The Blood Doctor

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Martin Nauther has inherited Henry Nauther’s seat in the House of Lords, and like his great-grandfather, Martin’s life becomes suffused with a consciousness of blood (his wife has no less than three miscarriages while he is researching his biography). The mysteries that author Barbara Vine has so exquisitely contrived in The Blood Doctor should not be divulged here, for the joy of this novel is found in her authentic portrayal of the biographer’s discoveries.

Martin is suddenly presented with a piece of evidence that simply does not fit his developing view of his great-grandfather (who he suspects is a murderer). Martin learns that Anthony Agnew, the husband of a distant relative, has read a notebook of Henry’s that is more revealing than anything Martin has yet found in letters, journals, or interviews. Unfortunately, the notebook has been inadvertently thrown into the trash, and Anthony Agnew has suffered a stroke. Will Agnew remember what he read? Even if he does not, though, Agnew’s daughter, Caroline, has told Martin that her father felt so sorry for Henry after reading his notebook that he insisted she put flowers on Henry’s grave. Evidently, whatever Henry did caused him to experience extraordinary remorse, and the biographer is nonplussed by the intense compassion Anthony Agnew feels for Henry, a man Anthony never met or showed any interest in.

“With all my researches, I know so little of his true nature or his inner life,” Martin laments a third of the way through his work on Henry. Yet, in the end, Henry does stand revealed—if not in his innermost being, certainly in the full social, familial, and historical contexts that the best novels and biographies recover.