Both Cornflower and Becca and Bella have mentioned Josephine Tey in recent days; a good thing too as she is a wonderful, much under-read author. However this made me think back to my first Josephine Tey: The Daughter of Time. It is a remarkable version of a crime novel. The crime is the murder of the princes in the tower always reputed to have been perpetrated by Richard III. In her novel Tey has her detective laid up with a broken back solve the riddle from his hospital bed (a plot mechanism also used by Colin Dexter in The Wench is Dead ). Historians were not amused. This reminds me very much of 'proper' literary critics not being amused by the presence of blog reviewers.
Now, I am a sceptical kind of girl and take nothing as fact just on the reading of one book, but Tey does make a convincing case from the facts as she presents them. When I started to read the book I thought some of her points so pertinent I read them out loud. My husband teaches the War of the Roses at A level. All I got initially were grunts of derision, followed by single word expressions of dis-satisfaction, but as the book went on and I read more and more out, the noises changed. I was now getting, "Just read that bit out again", and "Can I read that bit again to myself", and eventually, "What's happening now?" Which was the point when I knew he was hooked.
We then spent an afternoon with proper history books from his proper history teaching shelf in the study, checking and rechecking the facts on which Tey hangs her premisses. On an afternoon's work with purely secondary sources my husband conceded Tey has some good points. Ha! I thought. Hurrah. I am not on a crusade to prove Tey is right I just want acknowledgement that, amateur though she is, she might be right and sensible points warrant sensible answers.
What is telling however is a remark in the standard A level text book Lancastrians to Tudors: England , 1450-1509 by Andrew Pickering: "It has been suggested, most colourfully perhaps in Josephine Tey's detective 'docu-novel', The Daughter of Time, that the princes survived Richard's reign but were dispatched at the start of Henry's. The evidence is flimsy to say the least." But Pickering does not go on to address any of Tey's points.
It is obviously likely that Tey has not used original sources, and very possible that she has been overly selective with the secondary ones that she has used. But why the derision? Why the sniffing? Why has no -one thought it worth while to give a sensible rebuttal of points instead of saying in effect, "Novelist? Amateur? Beneath us!" Clearly the one thing that any seasoned novelist has is good understanding of human motivations: they would be a bad writer without, and Tey is not a bad novelist. Perhaps, even accidentally, Tey has hit upon some feature of the case, maybe more psychological than factual but that nonetheless merit further thought. Just because the Richard III Society think Tey is nearly worth a sainthood doesn't mean she is automatically wrong in every respect.
It would seem that 'proper' historians aren't willing to do the kind of thinking necessary to be in an historians' universe that includes Tey, and others, as well as themselves. Just like some 'proper reviewers' aren't willing to consider what it is about modern reviews in the traditional media that is failing so much that readers, if not other critics, are now more reliant on blog reviews for their purchasing tips. Twenty years ago D. J. Taylor in his A Vain Conceit: British Fiction in the 1980s warned that book reviewing was not doing its job properly and that the reading pubic, and authors themselves were ill-served by what was going. In 1989 he could not have foreseen blogging but blogging reviewers are the natural consequence of the problems he identifies. As are the gentile fisticuffs due at the Oxford literary Festival when Dovegreyreader meets professional critics John Carey and John Mullan on 31st March. Historians be warned: the democracy of the internet could do the same for your quiet coterie. It'll be worse than Time Team!