The Morland Dynasty is a series of books by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles that follows one family through British history, beginning with the War of the Roses. (The latest book, the thirtieth in the series, takes place during World War I.) I first heard of this series through the now defunct Common Reader catalog, and I’ve gradually collected several of the books over the past couple of years, and today I finally finished The Founding, the first in the series.
The Founding opens with the marriage of Eleanor Courteney, an orphan from a noble family, to Robert Morland, a farmer from just outside York. Eleanor feels the marriage is beneath her, but she has no choice, so she sets about raising her family’s fortune. By the end of the book, the Morlands have a grand house and a thriving cloth manufacturing business. They also have a record of faithful service to the York family, which they remained allied to throughout the Wars of the Roses.
The book covers the entire span of the Wars of the Roses and generally takes a sympathetic view toward the Yorkist side. Given that my own knowledge of this period comes from Shakespeare’s Richard III and Black Adder, I can’t speak to the accuracy of Harrod-Eagles’s version of events. I do know that she paints a very different picture of Richard III than the one I’m accustomed to, but I also know that historians do not lend much credit to the traditional image of Richard III as a hunch-backed murderer.
Whether the history is accurate or not, I found the story of the Morland’s involvement in the Wars to be fairly engaging. At times, the story has a tendency to jump around, and my ignorance of the period left me confused as to what was happening, both in terms of the Morland family’s growth and in terms of the history. I understand that the original intention was for this series to cover 500 years in 12 books, which accounts for the overly fast pace. However, it seems that Harrod-Eagles herself has recognized the problem with the breakneck speed because the series is now at 30 books and has only just reached World War I.
The writing is fine; it does the job of telling the story clearly. Harrod-Eagles has a tendency to overexplain her characters’ motiviations in this book, but for the most part, that didn’t bother me. The characters themselves are great—all of them seem to be a mix of good and bad, and they don’t seem to take on overly modern attitude in order to be palatable. Eleanor, for example, considers marriage purely an economic endeavor, but she’s not all about money. When a profitable marriage proves disastrous for one daughter, Eleanor regrets forcing her into the match. Some characters fall in love with inappropriate people and marry despite the disadvantages; others resist the economic marriages forced upon them but grow to love their spouses; others just go along with the customs of the day. Such a mix of attitudes and results seems honest to me, and I like that much better than the all-too-common tendency to modernize characters’ attitudes in historical fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more in the series.
I’m now about 6 hours into the Read-a-Thon, and I’ve read 226 pages, which at 10 cents per page means I’ve raised $22.60 for the Donors Choose classroom libraries I’ve selected. I’d like to triple that amount, but all the construction noise upstairs and the power saw outside is making reading slow going for me today.
What will I read next? After visiting a few other blogs, I plan to take gander at my bookshelf and see. All this reading on the Wars of the Roses makes me think of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time. All the noise makes me think a graphic novel like The Complete Persepolis would be a wise choice, or maybe something short and scary, like The Stepford Wives, or short and sweet, like The Wind in the Willows. Hmmm…. choices, choices….