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Monday, March 19, 2012

Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time has Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant  flat on his back in a hospital after having fallen through a trap door.  Poor Grant, reduced to examining the ceiling of his hospital room, is in a despair of boredom and needs something to occupy his mind.  His friend Marta decides to cure his boredom by presenting him with a choice of historical mysteries to solve by bringing him copies of portraits, including a portrait of Richard III.

Grant, who has made a useful habit of studying faces, doesn't see a villain in the portrait's features and is surprised to learn that the subject is Richard III.  He asks several people, including his doctor, what kind of person they would think the face indicates.  Without knowing who the portrait depicted, the answers varied--sadness, illness, suffering-- not one said they thought it was the face of a murderer.

Inspector Grant's boredom is ended:  he is on a case.  Determined to discover whether or not Richard was guilty of the crimes with which he was charged, Grant has help from several sources who provide him with history books and primary documents, but his greatest help comes from Brent Carradine, a young American, who becomes as deeply immersed in the mystery as Grant himself.

I read Daughter of Time years (and years and years) ago, but I liked it so much that I've checked the library for it in recent years, only to discover that although I originally read it as a library book (in Lincoln Parish), our Bossier Parish library no longer has a copy.  The book was published in 1951; evidently the library culled the novel when making room for new books.

Recently I watched  Looking for Richard on Netflix, the Al Pacino documentary about the preparation for a performance of Shakespeare's Richard III.

"This strange and charming documentary by Al Pacino, in which he also stars, is an exploration of several topics: Shakespeare and his hump-backed villain, the impulse to act, the way actors work--and Pacino's single-minded effort to make the Bard accessible to all audiences and not just the effete few. Over the course of the film, Pacino alternately discusses the role and the text; roams Manhattan, talking about Shakespeare with everyone from scholars to people on the street; and re-creates scenes from the play in a production staged at the Cloisters, an evocative castle-like museum on the north end of Manhattan. He assembles a cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Winona Ryder, Estelle Parsons, and Alec Baldwin to perform the scenes, and he slips back and forth between text and discussion of the play in a way that makes Shakespeare comprehensible and fascinating to viewers who know or care nothing about his writing." --Marshall Fine

While I did find the documentary interesting (if a bit self-indulgent), I don't think it accomplished its purpose, at least as far as I was concerned.  Watching the film did, however,  persuade me to order a copy of Daughter of Time so that I could compare Tey's view of Richard with Shakespeare's character.  The actors, producers, etc. in the documentary  were only concerned with Shakespeare's Richard, the evil villain--the character in a play, not the historical king.

But here's the thing:  Shakespeare's Richard III was written during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, a Tudor.  It was certainly in an author's best interest to please the current ruler, and Shakespeare was no exception in this regard.  The Tudor Dynasty needed to have Richard III  considered a villain to validate the Tudor right to the throne, and Shakespeare obliged by creating a truly wicked, if fascinating, version of Richard.

Who can forget that view of Richard, the wicked hunchback, the repellent uncle who ordered the murder of the two princes in the tower, his own nephews?  History books record the facts.

Or do they?   This is one of the interesting facets of the novel:  Who writes history?  Whose version of history is accepted as fact?

Inspector Grant and Brent Carradine present evidence that contradicts the history created to oblige the Tudors--following in the footsteps of Horace Walpole, who also considered Richard innocent.  The evidence Grant and Carridine present (garnered mostly from primary documents) may change your opinion of Richard III, the last Plantagenet.

There is even a Richard III Society:

The Richard III Society was founded during the summer of 1924 by a Liverpool surgeon, Saxon Barton, and a small group of friends. They were all enthusiastic amateur historians with a particular interest in the life and times of Richard III. Their motivation was a belief that history had not dealt justly with the King's posthumous reputation and they wanted to encourage and promote a more balanced view. I

Branches of the society span the globe, including an American branch.  Interesting, isn't it, that so many people are so dedicated to this rehabilitation of Richard III.

I highly recommend this mystery if you have any interest in history, but I have to admit Tey had me within the first two pages with her humor and her deft characterization, long before the mystery was introduced.  How wonderful to discover that this book is as good as I remembered.

Fiction/Nonfiction.  History/Mystery.  originally published 1951.  206 pages.


  1. I have owned this book forever but still have not read it.

  2. I love this book! I read it when I was quite young and impressionable (seventh grade-ish) and completely decided on the pro-Richard viewpoint. You may know this already, but Elizabeth Peters has a mystery that's set at a Richard III sympathizers society -- it's called The Murders of Richard III, and it's a lot of fun.

    The Al Pacino documentary sounds worth watching! I believe he's doing something similar now with Oscar Wilde's play Salome, which I'm well excited about.

  3. I read this a few years ago and really liked it, although I did laugh at a couple of things that are very outdated now, for example being in hospital for weeks with a broken leg and smoking in hospital!

  4. Kailana - I really enjoyed rereading the book, and I want to read some others by Tey.

    Jenny - The book alters your opinion of the accepted view of Richard, doesn't it? Richard has been well-represented in fiction, and I think I want to read a few of the others; adding the Peters book to my list.

    You really MUST see the one he's doing on Wild's play--you Wild aficianado, you!

    Marg - The back cover of the book mentions the broken leg, but the book itself mentions injuries to his back and leg without being specific. Still, the treatment for even back injuries has changed tremendously. The smoking was almost shocking, wasn't it? They all just lit up at will!

  5. I think that's one reason why I tend to re-read so little: I can pick up a book that I thought was the greatest thing since sliced bread years ago, read it now, and wonder what was wrong with me when I read it the first time. I'm so glad that Daughter of Time held up well!

  6. Cathy - I don't reread fiction often any more, partly because of the fear of being disappointed and partly because there are always so many books on my list that I haven't read.

    I truly enjoyed rereading Daughter of Time, though!