The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey

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The Daughter of Time, Josephine Tey, Scribner, 1995, ISBN 0684803860, $9.00

A classic novel, ostensibly a mystery, but a strange one in that the detective spends the entire novel bed-ridden because he fell into a hole during his last chase. Not one to just sit on his tush and read popular novels, he fidgets until a friend brings by a set of portraits. In them, he discovers one man that looks somewhat saintly, yet haunted. It turns out that the portrait is of Richard III, the demon of English history, the child murdering hunchback who had his lines written by Shakespeare. What he finds out is that Richard was actually the most libeled man in all of history.

The mystery is not much of one, unless you were not aware that Shakespeare’s history was much more fiction than fact. The novel even refers to the fact that it rehashes a vindication of Richard that various people have tried to accomplish since his death. A most unlucky soul, because all the vindication in the world can’t wipe out a beautiful work of literature and the assumption of its truthfulness. To use modern terms, the idea of Richard III as a cruel and vicious man who would kill his own nephews for the throne is a meme–a false meme, but a meme nonetheless–that has infected the world.

I urge you to give this book a try. It’s quick, less than 200 pages, and I finished it in about 3 hours. I’ve given away the mystery, I fear, but the social lesson is well worth the time investment.

[Finished December 1998]

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