Thomas B(ertram) Costain Charles W. Ferguson - Essay

Charles W. Ferguson

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The title of Thomas B. Costain's new volume ["The Three Edwards"] refers to the three Edwards who were successive kings of England during the turbulent and crucial era that began in 1272 and ended in 1377….

Of such a vital and prophetic era, Mr. Costain has made excellent use in this new unit of his continuing "Pageant of England." For the most part his narrative moves with the pace of swiftly changing events. The eye runs through page after page with curiosity, recognition and delight. Occasionally generalizations and anachronistic comment make the reader blink, but the force of the story carries him steadily forward.

Only toward the end of the third Edward's reign does the book tend to run down rather than build up. It becomes too populous even for a pageant. The author seems bent on using up his material and upon seeing that full credit is given to the supporting cast. This desire in itself is a healthy one, and it accounts for much that is good in the narrative as a whole.

Mr. Costain has a sharp eye for significant detail…. He has time to note in an age torn by conflict that buttons were introduced—if only as an ornament, not for function. He can turn aside to observe small incidents, to salute subalterns who may in the long run affect human behavior as much as storied events.

This quick perception of the obscure may stay a narrative now and then, but it also deepens it. In the bulk of his book Mr. Costain combines pace and detail admirably. His account falters toward the end; at the very end it gathers strength again: the strength of suspense. And the way is prepared for another installment in the unfolding if uneven story of England's greatness.

Charles W. Ferguson, "Troubled Kings in Turbulent Times," in The New York Times Book Review, October 19, 1958, p. 10.