- each of the minor characters materializes into a real individual over the course of the novel. And those are just a few of those who are involved in Swann-On-Wheels, hauliers.
This is also the story of Henrietta, the run-away girl who becomes Swann's wife.. Henrietts emerges from a spoiled adolescent to mother, and finally, to genuine partner in the marriage. She blossoms slowly, learning some hard lessons along the way. Delderfield also has Adam Swann learn a few things about himself and his wife during the nine years of the marriage.
Delderfield manages to keep the story of commerce interesting and includes many historical details from the period. One of the more interesting is the episode concerning the Staplehurst train wreck; Charles Dickens was on the train (along with Ellen Ternan and her mother, although they aren't mentioned) and participated in rescuing some of the passengers.
This is a long novel and the first in a trilogy, but it is an epic worth pursuing. When I picked up the novel again after neglecting it, I couldn't put it down. The last 300 pages flew by.
Fiction. Historical. Originally published 1970. Republication 2009. 634 pages.