Daughter of Time: Why it's a great book, Part II

Images from Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts: the face
on the right is a reconstruction based on the discovered skull.
So Tey is probably wrong about who killed the princes. The aspect of her writing that sends professional historians into teeth-grinding pomposity is that she does miss context. Grant and Brent argue from a limited knowledge of the time-period and they isolate information--the princes' mother came out of sanctuary!--rather than placing action and reaction into a larger frame. Consequently, they miss the obvious: just because Richard didn't kill the princes at a particular time and place for a particular reason using a particular person doesn't mean he didn't kill them at a later time and place himself.

They don't even wonder if the princes simply died (because what kind of murder mystery would that be?!).

Nevertheless, Tey's book deserves accolades--not to say gratitude--for its lessons in historical research. Grant and even Brent may be amateurs, but they are amateurs who have grasped several basic principles of researching history, principles that non-amateur historians would do well to remember:
1. History tends to get reduced to memorable stories--this is normal, not evil.
2. Eyewitnesses don't always tell the truth.
3. Virtuous people may tell the truth; that doesn't mean the truth they tell is accurate.
4. Good historical research reveals its sources.
5. Contemporary judgments--such as sticking historical personages into pigeon holes--are not all that useful.
6. True history did happen; it is just terribly difficult to prove. 
What makes Tey's approach all that more fantastic is that Tey turned out to be sort of right . . . about Richard's position in history, that is.

The parking lot--the dig is about to begin!
Recently, Richard III's body was discovered underneath a parking lot in Leicester. Turns out, he wasn't dumped in a river, lost to us forever as that evil hunchback who didn't deserve a proper, kingly burial. I highly recommend the book of the find: Digging for Richard III by Mike Pitts. As Pitts makes clear, it was a scientific, archaeological find; when the skeleton was removed from its grave, it was not yet identified definitively as Richard III. It could be Richard III (it was--as the curved spine clearly indicates); it could also be an unknown male of the period.

However, a representative of the Richard III Society--of whom Tey would have been a proud member--wanted the skeleton removed with some dignity, as benefiting a revered-by-some, long-dead king.
"And so," Pitts writes, "late on a Wednesday afternoon in September, the remains of a then anonymous and undated man were carried across a car park in Leicester in a recycled cardboard box, draped with the flag of late medieval English royalty, and laid on the floor through the side door of a small white Citroen van."
There is something so charming and quirky and . . . oh, I'll say it . . . English about the whole thing, it brings a tear to the eye.

And lest anyone forget, the Richard III Society was largely instrumental in getting the dig started, continued, and accomplished in the first (and last) place.

So Tey's passion and the passion of those who have agreed with her over the years paid off.

Isn't that better than being stuffy and annoyed at her? As Mike Pitts writes about Daughter of Time, "[The book] is a warning to read evidence critically and not to accept blindly all you are told."


Tey should have the final word. At the end of his investigation, Grant returns the schoolbooks to the nurse who lent them:
 "We'll miss you, you know," she said. "We've grown used to having you here. We've even got used to that." And she moved her elbow in the direction of the portrait.
 A thought stirred in him.
 "Will you do something for me?" he asked.
 "Of course. Anything I can do."
 "Will you take that portrait to the window and look at it in a good light as long as it takes to count a pulse?"
 "Yes, of course, if you want me to. But why?"
 "Never mind why. You just do it to please me. I'll time you."
 She took up the portrait and moved into the light of the window. He watched the second-hand of his watch.
 He gave her forty-five seconds and then said: "Well?" And as there was no immediate answer, he said again: "Well?"
 "Funny," she said. "When you look at it for a little, it's really quite a nice face, isn't it?"

No comments:

Post a Comment