My (almost) monthly ritual of reading a book from the Morland Dynasty series has proven to be quite a comforting habit. When I pick up another book in this ambitious series, I know I’m in for a pleasant reading experience. Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has done a wonderful job exploring different aspects of British history through the eyes of the Morland family. The Question, while not one of the best in the series, proved to be another solid addition with some great moments.
This book opens in 1898 and follows the family into the 20th century. Significant events include the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the suffragist movement, and the introduction of the motor car. As always, the Morlands experience the usual family transitions—births, debuts, marriages, new careers, deaths—and several events that are specific to their era. There’s a Morland who goes to South Africa to fight the Boers, another is at court when the queen dies, and another risks arrest in the suffragist movement.
Much of this book focuses on Morland Place rather than London. The estate is moving forward by going back to its equestrian roots. The house is again filled with children and parents who must determine how best to prepare them for a world that is changing radically. Some branches of the family stick with the traditional route of public schooling and generous inheritances; the less wealthy branches find that there are new opportunities for education and careers.
Although the period is fascinating, I didn’t find this book to be quite as good as some of the others. The storytelling was rather fragmented, with each section focusing on a totally different issue and not seeming clearly related to the other sections. The fascinating suffragist movement, for example, was hardly even mentioned until the final third of the book. Also, the sections on the Boer war were pretty dull. I’ve talked before about Harrod-Eagles’s skill at battle scenes—hers are some of the best I’ve read. In this book, however, she went with a less immediate style than she used in her earlier books. Instead of being in a battle, we get overviews of troop movements and reflective letters home from one of the Morland men. There’s only one up-close battle description, and it’s as wonderful as I expected. There just wasn’t enough. I also felt that the historical context wasn’t adequately explained, but I get the impression that people of the period didn’t fully understand why they were going to war or what the war meant, so the confusion there might be appropriate. On the other hand, the discussions of the concentration camps were fascinating, and Harrod-Eagles, as always, manages to show how people on both sides got some things right and others wrong.
Another area where Harrod-Eagles does a great job getting at the complexity of the issue is in the chapters on the suffragist movement. Most of the main characters agree that women should get the vote, but they disagree on the likelihood of the vote ever extending to women and on the best way of making it happen. What should a person risk for what she knows is right? What kinds of actions actually change minds? When is reasoned argument the best weapon, and when do we need to raise our voices?
All in all, while not being my favorite addition to the Morland Dynasty series, The Question is still a good read, just what I’ve come to expect from Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.