I am a logophile. I admit it freely. Actually, I’m not the least bit ashamed of it. I love reading language that is well-written — clear, descriptive, well-chosen words, compound and/or complex sentences, something stated in no uncertain terms — that leaves me with an image or tone and perhaps a hint of foretelling or foreboding.
Why am I telling you this? Because I am reading an historical novel whose author does all of the above. It is a joy to read! My mouth waters as I read and I savour every word on the page. What research must have been done to detail the mind of the main character so completely and to portray him vividly to someone who has never seen even a picture of this person from so long ago.
To write about a prince and do it in princely language is such a gift — a gift given first to the author and then, with time, care and craft, to the reader. In A Bloody Field by Shrewsbury, Edith Pargeter does just that. Her words are a gift to us. I can hardly put the book down to write about it — it lingers in my mind between readings. I can’t describe it to you, only tell you how amazing it is to absorb it and that I crave to write that well one day. Here is the first page of her book; judge for yourself.
The boy was not yet two months past his twelfth birthday, but tall and well-grown for his age, with long, slender bones, a lofty carriage, and the light, gawky, mettlesome gait of a high-bred colt. The burnished hair that curved in a close-fitting cap about his head was a rich chestnut, and the eyes that stared guardedly out of his solemn oval face were hazel, coloured like sunlit water over variegated pebbles, and like running water, inscrutable and inapprehensible. His chin was firm, and strongly cleft, a chin to be reckoned with, even while he walked unsteadily on English earth after his long adjustment to the vagaries of the Irish sea, and looked about him like one lost and uncertain of his ground, thus abruptly restored to the arms of a father he knew but very imperfectly, and released from the durance of a king he had known intimately and affectionately, and without whom he was lame and at a loss.
They had sent a ship from Chester to fetch him out of his captivity — for they insisted that he had been a captive — along with his fellow-hostage, sickly cousin Humphrey of Gloucester, and the trappings of King Richard’s chapel, left behind with the boys when the tocsin sounded. He remembered the voyage now as one remembers the last dream before waking, the turmoil of his own mind, the uncertainty that lay before him, the fury of the seas, which by contrast hardly troubled his long agile legs, and never his stomach, the dogged advances that were beaten back for so many days, as though the elements willed to fulfil his own suppressed half-longing to be back in Ireland on the old terms. But there was no going back; he knew already that there is never any going back.
The very language whets your appetite for more. Although from the beginning, Richard is just the shadow of a presence, first imprisoned, and then dead by his own hand from starvation, or so we are told, the fact of him, the presentation of him, is enough to make you want more. I want to dig out my trusty, battered Richard II by Wm. Shakespeare and re-read it alongside this rich tale of Prince Hal, son of Henry of Bolingbroke, later Henry V of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales.
Several times so far, Pargeter has written of “the miniver”. “His head swam a little with the smoke of torches and cressets, and the dazzle of so much gold and scarlet and silk and miniver and jewellery, and the scent of incense and oil, and the chanting, and the monotone of the archbishop’s voice.” The word was unfamiliar to me except as the name of the gentle, lovely lady whose son would fall in love with the younger lady, heiress to the manor, in wartime England, an example of how nobility did not necessarily belong to the upper class but could reside in the demeanour of one who truly loved and put others above self: Mrs. Miniver. The miniver, according to Merriam- Webster, is a white fur worn originally by medieval nobles and used chiefly for robes of state. How appropriate! Thank you Mrs. Pargeter.
Are you a logophile? Whose writing do you love?