The library book I am finishing is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s English adventure story Sir Nigel. It is the prequel to The White Company, which I read last month. Here, we learn about Sir Nigel as a young man off to the wars with Edward III. He vows to commit three brave deeds before he can win his love, the dark beauty Mary.
It is a violent tale, full of battle scenes, with fields littered and boat decks littered with bodies. And yet it is also full of chivalric values such as honoring women and engaging in fair play. The language is full of high sentiment and ringing phrases that sound a little silly to the contemporary ear. As I read, I imagine myself as ten-year-old boy in an earlier generation thrilling to the stories of heroic knights and their beautiful ladies.
Yet, this is any adventure story…it is one written by the creator of Sherlock Holmes. A writer with definite opinions about the world. The book is full of detailed descriptions of the medieval world as well as observations about the class system. In a particularly funny scene, the upper class squire and his lower class attendant share a flea ridden bed in an inn. While the attendant scratches and rolls to ease his itching, the squire lies still as it is improper for a gentleman to show any inconvenience: “To a man who had learned the old rule of chivalry there were no small ills in life. It was beneath the dignity of his soul to stoop to observe them. Could and hear, hunger and thirst, such things did not exist for the gentleman. The armor of his soul was so complete that it was proof not only against the great ills of life but even against the small ones.”
I picked up this book after finishing Arthur & George, historical fiction about Doyle. I have all the Holmes mysteries on my Nook; those I got for free at manybooks.net. Both of the adventure books are available there along with a long list of other books written by Doyle. They are also available at Project Gutenberg.