Thursday, 30 July 2015

A History of the World in 50 Novels. 28 - "The Pioneers," by James Fenimore Cooper

In July 1776, the American Continental Congress formally declared independence from the British Crown. In the years that followed, France and Spain joined the war on the side of the colonists, Britain finally accepting defeat in 1783. The Iroquois Confederacy of Chief Joseph Brant Thayendanegea was shattered, his surviving fighters drifting north into Canada. He had lost his "double bet."

Part of the stated rationale for the American Revolution was that it made no sense for "an island to rule a continent." With the United States of America now established as a nation, with a constitution, an army and, perhaps most importantly, a dream, the former colonists turned their backs on the Atlantic, and looked to the continent that lay ahead of them. In the distance they saw mountains, the Appalachians but some among them had already climbed those peaks, and looked upon the vast expanse of land beyond them.

Among the first to blaze a trail through the mountains was the frontiersman, Daniel Boone. He established the "Wilderness Road" through Cumberland Gap, passing from Virginia into what is now Kentucky.

Daniel Boone, by Chester Harding, 1820. Massachusetts Historical Society (image is in the Public Domain).

Boone's "Wilderness Road," Library of Congress (image is in the Public Domain).

With Boone's assistance, Judge Richard Henderson made a treaty with the Cherokee Nation, purchasing more than 20 million acres of land between the Cumberland and Kentucky Rivers. With 30 pioneers, Henderson established a township, which he named Boonesborough, in honour of the man who had made it possible.

Boonsborough in 1778, by George Washington Ranek, 1901 (image is in the Public Domain).

The novelist, James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), was himself part of this story of westward expansion. His own father, William Cooper, had purchased several thousand acres of land confiscated from Thayendanegea's Iroquois, in upstate New York, along the banks of the Susquehanna River, establishing the settlement of Cooperstown.

Otsego Hall, the home of William Cooper and James Fenimore Cooper, from Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1900 (image is in the Public Domain).

James Fenimore Cooper stands alongside Herman Melville, as one of the founding fathers of the American novel, and alongside Sir Walter Scott, as a founding father of the historical novel. His novel, The Pioneers (published in 1823, but set in 1793), is set in "Templeton," on the Susquehanna, a township founded by Judge Marmaduke Temple.

The judge is an educated and sophisticated man, a natural leader with a fascination and respect for the wilderness that he knows he does not fully understand. Between him and his family, and that wilderness, stands the figure of "the Leather-Stocking," Natty Bumpo, thought to be based, at least in part, on Daniel Boone. If Marmaduke relies on Natty, then he, in turn, relies on his friend, the ageing Mohican chief, Chingachgook, for his understanding of the landscape.

The tension between the "civilisation" of Judge Temple, and the sustainability of the wilderness that he and Natty love in their very different ways, is a key theme in the book, but Cooper clearly wanted to believe that the two can be reconciled, if only the judge will be guided by the frontiersman.

"The Pioneers," by Joshua Shaw (1776-1860 - image is in the Public Domain).

Behind this optimism, however, is a note of realism. Chingachgook is a lonely figure, the last of his people, as he sees it, a people already ravaged by diseases brought by the Europeans. The trick for us, as modern readers, is to immerse ourselves in Cooper's lyrical prose, and read the book as though we didn't know what happened next.

"Near the centre of the State of New York lies an extensive district of country whose surface is a succession of hills and dales ... of mountains and valleys. It is among these hills that the Delaware takes its rise; and flowing from the limpid lakes and thousand springs of this region the numerous sources of the Susquehanna meander through the valleys until, uniting their streams, they form one of the proudest rivers of the United States."

The Susquehanna River. Photo: Nicholas (licensed under CCA).

"'The enterprise of Judge Temple is taming the very forests!' exclaimed Elizabeth, throwing off the covering, and partly rising in the bed. 'How rapidly is civilisation treading on the foot of nature!' she continued, as her eye glanced over not only the comforts, but the luxuries of her apartment, and her ear again listened to the distant, but often repeated howls from the lake.'"

"'Awake! awake! my fair lady! The gulls are hovering over the lake already, and the heavens are alive with pigeons ... Benjamin is overhauling the ammunition, and we only wait for our breakfasts, and away for pigeon-shooting ... ' Among the sportsmen was the tall, gaunt form of the Leather-Stocking, walking over the field, with his rifle hanging on his arm ... None pretended to collect the game, which lay scattered over the fields in such profusion as to cover the very ground with fluttering victims ... 'This comes of settling a country!' [Leather-Stocking] said ... 'Well, the Lord won't see the waste of his creatures for nothing, and right will be done to the pigeons, as well as by others, by and by.'"

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Revolution Day - Guest-Post with T.E. Taylor

I am happy to welcome my fellow Crooked Cat author, T.E. (Tim) Taylor for this guest-post. His latest novel, Revolution Day, was published a few weeks ago.

"Hello, Mark, and thank you for inviting me along. Knowing that your blog - one of the most interesting I've seen - has a historical theme, I thought I would talk about the ways in which my new novel, Revolution Day, is informed by history.

Unlike my first novel, Zeus of Ithome, which recounts the struggle of the ancient Messenian people to free themselves from three centuries of slavery under the Spartans, it is not a historical novel as such. It is set in the present day, and charts a year in the life of a fictional dictator, Carlos Almanzor, as his Vice-President plots against him, and his estranged wife, Juanita, writes a memoir in which she recounts his rise to power, and his gradual metamorphosis from a liberal socialist into an autocrat and authoritarian.

I was first inspired to write the novel by the fall of several dictators (Hussein, Mubarak, Gaddafi) in the Middle East. What interested me was the ways in which people become corrupted by power, and how they become deluded by it, and begin to lose their grip. As the ideas came together, I decided that Latin America (with its long history of dictators) would be a better location for the novel, partly because I wanted a strong, politically active, female character, which would have been more difficult in a Middle Eastern setting.

The characters, and even the country, are fictional, but the fortunes of Carlos's regime are influenced by wider historical developments - in particular, the ebb and flow of relations between the superpowers during the Cold War. thus Carlos develops a close relationship with the Soviet Union early in his regime, although, unlike Fidel Castro, he later makes overtures to the United States when economic necessity demands it. Another key event in the novel (which I will not describe, so as not to spoil the plot) was suggested by the career of Nicolae Ceaucescu of Romania.

Carlos is not based on any specific historical dictator, but his character, and some of the events that occur during his life, draw upon a variety of historical models. He has the classic dictator's fetish for military uniforms - in his case, as with so many historical dictators, not earned by any actual military service.

In other respects, however, I wanted to avoid the stereotypes. Carlos is not a monster, or an archetypal strongman dictator. He began as an idealist, a campaigning lawyer, but gradually became more authoritarian and autocratic as his regime unfolded. He jealously keeps all power to himself, not because he craves it for his own sake, but because he has an intellectual arrogance that leads him to believe that he alone can be entrusted with stewardship of the nation.

For the same reason, he has embraced repression, believing it to be a distasteful necessity. In this respect, he has precedents among the historical Latin American dictators: Gualberto Villarroel of Bolivia, for example, was a reformist who adopted repressive measures to suppress dissent.

Gualberto Villarroel. Photo: Juangarciaguzman (licensed under CCA).

Other characters in the novel respond to power in different ways, and Carlos - again in common with many historical autocrats, such as Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay - faces his greatest threat from a man who has been his closest ally for many years.

Alfredo Stroessner (image is in the Public Domain).

Although Carlos's estranged wife, Juanita, is not directly based on any historical character, there are hints of Eva Peron in her feminism, glamour, and the political career that she has pursued alongside her husband. She differs, however, in her long life, in the course of which her personal and political relationship with Carlos breaks down irretrievably.

Eva Peron in 1950 (image is in the Public Domain).

Revolution Day thus has a much looser relationship with history than Zeus of Ithome, in relation to which I was very careful to get the facts and details right. Nevertheless, it is ultimately inspired by history, and draws upon historical precedents in an unashamedly eclectic way."

Tim was born in 1960 in Stoke-on-Trent. He studied Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford, and later Philosophy at Birkbeck, University of London. After a couple of years playing in a rock band, he joined the Civil Service, leaving in 2011 to spend more time writing. He now lives in Yorkshire with his wife and daughter, and divides his time between creative writing, academic research, and part-time teaching for Leeds and Huddersfield Universities. As well as novels, he writes poetry, and the occasional short story. He also plays guitar, and likes to walk up hills.

Tim Taylor's novel, Revolution Day, is published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon UK or Amazon USA.  He can be found on Facebook, Twitter, on his website, and on the Crooked Cat author site.

Monday, 20 July 2015

A History of the World in 50 Novels. 27 - "Manituana," by Wu Ming

In the previous blog-post in this series, I introduced the theme of the European settlement of the Americas, and the relationships between the colonists and the native peoples they encountered. The north-eastern part of what is now the United States was home to one of the most sophisticated Native American civilisations, that of the Iroquois, a confederacy of five (later six) tribes that seems to have been established around 1450.

Iroquois culture centred on the long-house, which served both as a physical focus for domestic and ceremonial activities, and as a metaphor for the lands of the Iroquois themselves. One tribe, for example, the Mohawk, described themselves as "Keepers of the Eastern Door." The Iroquois were farmers, for whom the "Three Sisters" (maize, squash and beans) were sacred gifts from the guardian spirits of the tribe. Power was shared between hereditary male and female elders, who held parallel councils; and elected male war-leaders.

A reconstructed Iroquois long-house, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Laslovarga (licensed under CCA).

In the 17th Century, the Mohicans, Delaware and Huron, traditional enemies of the Iroquois, formed an alliance with the French. The Iroquois responded by forming an alliance with the Dutch, with whom they engaged in a lucrative trade in beaver fur. When the French defeated the Dutch, driving them from North America, England was the obvious new ally for the Iroquois. A delegation of elders of the tribe even travelled to London for a meeting with Queen Anne.

The "Four Mohawk Kings," who met with Queen Anne in 1710. Johannes Verelst, National Archive of Canada (image is in the Public Domain).

Manituana, by the Italian writers' collective, Wu Ming, is set in the aftermath of all of this, during the American Revolutionary Wars.

A ghost hangs over the novel, a figure that the reader never actually meets. Sir William Johnson (1715-1774) was a Catholic Irishman who prudently converted to Anglicanism when, as a young man, he was invited to move to the Colony of New York to manage his uncle's estate.

Sir William Johnson is here depicted saving the life of the French commander, Baron Dieskau, at the Battle of Fort George (image is in the Public Domain). Johnson and his Iroquois volunteers fought with distinction on the British side in the French-Indian Wars and American Revolutionary Wars.

Already dead when the novel opens, Johnson is remembered with affection by most of the Iroquois and British characters. The reader may well take a more nuanced view of this man, whose first act in America was to purchase 60 African slaves, and who went on to learn the Iroquois language and customs, take an Iroquois woman as consort, father illegitimate children on several other Iroquois and European women, and accumulate substantial land and wealth.

Sir William entertaining the Iroquois at Johnson Hall, 1772, by E.L. Henry (1903), Canadian Museum of Civilisation (image is in the Public Domain).

Key figures in this novel of several viewpoints include Johnson's Mohawk widow, Molly Brant; her younger brother, Joseph Brant Thayendanegea, Johnson's protégé, who twice visits London to meet George III; and Guy Johnson, Sir William's nephew, who fights alongside Joseph.

Joseph Brant Thayendanegea, by Gilbert Stuart, painted in London, 1786, Sothebys (image is in the Public Domain).

"The Indian came forward, the Apollo of the New World, a flesh-and-blood emblem of manliness and serene strength. He inclined his chest toward the king, kissed the queen's hand, and stepped back ... Warwick couldn't help covering his mouth with his hands. The prince, the American champion, had forgotten the king's ring! ... the earl studied the expression of George III ... There were no signs of anger ... Warwick missed the queen's question. The prince replied that his Indian name meant ... 'Place Two Bets.' 'What would be your double bet, Chief Brant?' ... 'I'm betting on the Six Nations, Your Majesty, and on the Crown of England.'"

"He asked the guards of the Sacred Fire of the Confederation to attend the Oswego Council in the Spring ... 'Brothers, this rebellion is the greatest threat that the Six Nations have ever had to confront. The American Englishmen have declared their independence from England: they no longer recognise the authority of the king. This means they believe that the bar placed upon their expansion onto our lands has fallen ... Only by fighting can we hope to save ourselves from catastrophe. Fighting for England and fighting for ourselves.'"

"'I am a chief ... I have to fight for my people, I have to give them some land. If the hardness of oak is not enough, we will become rock. But we have to try, we have to make the effort. Or else there will be no dawn for the Mohawks."

Indian Castle Church as it is today, built by Sir William Johnson in 1769, on land gifted by Molly and Joseph Brant, all that remains of Canajoharie, the Mohawk settlement he established. Photo: Donsram (licensed under GNU).

Manituana could hardly have been anything other than the tragedy that it is, and the tragedy of Thayendanegea is truly one worthy of a Sophocles or a Shakespeare. To quote a commentator in Le Monde, however, this is a book in which "nobody is either completely guilty or completely innocent, and one's legitimate battle for liberty and independence may bring about the loss of someone else's independence and liberty."

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

An Englishman's Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1517 - Week 5 - The Sights of Jerusalem

Having arrived in Jerusalem, Richard Torkington and his fellow pilgrims stayed there for a week, sleeping on carpets on the floor of the Hostel of Saint James, which seems to have been located just inside the city's Jaffa Gate.

The Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem (image is in the Public Domain).

"Sunday the xixth day of Julii, we came to Mounte Sion to masse, which was song ther right devowtly ... and whan masse was don we all went to dyn in the place wher we were right honestly servyd. And at melys of the dinner the ffather warden made a ryght holy sermon ... and exortyd every man to confession and repentaunce, and so visit the seyd holy places in clennesse of liff."

The "Cenacle" or "Last Supper Room," formerly part of the Priory of Mount Sion. Tradition holds this as the location of the Last Supper, and other accounts of Early Modern pilgrimages specifically claim that the Prior of Mount Sion held mass here for the pilgrims. None of the surviving architecture dates to the time of Christ, but it is, in large part, the building that Torkington would have seen. Photo: Marco Plassio (licensed under CCA).

"And this sermon done, the ffader warden gaff us warnyng that every man shuld provyd mete for himself and he wold fynd us wyne, and so he did all the time we war ther."

On the Monday the friars led them around the Valley of Jehosephat, pointing out the Tomb of Absalom, continuing on to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemene. The pilgrims were shown the place where Christ was betrayed, and then the houses of Herod and Pilate, following the Via Dolorosa. All would have made this journey, metaphorically, every Easter in their own parish churches ("The Stations of the Cross"), but now they were making it in real time and space.

The Valley of Jehosephat (Valley of Hinom). Photo: Devor Avi (licensed under CCA).

The Garden of Gethsemane. Photo: Chris Yunker (licensed under CCA).

"The Tewysday, at vj of the cloke at after noon ... we were admitted by the lordes, Turkes and Mamoloukes of the citie to entre in to the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre. At the same time the most parte of the ffryers of the Mount Sion entered with us ... they began ther a very solemn procession. And at every station was showd un to us by one of the ffryers, the mysteries and holines of the places wher they made their stations."

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (image is in the Public Domain).

These included the pillar at which Christ was scourged, the socket in which the cross had stood and, finally, the rock-cut tomb in which Christ's body had been placed.

"The same Wednysday ... we taryd all Day and all night in the Temple of the Holy Sepulchre."

The interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem (image is in the Public Domain).

There followed an excursion to Bethlehem, and then, the following Monday, they departed, with a large escort of "lordes, Turkes and Saracens," to rejoin their ship at Jaffa. And here we will leave Richard Torkington, for he returned to England by very much the same route along which he had come. His full account does not seem to be available online, as yet, but a printed version was published in 1883 (W.J. Loftie, Ye Oldest Diarie of Englysshe Travell), and is available in many libraries.

Torkington's account was of particular interest to me, as I was writing "Jerusalem," the 16th Century story in my novel, Omphalos. By placing my protagonists, Richard Mabon and Nicholas Ahier (the latter is fictional), on the same ship as Torkington (the historical Mabon might have made the journey any time between 1517 and 1522), I had a precise itinerary around which I could build my story.

I even wondered if I might find a mention of Mabon in Torkington's account, but he says almost nothing about his fellow pilgrims, about his conversations with them, or even, as a priest, about his spiritual response to the places he was experiencing. Other pilgrims who have left written accounts had more to say about these things, and I drew upon these sources, also, in putting together Mabon's fictionalised account. I shall have more to say about these sources in the near future.

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

An Englishman's Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1517 - Week 4 - Jaffa to Jerusalem

In his account of his pilgrimage, the English priest, Richard Torkington, makes it clear that the galley on which he travelled to the Holy Land lay at anchor for around a week, whilst someone, presumably one or two of the ship's officers, travelled to Jerusalem to fetch the Prior of Mount Sion.

The Franciscan prior, almost certainly multi-lingual, was selected as much for his diplomatic skills as for his piety, and the Vatican trusted nobody else (certainly not Venetian sea-captains) to negotiate with the Muslim authorities in matters concerning the pilgrimage. The situation was doubly complicated in 1517, since control over the Holy Land had recently passed from the Egyptian Mamelukes to the Ottoman Turks.

"Wedynsday the xvth Day of Julii, the Ffather Warden of Bedelam came to us with Lordis of Jherusalem and Rama, these being Turkys, the Grete Turke having in Dominion all the holl londe ... And thane we were suffered to come on londe ... we lay in the same grotte or cave all nyght upon the stynking stable ground ... ryght evill intretyd by the said Turkes."

Jaffa in 1839, by David Roberts (image is in the Public Domain).

"At this Jaffa begyn the Holy Londe ... At this haven Jonas the prophete tooke the sea, whanne he fledde from the sitte of the lord in Tharsis. And in the same Jaffe, Seynt Peter reysid ffrom Deth Tabitam, the servaunt of the Apostolis. And ffast by is the place where Seynt Peter usyd to ffysh, and our saviour, Christ called him and seyd Sequere Me."

Torkington is wrong on the latter point (Saint Peter fished on the Sea of Galilee, not on the Mediterranean). He says nothing about giving a sermon at this point in time, so, in my novel, Omphalos, I have my own character, Richard Mabon, preaching one, and introducing this error, which Torkington could have heard. It fits my characterisation of Mabon remarkably well!

Jaffa - encampment of Persian pilgrims on route for Mecca, c1900. Although these are Muslim pilgrims of the 20th Century, the nature of the encampment is likely to have been much the same. Whether one slept in a tented pavilion or a filthy cave, and whether one rode a camel or an ass, probably depended on one's social status, and the amount of money paid to the Turkish hosts.

"Thursday the xvj Day of Julii, at iiij of the cloke at aftyer noon, we took 3 assis and rode to Rama (Ramallah) the same nyght, and we were recyved into Duke Phillip's hospitall. We found no thing therein but bar walls and bar floretas, excepte oonly a well of good fresh water which was much to our comfort. Nevertheless, ther came to us Jacobyns (Syriac Christians), that browte us mattes for our mony to lye upon. And also brede ... eggs ... milke, grapys and apyllis."

Rama in 1698, by Cornelius de Bruijin (image is in the Public Domain).

"Satrday erlay in the morning, we took our journey towardys Jherusalem. And a bowt noon we retyd us underneath the olyffe trees, and there refreshyd us with such mete and wyne as we bowght with us from ower ship. And a bowght vj or vij of the cloke and were recyvyd into the Mounte Sion, and ther we supped. And after supper we war lede to our hospitall called Sancto Jacobo, ryght in the way of the holy sepulchre ward."

Prospect of Jerusalem in 1493, by Hartmann Schedel (image is in the Public Domain).

The Priory of Mount Sion, Jerusalem. Photo: Donatus (licensed under CCA).

Richard Torkington was (in common, probably, with all the pilgrims with whom he travelled) a Roman Catholic. In the Holy Land itself, he encountered people who followed various Orthodox forms of Christianity (including the "Jacobyns" mentioned above), people often described by the Catholics as "Heretics." By setting foot in the Holy Land, the Catholic pilgrims won for themselves a "Plenary Indulgence," reducing the time their souls might have to spend in Purgatory. The spiritual highlights of the pilgrimage were, as they had been since the late Roman period, sacramental in nature: Confession at the Priory of Mount Sion; followed by Communion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

But even as Torkington was making his way to Jerusalem, hundreds of miles away, in Wittenberg, Germany, a monk named Martin Luther may already have been working on the document that he would publish in the autumn of that year, challenging the very ideas on which Torkington's faith was based: indulgences; Purgatory; sacramental confession; the intercession of saints; the spiritual value of relics, and even of pilgrimage itself.

More next week!

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

An Englishman's Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1517 - Week 3 - Crete to Jaffa

Leaving Crete, the Venetian galley carrying the English priest, Richard Torkington, and his fellow pilgrims, sailed northwards, this unlikely (by modern standards) diversion presumably being occasioned by the wind direction.

"Sunday the v day of Julii, a bowte vj of the cloke in the morning, we made seyle from Candy towards the Rodes."

"Monday, at nyght, we passed by the Ile of Patmos wher Seynt John wrote the Apocalips."

Patmos from the sea. Photo: Lyn Gateley (licensed under CCA).

Torkington would surely have been prevailed upon by his fellow pilgrims to explain this most enigmatic and disturbing passage of scripture. He might have found this easier had he been able to take them ashore and explore the cave in which Saint John received his divine "Revelation," but Venetian sea-captains would not be distracted if favourable winds were filling their sails.

"Saint John the Evangelist on Patmos," by Hieronymous Bosch, a contemporary of Torkington. Many in Torkington's day believed that the author of the Apocalypse was also the author of the fourth gospel, but few modern scholars believe this to be the case. It is now thought unlikely that either of these authors was "John, the brother of James," and son of Zebedee.

The seven-headed beast, one of many terrifying images from the Book of the Apocalypse, from the 10th Century Beatus Escorial (image is in the Public Domain).

"The next day, Tewsday ...we sayled ryght Estwardes, towards Cypres, and left the Rodes on the left hende, not approched ny the Rodes by C myle ffor fer of the Turks."

"Wedynsday the viij Day of Julii, we came to Cypres, and ther we lay Thursday all Day."

Torkington seems not to have gone ashore on Cyprus. Presumably the crew were provisioning the ship, and the captain may have been waiting for a favourable wind. Other sources suggest that Venetian galleys of the time often lay at anchor at the entrance to the Larnaca salt-lakes, so this was, perhaps, the vessel's location at this point in time.

The entrance to the Larnaca salt-lakes (Cyprus), with the Hala Sultan Tekke mosque. Photo: Andreas Antoniou (licensed under GNU).

"Friday the xth Day of July, a bowt x or xj of the cloke, we made sayle."

"Saturday the xjth Day of Julii, a bowt iiij of the cloke at after noon, we had sight of the Holy Lande. Thanne the maryners sang the letany. And after that, all the pilgrims, with a joyful voice sung the Te Deum Lawdimus, and thanked all mighty God that he had goven us such grace to have onys the sight of the most holy lande."

Jaffa from the sea (image is in the Public Domain).

There was time, laying at anchor off Jaffa (modern Tel Aviv), for the pilgrims to reflect on the journey that they had made across the sea, and on the journey that they were about to make over land. For them, this journey of a lifetime was a preparation for an almost precisely similar journey to be made by the soul at the end of days, to the Valley of Gehenna, where Christ would make judgement between the saved and the damned.

More next week!

Mark Patton's novels, Undreamed Shores, An Accidental King and Omphalos, are published by Crooked Cat Publications, and can be purchased from Amazon.