Give me research. After all, the truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time.I wonder how exciting the premise of The Daughter of Time will sound if I simply tell you it: Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard is in a hospital bed recovering from a broken leg, and there he remains until the end of the book. But to pass the time, he decides to have a go at solving one of the greatest mysteries of British history: that of Richard III and the little Princes in the Tower.
It all begins when his friend Marta brings him a portrait of Richard III. Without knowing who it is, he decides that the face must belong to a wise and kindly man—perhaps a judge. Inspector Grant is naturally taken aback when he realises it belongs to a notorious murderer: after all, he takes pride in his ability to read faces. This is the point where the premise would have lost me in shuddery reminiscences of phrenology and other criminal theories with less than subtle racist undertones, if not for ther fact that Inspector Grant says,
“There isn’t a murder type. People murder for too many different reasons.”…which caused me to promptly forgive him, and, if not exactly believe that anyone can tell innocence or guilt from a face, at least suspend my disbelief. I’m glad of that, because The Daughter of Time is an excellent book. It’s an academic mystery, with the investigation solely taking place in old history books and archives, but trust me, it’s exciting all the same.
Sadly, I don’t know enough English history for The Daughter of Time to truly work for me as a mystery. I knew about Richard III, of course (mostly the Shakespearian villain, which I naturally didn't fully buy, not only because he's fictional but because I don’t believe in monsters), and I knew about the murders, or supposed murders. But I don’t know enough to be able follow the historical clues and make my own deductions. The case presented here seems completely convincing to me, but then again, what do I know about its historical accuracy or likelihood? (But I bet Meghan has an opinion, and I’d love to hear it.) In any case, The Daughter of Time still very much worked as a wonderful written history lesson and as a reflection on what exactly history is.
Regardless of whether or not one accepts the arguments in favour of Richard III, this book makes some excellent points about the fact that history is always just one side of the story. This is inevitable, because if there’s one thing humans are, it’s storytellers. And when we tell a story, we pick a perspective, no matter how dispassionate we try to be. As the saying goes, history is written by the victors, and I’m sure there are plenty of figures who have been unjustly villanized—or undeservedly glorified.
For this reason, The Daughter of Time is very much a book about critical thinking and shades of grey and the power of propaganda. Like I said, it doesn’t really matter whether or not we believe Tey’s Richard III to be closer to the truth than the villain most of us learned about. What matters is that the point — that things are always more complex than they seem — is one that sill stands, and always will.
“I liked the Portrait Gallery best because it gave one the same sense of proportion that reading history does. All those Importance who had made such a to-do over so much in their day. All just names. Just canvas and paint.”Other opinions:
He turned the pages and marvelled how dull information is deprived of personality. The sorrows of humanity are no-one’s sorrows, as newspapers readers long ago found out. A frisson of horror may go down one’s spine at wholesale destruction but one’s heart remains unmoved. A thousand people drowned in floods in China are news; a solitary child drowned in a pond is a tragedy.
It’s an odd thing but when you tell someone the true facts of a mythical tale they are indignant not with the teller but with you. They don’t want to have their ideas upset. It rouses some vague uneasiness in them, I think, and they resent it. So they reject it and refuse to think about it. If they were merely indifferent it would be natural and understandable. But it is much stronger than that, much more positive. They are annoyed.
Very odd, isn’t it?
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