Monday, April 5, 2010

The Founding by Cynthia Harrod Eagles

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles ‘Moreland Dynasty’ series was first published in 1980, and the latest volume in he series has just been published. Sourcebooks has gone back to the beginning and reprinted the first books and being a CHE fan, I jumped at the chance to re-read an old favourite, the first in the series titled, 'The Founding'.

The story opens during the Wars of the Roses. Eleanor Courtney is a scion of the noble house of Beaufort and companion to Belle, Lord Edmund’s wife. Eleanor has developed an infatuation for Richard, Duke of York and carries a missal he gave her always as her talisman. When Lord Edmund announces she is to be married to a wealthy Yorkshire farmer’s son, Eleanor is horrified.

After a formal betrothal, she travels in her husband-to-be’s entourage from beautiful Corfe Castle in the rolling green hills of Dorset, to the bleak and windswept Yorkshire moors and the functional, male dominated Moreland farmhouse which offers no hospitality to the distressed young bride.

Unfazed, Eleanor is determined to bring some feminine influence to her new home, despite an aggressive father-in-law who regards the only way to treat outspoken women is a regular beating.

Eleanor’s distress at her social distance from her first love, and her abhorrence for the boy-farmer, Robert Morland is palpable. Robert himself is a disappointment to his father, being poetic and not physically dominating. Robert adores Eleanor from the first and she cannot help but be touched by his gift of a puppy from his favourite hound bitch.

The Founding is a masterpiece of research into life in Medieval England, with vivid descriptions of the clothes, food and hierarchy in grand houses in contrast to the way of life of the Yorkshire farming community. The story soon moves into the War of the Roses, where Eleanor's allegience to the House of York and her husbands to the Lancastrians shows how such conflicts divide families and shape fortunes.

CHE [and Jean Plaidy] were the authors who first inspired me to write historical fiction, and I was intrigued to see if the style of writing would appear different from my first experience of them. Her style includes a great deal of head hopping, passive voice and author intrusion no longer fashionable in modern writing. Most of the rules which editors will tell you are a bar to publication were there, including ‘her face paled’ when in the character’s PoV.

I can honestly say none of this spoiled the story for me in any way. In fact readers probably wouldn’t even notice, only aspiring authors who read ‘How To Write Books’ might find the style distracting. CHE has a lovely way with human emotion, and The Founding, a family saga in itself as it takes Eleanor's children from birth to death, is a compelling introduction to the Moreland Dynasty. The book made me want to read the entire series again. I eagerly await the next one!