WARNING: Ripping Book Reviews are solely the judgments of Professor VJ Duke on an unlucky book that has caused him much repulsion—in one way or another. Therefore, blame must be put on the professor and nobody else. With that in mind, read on—if you are brave enough to take it.
THE WHITE COMPANY by SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
This novel is relatively unknown today, which is a good thing, since it spares readers unnecessary torture. It was popular up through the 1940s. How? I have absolutely no idea. But I suppose a reasonable conclusion could be that torture was in style.
Yes, I suffered (awfully) while making my way through the slosh and grime which is called The White Company. The edition that I own (I am seriously thinking about getting rid of it) is 401 pages too long.
Okay, the plot.
The novel takes place during the Hundred Years’ War around the years 1366 and 1367. It follows the adventures (overstatement) of a few fellows as they travel around England, France, and Spain. Now, if that doesn’t sound boring in itself, I don’t know what does. Granted, a lush read in that time period could have been written, but, if that’s the case, Doyle wasn’t aware of how to go about it.
The story centers on the insufferable Alleyne, a 20-year-old nincompoop who has decided to leave the abbey that has sheltered him all his life. You may ask: Why did he grow up in an abbey?
Here’s Doyle’s explanation:
“Twenty years ago,” he said [i.e. the Abbot], “your father, the Franklin of Minstead, died, leaving to the Abbey three hides of rich land in the hundred of Malwood, and leaving to us also his infant son on the condition that we should rear him until he came to man’s estate. This he did partly because your mother was dead, and partly because your elder brother, now Socman of Minstead, had already given sign of that fierce and rue nature which would make him no fit companion for you. It was his desire and request, however, that you should not remain in the cloisters, but should at a ripe age return into the world.”
So, because the mother died, the father was dying, and the elder brother was fierce, Alleyne grew up in the cloister. Hmm… Sounds like Doyle had a hard time deciding just how he would make Alleyne an orphan. He should have had Alleyne move in with his brother; at least it would have been interesting.
Eventually, Alleyne meets his lady friend, Maude who is the daughter of Sir Nigel Loring—more about him in a minute. Doyle greatly confused me with regards to Maude. Sometimes she was described as a woman; sometimes as a girl. So, throughout the book, I had conflicting notions. Part of me imagined Alleyne was courting someone 20 or more years his senior; and the other part imagined Alleyne was courting someone around his own age. I wonder which Doyle had imagined himself. I suppose all are free to imagine what they would like. Doyle painted with a broad brush just to give you the option.
Maude’s father, Sir Nigel Loring, is an interest. He is short, bald, and horribly nearsighted, yet he is a valiant warrior. It’s possible, I suppose. But it would be hard to fight when you can’t see. Perhaps, Loring had incredible hearing; perhaps he could ‘sense’ his surroundings; perhaps Doyle did the seeing for him. The latter is the most likely.
As the story progresses, Alleyne hooks up with Loring and a company of maddening persons, and together they set off for France. Some instances (not adventures, too boring) follow, but it’s all very tiring. The novel is serious, humorous, then serious again.
At the end of the novel, Loring is presumably dead. But we are shocked and dismayed to find that he isn’t. The blind man returns, with his ever faithful guide, Doyle.
All of the good characters in the story (no exceptions) are so maddening that we literally would cheer if they died. But they don’t give us the satisfaction. The bad characters are—in fact, there are no bad characters.
I would not recommend picking this book up on a rainy Saturday afternoon. No, the supreme boredom it would elicit would be enough to make you go out in the rain anyway. Besides, it would keep you up for nights with a myriad of nightmarish dreams that are really a rehashing of the many appalling scenes.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle considered The White Company his best. He even wrote a prequel to it.
If only he would have been loyal to Sherlock Holmes.