It’s hard to read A Daughter of Time
and not think of James Stewart, similarly laid up in Rear Window
, which was produced only a few years later than Tey’s mystery.
In Hitchcock’s movie, the photographer casts a panoptic gaze at the people he can see through the many apartment windows available from his rear window, and plays detective, with the help of the ridiculously over-dressed Grace Kelly. Alan Grant, in Tey’s novel, similarly wounded in the line of duty, is an actual detective/inspector, from Scotland Yard, who becomes intrigued by a portrait and begins to study—obsessively—the history of Richard the Third.
While I gave up on understanding each and every royal relationship—you may have to be English to do that—Grant’s process is fascinating. He starts with the histories, but then realizes they are nothing but hearsay, and upon scrutiny, dubious hearsay at that. For our theory-addled brains, what Tey accomplishes here is New Historicism in motion. Nothing new to us, perhaps, but a particularly fresh approach in 1951, when history was often venerated as fact, rather than the saga of the winners. And I don’t mean to imply we’re any brighter now; it’s likely we’re dumber, but few look at history books today with the calm acceptance I experienced when I read, for example, that Christopher Columbus “discovered America,” since America apparently had no history until white people arrived.
Rather than relying on the master narratives, Grant approaches the situation like an investigation and, with the assistance of a fresh and likable young researcher, locates artifacts from the actual time of the alleged murder of the princes in the tower. What’s most fascinating about Tey’s literate book is the investigation itself and what unfolds, in real time, for the reader to ponder.