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Old 2nd Dec 2011, 12:01   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Josephine Tey

I am coming to the end of a Josephine Tey-athon, having read all of her novels this year, and her play Dickon. Not a stunning writer of detective fiction by any means, she is nethertheless an author with a fine writerly touch, quite acerbic and unfortunately in places dangerously denigrating of other cultures and ethnic backgrounds. I will be writing a slightly more fulsome review in a day or two once I have finished The Franchise Affair, her most famous work alongside The Daughter of Time.

On average, a decent ½
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Old 2nd Dec 2011, 18:13   #2
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Default Re: Josephine Tey

Hi Col,
sounds ambitious! She sounds, well . . . I don't know. Do you think she is denigrating other cultures out of malice, under cover of fiction? Or is it her characters' shortcoming that she is exposing? I'll be interested to hear what you think. (Sometimes writers can be downright nasty!)
Good luck with the overview (I can barely manage one at time!)
Regards,
kjml
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Old 12th Dec 2011, 12:46   #3
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'Josephine Tey' is one of the two pen-names of Elizabeth Mackintosh, and as Tey and as 'Gordon Daviot', she published a handful of murder mysteries from the 1930’s until 1951, to some acclaim and with film and TV versions acclaimed in those decades. The last bit of publicity in her favour was the adaptation of Brat Farrar in the mid-eighties, updated to that period, with the handsomely wooden Mark Greenstreet playing the title role. Perhaps best remembered for The Daughter of Time, an historical whodunit which pitches her favourite Inspector Alan Grant of the Yard against the mystery of 'Who Killed The Princes in the Tower', she also wrote historical plays on the latter two King Richards, Richard of Bordeaux (II) and Dickon (III). The former play was staged in the early Thirties catapulting John Gielgud to superstardom. The latter play is exquisitely written (and to my mind, accurate as to character) but also over-indulgent and romanticised in its sentiment for a presumed wronged and noble man.

Inspector Grant features in the majority of her mystery works as an intelligent and determined but reserved character, calculating guilt from all the usual sources – tip-offs, lucky breaks, applied logic – but from also what appears to be sheer psychological insight into people’s characters, some of which is down to the shape of eyes and eyebrows. It is perhaps of its time and Tey’s own take on these matters that shapes how ancestry does unfortunately feature in the deductive reasonings of Grant and the ‘criminal mind’ is one that seems to be inborn in the culprits rather than developed in the slums or disadvantages of society.

Racial characteristics are sometimes uncomfortably referred to in passing– not only those of Jewish but also of Eastern European or Arabian origin.

Quote:
Grant watched him with interest. This was Marta’s “merry kettle” and Judy’s “smouldering Jew”. To Grant he seemed neither. Just a rather ordinary American Jew from some poor corner of Europe; ill-educated, emotional, and ruthless, like so many of his race.”
Seventy years has eradicated commonplace references to Eyeties or “negro chauffeurs” or “nigger-brown” but for the modern reader these still jar, although for the most part these phrases are minor details on the periphery of the plots themselves. The stories are actually full of fabulous period detail and uncomplicated crimes that sometimes don’t even rear their heads until the last chapters of the book. In Miss Pym Disposes (a book I avoided for thirty years because I really didn’t get what the title meant and my copy had a horrid cover) her heroine is a psychologist staying at a young women’s PE academy in the 30’s, ostensibly helping out the headmistress (an old school friend) but meanwhile analysing the undercurrents in the institution that lead to tragedy only in the last two chapters of the book. The character analysis is gripping enough that although you are left hanging for the ‘crime’ to take place, the thrill of the book lies more in the moral dilemmas and the pupil-pupil/pupil-staff relations that are the bedrock of the plot. (And in the end the title of the book makes perfect sense and it is a ‘ripping read’.)

In many if not all of Tey’s works there is an underlying motive, I believe, although I would like any Tey expert to inform me otherwise: I am an amateur at this. The motive does concern the primacy of historical truth, and particularly that pertaining to the case of Richard III. The Daughter of Time in which Tey exonerates Richard of his crimes and fixes the murdering gloves on Henry Tudor instead was ostensibly her last published work before she died but its themes are spread abroad in Brat Farrar and in The Franchise Affair and in the other mysteries where evil things are believed without proof or by unsubstantiated rumour about folk of previously good character. Brat Farrar in particular takes the notion that one of the Princes might have survived Richard’s reign and takes it for a speculative wander in the guise of a modern inheritance intrigue (long lost twin turns up to claim his birthright). The dealings of the popular press are castigated roundly in several of the mysteries – the rumour mill, maliciously false headlines the aggressive interviewing and doorstepping, the inability to access a fair trial due to prejudicial newspaper pieces, and a 1930’s version of anything the Leveson Inquiry is turning up right now in 2011. Tey knows that if Bishop John Morton of Ely were alive today, he would have been writing for the Daily Mail.

It has been a delight to read her works this autumn (and some earlier this year), and I might get my own copies of the ones the library loaned me. Watching the 1980’s series of Brat Farrar on Youtube made me appreciate slightly more the confused pre-and post-war setting of the original book (it reads as pre-war but date-wise it can’t be, despite the lack of reference to call-ups, rationing etc). You have to roll with the dated attitudes to some degree (they are minor in appearance and frequency but because of their nature are sore-thumb material to today’s reader) but the whole lot are a jolly good read.

• The Man in the Queue (1929)
• A Shilling for Candles (1936)
• Miss Pym Disposes (1946)
• The Franchise Affair (1948 )
• Brat Farrar (1949)
• To Love and Be Wise (1950)
• The Daughter of Time (1951)
• The Singing Sands (1952) (published posthumously)
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