". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading Wednesday - C.S. Harris - Who Buries the Dead, A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery

This is the tenth title (March, 2015) in C.S. Harris's  Georgian - Regency Sebastian St. Cyr murder mystery series.  Sebastian, the Earl of Devlin,  and his wife, Hero daughter of Lord Jervis, most trusted and ruthless keeper of the reign's secrets and dirty tricks performer to the mad king's and his son, were seen a the very end of the previous installment as brand new parents. Who Buries the Dead picks up soon after that perilous birth, which Hero barely survived.

C.S. Harris is a New Orleans novelist.  She began publishing this series with What Angels Fear in November, 2005. Presumably she was dealing with the end tasks of publishing a book in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, these ten St. Cyr novels have appeared on a yearly schedule. This is particularly admirable considering that surely, though Harris may not suffered as terribly as so many others from New Orleans's Katrina tragedy -- let us say no New Orleanian escaped from the long, on-going experience and aftermath without being seriously affected.

Over the course of these ten years and novels  the reader has learned quite a bit more about Sebastian and his highly fraught past. We're now at the point where we know as much about Sebastian's past as he does. From now on, we readers, like his wife Hero, if more information is revealed that may solve the mysteries of his past, will be learning it with him.

Each novel follows the same structure.  Each novel includes scenes in which Sebastian and members of his family have encounters in which the secrets of Sebastian's birth are either never mentioned, or are addressed obliquely.  Often the encounters are hostile, despite his father, Lord Herndon's, efforts to mend fences. The same with Sebastian's meetings with Lord Jarvis, his most implacable antagonist -- who clearly knows more about Sebastian than most -- and who is the father of his dearly, deeply loved wife, Hero, and, now, also one of his son's grandfathers.

The series isn't entirely even, meaning not all of them are equally engaging, partly because of the formulaic structure.  Which nonengagement then might be just me, because I don't like formula much in my fiction.  Repetition of character and event irritate, do not comfort, me.

That said,  for me, Who Buries the Dead is up to the best of the series.  Both Jane Austen and her brother, Henry, who, in this novel, is still with the bank he joined, are ancillary characters. Austen is visiting her brother, Henry, in London to help care for his wife, Eliza, who is confined to home by the illness which will soon kill her. This is a period in which Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice have been published, and, thanks to the Regent, are the rage of ton reading.  (There are those who will have a knowing smile reading this, as Austen herself used 'ton' only once in her own fiction.)  Names and events encountered by Austen in connection with Sebastian's murder investigation reference those of Austen's later novels, Emma, Mansfield Park and Persuasion, though the author has very wisely chosen not to replicate any of the characters or plots of these books.

Who Buries the Dead is centered around Jamaican slave plantations, and the execution of Charles I. For more fact-checking The American Slave Coast, these last  three weeks I’d done more granular delving into the lead-up, execution and  aftermath of Charles I's execution, in Rebellion: The History of England From James I to the Glorious Revolution (2014) by Peter Ackroyd,  and (Lord) Charles Spencer’s Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I (2015).

However, it was purely by chance I picked up Who Buries the Dead last week, nor did I have any idea that Charles I's remains were the central axis of Harris's novel. The reading of these two works of Stuart history -- "that most hapless of British dynasties", as the historian Robert Tombs declares them to be in his The English and Their History (20014), made the enjoyment of this St. Cyr Mystery greater, not less.

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