Thursday, December 2, 2010

Napoleonic War Stories: Tales of Soldiers, Spies, Battles and Sieges from the Peninsular and Waterloo Campaigns by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

I've long held Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in high regard, an affection based almost entirely on his collection of verse, which played such a large part in developing my taste and knowledge of poetry. Little did I know that he also wrote short stories about the Napoleonic Wars, something I only discovered while idly browsing Leonaur Publishing's catalogue. This is a dangerous pastime, but not without its rewards.

I haven't finished this book yet, it is a pleasure to be sipped rather than gulped. I was surprised by the tone and depth of the writing and characterisation. Quiller-Couch's descriptive prose is sparse, using a few carefully chosen images to evoke rather than explain. His plotting is taut and economical and unusually grim for stories written at the high tide of British power. The first two deal with the psychological, rather than the physical scars of war - a choice of subject I was not expecting. There is none of the heavy handed treatment of this theme that I've come to expect. The tales are laid out as tales, as stories to be told, without moral or lesson, the reader can make of them as he will. The later stories deal with the adventures of a Catholic Scottish-Spanish spy in the pay of the British and are more in the Brigadiers Gerard line than the former, though they too are not without their subtlety. I particularly liked Quiller-Couch's brief and uncomplimentary portrait of Wellington, who I've often seen portrayed as something approaching a military Christ figure in late 19th century texts.

Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting statement about Wellington and Christ. Christ not born in County Meath.