Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Four Feathers

The Four Feathers, written by A. Mason, is a fine example of British  Victorian literature (even though it was published after Queen Victoria's death). It is a story of a young man by the name of Harry Feversham, who resigns his officer commission after he learns that his regiment is going to be sent to war in Sudan. Consequently, three of his colleagues send him each a white feather as an accusation of cowardice.

When his fiancee, Ethne, hears the story, she adds her own white feather to three others, and breaks the engagement. Harry's father, General Feversham, being a very proud man, kicks him out of the house. Harry, realising that his life is essentially ruined, takes a decision to do everything humanly possible to restore his lost honour, or die in an attempt, and travels to Sudan, where he disguises himself as a native and waits for an opportunity to prove to his friends that they misjudged him.

The novel is a fine illustration of an old saying, that a woman is, but a man has to become, as Harry has to undergo humiliation, torture, beatings and slavery and to overcome his fear for death to finally be able to restore his self respect and to get the girl. Just like in many similar Victorian adventure stories, honour is the main theme of the book.

It is well-written, and only occasionally boring to modern taste, as it concentrates more on human emotion than on action. I started reading it on Project Gutenberg, but as I happen to hate reading books from the monitor,  I found another option and listened to the LibriVox audio book instead. Another advantage of listening to books is that you can combine it with other activities, such as knitting or cleaning a cupboard.

There have been several film adaptations, the latest one from 2002, but according to this Wiki article, it takes a revisionist stand on the original topics of the novel, whatever it means, so I decided not to bother watching it. I liked the 1939 version which can be watched over here, but then I am a known freak for retro movies. The film lacks all the modern "special effects" stuff, but it is in colour, and quite well filmed.

It does change the story line somewhat, simplifying certain things and concentrating more on the adventure than on romance, nevertheless, I enjoyed it. Probably the best phrase of the film was: "There is no place in England for a coward." In short, if you like Victorian literature and everything connected with Victorian Britain, you'll like both the film and the book.

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