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I Am England

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

I AM ENGLAND is the 1987 Georgette Heyer Award winner--and justly so, for this is a very bold and rich novel. Patricia Wright, who lives in the countryside of Sussex which she describes so well in this novel, is the author of several previous novels, such as HEART OF THE STORM and JOURNEY INTO FIRE, and many historical articles. The people who inhabit I AM ENGLAND are richly drawn in both their strengths and weaknesses. There is bravery, much hard labor, and great sacrifice, as well as cruelty that defies description.

The reader is first introduced to the forest people, who wander the countryside looking for enough food to feed their families. Tough of spirit and hard of purpose, their gradual adoption of a different way of life causes them to clear the forest for a village. Loyalty is transferred from the tribe to the community. During this period of development, the Vikings sweep across the area, laying waste to all that gets in their way.

Larger groups band together in an attempt to defend themselves against the Danes. A king of Wessex rallies men into armies that can repel the invading hordes. The Christian religion also begins to play a role in unifying and civilizing the people of England. Laws are enacted and treaties are signed with former enemies. For the crusty villager who has had his village ravaged by the Danes, all these developments are hard to accept.

Wright re-creates the savagery and the passion of the new country without holding back. The reader strongly empathizes with the characters of the saga and their struggle with conditions in which they find themselves. In the last episode, Francis Wyse, an ironmaster in a Sussex village, shows great courage as he gets caught up in the religious turmoil of the late sixteenth century and is eventually burned at the stake in London as his children look on. Wright makes history come alive--a tribute to her skill as a writer and to the majesty of England.