Genre: Classic Fiction, Sudan, British Imperialism
I was very excited to read this book. Of all the choices I made for my classics challenge for this year, I was certain that I would enjoy this novel the most. In this case, my expectations were not met, and although I did ultimately enjoy this book, it will never be a favorite.
The Four Feathers is the story of Harry Feversham, an English officer, who is descended from a long line of military heroes and expected to follow in their footsteps. One night, as a boy, Harry is present when his father and fellow Crimean war veterans are relating the tales of their military exploits. That night, they also happen to relate two stories of cowardice, which so distress young, sensitive, and impressionable Harry, that he is convinced from that time forward that he is himself a coward at his core. Years later, after becoming engaged to the beguiling Ethne Eustace, Harry is in the company of three friends when he receives a telegram notifying him that his regiment will soon leave for the Sudan. Harry resigns his commission, and ultimately receives three feathers from his once fellow officers and friends, as well as a fourth from Ethne as she breaks their engagement. Having lost everything he values, Harry begins a quest to redeem his shattered honor, and force those who have charged him with cowardice to recognize his worth.
Prior to having read the novel, I had seen two movie adaptations. In both cases, the films contained quite a bit of action, intrigue, and hair-raising escapes. As I read the novel, I was somewhat surprised to find that the majority of the narrative resides in England and Ireland, and focuses particularly on the characters of Ethne and Jack Durrance, once Harry's greatest friend. Durrance is a great character; he is a born soldier who finds himself unexpectedly handicapped and forced to adapt in ways he had never expected. His honor is in some ways even greater than Harry's, and the ways in which he and Ethne relate to each other as romantic adversaries is interesting. However, I found myself longing to read about Harry. So much of Harry's story is told in hearsay and vague allusion by other characters that I found myself getting somewhat frustrated. For me, the last 70 pages of the book were the best as I was finally able to read about Harry and some of the situations in which he found himself.
Despite my frustrations, there are many things to love about this book. The three main characters of the book are all studies in self-sacrifice for the good of others. If you enjoyed any of the film adaptations of the story, you may want to give the novel a try.