Olsson's Book Bits

by Greta Olsson

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
ISBN: 13:978-O-684-8O386-9, 1951
Scribner Paperback Fiction, 206 pages

From the New York Times: "One of the best mysteries of all time." From the back cover of the novel: "Josephine Tey is considered one of the greatest mystery writers of all time. She died in 1952."

Her plot is amazing. She questions who Richard Plantangenet really was: a villain or a victim? Many people only know of Richard III because of Shakespeare's play. However, Shakespeare leaned on Hollinshed for his facts, but Hollinshed depended on Thomas More's account. Unfortunately, More was five years old when Richard came to the throne, and was eight when Richard was killed at the age of 32. More could not have been an eye witness; he had to rely on hearsay.

Tey opens with an old proverb: "Truth is the daughter of time." Does that mean that truth will out in time? Is she interpreting the facts a lot better than many people before her? She does list some famous people who argue as she has done in this novel. I sincerely wish that at the end of her story she had indicated which were facts and which fiction.

The novel opens with Alan Grant of Scotland Yard terribly bored with a long hospital stay. He stares endlessly at the ceiling. A friend brings him some books. In glancing at a series of artists' portraits, he's intrigued with a picture of Richard's face, and concludes that the face is too noble, sensitive, and sad to be that of so terrible a villain as depicted in Richard III.

Dialog from the text: "So you don't think he was an out and out villain?"

"No, oh, no. Villains don't suffer, and that face is full of the most dreadful pain."

But is the pain from Richard or from the artist? Grant does not consider that possibility. Could he have killed the little princes? No. It didn't benefit him. There were still four or five relatives that stood between him and the throne. Also he was quite devoted to his brother and the family.

As king, he could have named his own illegitimate son as his heir. He didn't. He named his brother George's son, mindful of showing respect to Royalty. He was an excellent manager, and did good things for the country. When people could have charged him with the murder of the Princes, they did not discredit him in that way. Not even Henry VII did so.

After Richard died, Henry VII took immediate steps to secure the persons of all the other heirs to the crown, and kept them in close arrest until he could get rid of them with a minimum scandal. He had no right whatever to the throne. Tey believes that the Princes were still alive at the time of Richard's death. When Richard died, young Warwick was de jure king of England.

This novel is a good read. I give it a very high recommendation. Notice Richard's very good relations with women in the family who would never have forgiven him if he had hurt their young relatives. He was very generous with members of his family.

Tey has a line that history is the bunk. I heard in my early years that English changes the names but gets the facts straight in recounting events. History, on the other hand, rewrites the facts but keeps the names correct. When I had to choose a minor at the university, I chose art and not history. (Most English teachers select history.) I never regretted my choice even though I come across as a blockhead in any political, current event, or historical discussion.

Of artists, musicians and historians, I think that the artist is on top of the pile. Ask an artist to show you his masterpiece, and he can point to his canvas. Ask the same thing of a Beethoven or Mozart, and what can they do? Point to their head if the work hasn't been written down? Point to the sheet music, or point to the performance? But the historian is even at a greater loss, pointing to someone else's manuscript, who listened to another, who got it from another? (Rather like the child's game Of telephone at School.)

I think that there may be too many lies or half-truths for me to give much credence to what is being claimed. Chess anyone - or a museum? Time is short. Let's make the most of it.

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