Thomas B(ertram) Costain Jane Spence Southron - Essay

Jane Spence Southron

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The historical side of ["For My Great Folly," an] immensely entertaining novel set in England and the Mediterranean must be dealt with first despite the author's disclaimer of a factual foundation for much of it. It was a critical time: the opening years of the reign of the Scottish King of England whose fatuous attempts to wrest freedom from his subjects led, afterward, to civil war and the establishment of a Commonwealth. If you were entirely ignorant of the history involved you could take the story as sheer fiction and enjoy it throughout on that different plane. It is not unleavened fiction. A very important slice of it, for which Mr. Costain gives himself no credit, is the vivid and substantially accurate picture of King James I's corrupt court painted here with neither bias nor exaggeration. But there are other historical matters that invite inquiry.

To begin with, the book is built up round Captain John Ward, pirate, whose dossier in the pirates' "Who's Who" tells us little more than that he was of lowly birth and settled, eventually, at Tunis. While vouching for his story of Ward's piratical exploits, which, he says, "follows the historical facts closely enough," Mr. Costain admits that the picture he has given of the man himself is "completely imaginary." Apart from Ward's use, at variance with the rest of his character, of the sinister "cant" slang of the London underworld, a very sound, romantic job has been made of his...

(The entire section is 509 words.)