The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
Originally published 1951
Scribner Paperback, Simon & Schuster, 25th printing, 1995
Genre: mystery, historical fiction
Synopsis & Review: While laid up in the hospital due to a matter of a broken leg, Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard frets with boredom and inaction. Knowing his penchant for faces, his actress friend Marta Hallard brings in a selection of portraits from the National Museum, portraits of victims and perpetrators in some of history’s greatest mysteries. Fascinated by one fifteenth-century portrait in particular, Inspector Grant finds himself investigating the past trying to match the alleged crime to the portrait of a man variously described by Grant’s acquaintances as a judge, a saint, an invalid: Richard III.
Daughter of Time was not the first pro-Ricardian novel I read; that honor goes to The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. However late I came to it–by way of The Society’s list of Ricardian fiction–it became and remains one of my favorites. Though short and fast-paced, it is also sympathetic and beautifully written, with deft touches of humanity and humor.There is almost a claustrophobic atmosphere, as the reader feels stuck in a tiny room with Grant, puzzling over things, trying to make them come out right. Characters constantly breeze in and out of his hospital room, sometimes bringing fresh perspectives or new information to add to Grant’s dossier. Marta and Carradine, the young American graduate student who becomes Grant’s research assistant, are the most stalwart visitors after the nurses, constantly returing to buoy Grant in his efforts. At times Grant is so absorbed by his reading that the reader is invited into true historical ficiton, seeing scenes portrayed in his readings. These are integrated into the book almost seamlessly, and provide more depth and color, particularly when contrasted with the steady stream of facts presented.
Most appealing to me, is the great sense of injustice it engenders. “Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority,” says Bertolt Brecht’s Galileo, and Tey’s Grant rails against fiction, rumor, and slander passed down as fact by those who ought to know better. Grant is infuriated the massive lack of evidence against Richard presented by Carradine, and aghast at how any rational person could ignore the startling inconsistencies in the entire tale. Tey’s research isn’t perfect, and plenty of the evidence she presents is still being argued over, but enough is accurate to instill a measure of doubt–particularly in this post-modern period which so delights in casting aspersion upon treasured mythos.
Cover: The only thing I would change is to substitute the featured portrait for the one used in the novel.
He looked for something that might stop his mind from harking back to that Act of Attainder, and saw the pile of letters waiting to be acknowledged. Kind, well-wishing letters from all sorts of people, including a few old lags. The really likable old lags were an out-moded type, growing fewer and fewer daily. Their place had been taken by brash young thugs with not a spark of humanity in their egocentric souls, as illiterate as puppies and pitiless as a circular saw. The old professional burglar was apt to be as individual as the member of any other profession, and as little vicious. Quiet little domestic men, interested in their family holidays and the children’s tonsils; or odd bachelors devoted to cagebirds, or second-hand bookshops, or complicated and infallible betting systems. Old-fashioned types.
No modern thug would write to say that he was sorry that a “busy” was laid aside. No such idea would ever cross a modern thug’s mind.
21-22 April, 2009