“Is he the only man that hath set his life against a stake which may be not worth the winning? Another risks his life (and his honor, too, sometimes,) against a bundle of bank-notes, or a yard of blue ribbon, or a seat in Parliament; and some for the mere pleasure and excitement of the sport;”
“Similarity, a virtue in peas, is a vice in books.”
BOOK? . . . The Cloister and the Hearth, by Charles Reade (1861)
WHAT KIND? . . . Novel
BE MORE SPECIFIC . . . Historical Fiction/Adventure/Romance
ABOUT WHAT? . . . Set in the late 15th Century, The Cloister and the Hearth is a kind of English Three Musketeers. Following the travels and adventures of Gerard, the hero and lover, from his home in Holland to various parts of Europe and back, it is a swashbuckling epic weaving historical background with fictional family saga. Charles Reade was thoroughly English, but the story itself is steeped in the culture and history of the Continent, and, if nothing else, is an encyclopedic travelogue of Renaissance Holland, Germany, France and Italy. But, the book is a great deal more than that. There is gallantry, there is villainy. There is suspense, there is intrigue. There is humor, there is irony. There is insight into Christianity as well as Greek and Roman thought.
SIGNIFICANCE? . . . I call it a masterpiece. Cloister is 900 pages of unparalleled adventure, cleverly constructed and brimming with memorable characters drawn with an artist’s eye. The book is rich in factual detail; Reade was known for his painstaking research, he is said to have amassed thousands of notes and documents for many of his works. And what sets this work apart, also, is Reade’s style: he is a master of Renaissance-style prose. The book is almost Shakespearian in its wit and charm, in the lyrical quality of its language.
SO SHOULD I READ IT OR WHAT? . . . It takes a mighty good book to keep me reading for 900 pages. If you like anything written by Alexander Dumas, then you would like this. If you don’t, you won’t.
YOU GOT ANYTHING ELSE TO ADD? . . . . I would like to read some of Reade’s other works, just to see how they compare to his historical masterpiece.
Almost one hundred years ago, this was the young Englishman’s declaration of independence from The Mater:
“I don’t really want to have my bed choked with hot-water bottles whenever I sneeze, and be given whiskies and lemon last thing; or to have my suits forever reft away to be cleaned, and all that. If I want a whisky I can ask the butler for it . . .”