Skip to main content

Review: William: An Englishman, by Cicely Hamilton


Pages: 226

Original date of publication: 1919

My edition: 2007 (Persephone)

Why I decided to read: Browsing the Persephone website

How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, February 2010

William: An Englishman is a bleak tale about William Tully, a young man who takes his honeymoon to Belgium on the eve of WWI. A naïve man, he is completely inexperienced and completely unprepared for what he is about to witness. He is a Socialist, and his wife, Griselda, a suffragette, so they are both rather idealistic as well. William and Griselda, have no idea about what’s going on in the outside world, and they make flippant comments about men playing at war while the war really begins in earnest around them.

This is a short novel, but a very powerful one, with an even more powerful message, about the difference between the horror of war and the naïveté of the main character. Cicely Hamilton wrote this novel sitting in a khaki tent during the war, so she understood as well as anybody the emotions that the war created. William’s despair as the novel goes on is almost palpable. I loved seeing the contrast between the pastoral, idyllic Ardennes, and the battlefront, and seeing how William reacts to it. I get the impression from reading this book that the author was rather angry while writing it; but it’s a controlled anger, that seethes just on the surface.

The other tragedy of William’s life is his physical size; he’s 5’5 (which isn’t that short, actually, just too short for the British military at the time she tried to enlist), and that emphasis on his physical size is what makes him all the more pathetic in the reader’s eyes. In all other ways, he is completely average. But given the way that life treats him in this book, you almost want to reach out and give him a hug. I loved watching William’s transformation; one that seems completely plausible. The author does jump from the beginning of the war to nearly the end; but she does it mostly to show how much the war has affected William. In all, this is an excellent novel—albeit a dark one.

This is Persephone no. 1. Endpaper below:

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…