Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Four Feathers

Sorry I let so much time slip away between posts.  But now it's time to introduce you (if you're not already familiar with it, of course) to one of my favorite books - The Four Feathers by A.E.W. Mason.  It was published in 1902, one hundred years before its 2002 movie release starring Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson.  So please keep in mind that I am talking about this great Classic novel rather than the movie.  :)

I love just about every character in this novel.  The protagonist is Harry Feversham, a young British soldier who resigns his commission when he learns that his troupe is being sent to war in the Sudan.  Seeing this resignation as cowardice, three of Harry's friends, along with his fiance Ethne, each give him a white feather as a sign of cowardice.  In 1882 in which the novel is set, a stigma like this was enough to ruin a person's reputation entirely.  To regain his honor, Harry thus begins a heroic effort to prove himself to each person who gave him a feather.  He dedicates his life to this task, spending three years in the Sudan patiently waiting for his opportunity.  Once he begins his journey, there is nothing too dangerous to stop him from completing it.

On the surface, it does appear that Harry resigned out of fear.  However, Mason provides a deeper explanation for this by starting with a scene from his childhood.  Because his father was a soldier, he grew up listening to old army men scoff and scorn those who did not fulfill their duty or acted cowardly in war.  Harry was so fearful of condemning himself by acting in this way that he thought he could avoid the problem if he didn't go to war at all.  He was also greatly worried about bringing down his fiance in this shame if that were to happen.  However, his strategy backfired on him because his resignation was seen as a cowardly act in itself.  When he is faced with danger, it ironically turns out that he confronts it nobly and bravely.  Together with his intense loyalty to his friends, all these qualities make Harry an admirable character rather than a despicable one.

Ethne is one of my favorite female literary characters in existence.  At the beginning of the novel, she seems to act selfishly and superficially.  She rejects Harry because she is concerned about the stigma his resigning will create, even though she still loved him.  Yet throughout the rest of the novel, her character grows tremendously.  She is haunted by her action and vows to make up for it.  She never ceases loving Harry, but she lets him go because he vanished.  "Two lives shall not be spoilt because of me" becomes her creed, and she dedicates her life to this at the cost of her own happiness.  She develops into a truly beautiful character with a heart of gold, and I found it very easy to connect with her thoughts and emotions.

I feel the need to take a minute and say that this is not the most well-written novel I've ever read.  It has some depth in the character development, for Ethne, Harry, and his best friend Jack each change significantly by the end of the novel.  But I don't know if I would label this one as "genius."  Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable read.  The story takes off from page one, and I can fly through it without ever losing interest.  It's one of my favorites because it's so much fun, and it seems to appeal to everyone I know for different reasons.  I recommend it all the time because I think everyone would like it.  The plot is exciting; there are many adventures that come and go, with interesting characters mixed in.  The love story of Harry and Ethne is sweet, even though they are separated for the majority of the book.  So try it out and let me know what you think!


IngridLola said...

Hi Amy! Sorry, I wasn't sure how else to contact you besides leaving a comment ... I just wanted to invite you to take part in our Literary Blog Hop this week over at The Blue Bookcase. We did one last week and had a great turnout, so we're going to do it again, starting this Wednesday night! So come by our blog sometime on Thursday and add your link to the list if you are interested! You have some great ideas and thoughts on literary works, so we think your blog would be a great asset to our Literary Blog Hop.

Amy said...

Thanks IngridLola - I'd love to be a part of that! I appreciate your support and look forward to checking out all those who join this Blog Hop. :)