From master author R. F. Delderfield, the first in the beloved classic God Is an Englishman series.
The first novel in the epic God Is an Englishman series, this book is a stirring saga of England in the 19th century, as the Industrial Revolution takes hold, forever changing the landscape of England and her people.
Adam Swann, scion of an army family, returns home in 1858 after service with Her Majesty's army in the Crimea and India, determined to build his fortune in the dog-eat-dog world of Victorian commerce. Swann is soon captivated by Henrietta, the high-spirited daughter of a local mill owner. As Swann works to build his name, he and Henrietta share adventures, reversal, and fortune.
Books are My Only Friends Tripp Ritter
It is a generalization to be sure, but today's literary novelists work with a much smaller scope than those of the past. The books are generally shorter, with a focus on fewer characters and on a less complex story. There are great exceptions, like Chabon's Kavalier and Klay, but overall, the focus is more on the intense examination of character.
The big writers of the 19th century, from Melville to Trollope to Tolstoy wrote giant novels with epic lists of characters and stories long enough to sustain months of reading. There are downsides of course. How many high school students think of Moby Dick with little more than bitterness at the lengthy asides about whale parts and the business of whaling? My 11th grade teacher was kind enough to let us skip many of those sections, but the book still felt interminably long.
That said, I have had years of enjoyment out of the likes of the Chronicles of Barset or the Pickwick Papers. The usual phrase is that you get lost in these books, which makes them quite like fantasy novels. Fantasy novels create worlds in which you temporarily take residence. Their breed of escapism is one of immersion and the big fat story telling literary novel is the same.
While modernism has dominated 20th century fiction, story tellers held their own as well. Englishman R F Delderfield specialized in the story-telling novel. Out of print for many years, his God is An Englishman is available once again. It is the first of a trilogy of books about Adam Swann, a soldier turned businessman in Victorian Britain.
The story starts after a battle during the Indian Mutiny (or First War of Indian Independence if you prefer) with some jewels falling into Swann's hands. He returns to England with vague plans of becoming a tycoon, probably in rails. His second bit of fortune is his meeting with a station master who tells him the opportunity is in transporting goods where rails can't go.
On a scouting expedition, he meets Henrietta, the daughter of a small town mill owner. She is driven by a desire to escape and she finds it with Swann. The novel is about the rise of his business and the development of their romance.
Delderfield spins his tale slowly and relishes the little details. We hear for example, about how some of Swann's operators won over locals with the capture of an escaped circus lion. Where most authors would be happy for a paragraph length aside to describe the goings on, Delderfield spends a number of pages to relate the humorous anecdote.
If you have an interest in British history, this book will be particularly interesting with its picture of bustling London, the railroads, the smog-covered Lancashire and the still green countryside. Even those who don't will likely appreciate Delderfield's story telling abilities.
We Be Reading Kristen Meston
Although its size is formidable, R.F. Delderfield's God Is an Englishman is worth almost every page. First in the Swann saga, written in 1970 and recently reprinted by Sourcebooks, this is a novel of beginnings.
Adam Swann is a British military officer in India that has lost his taste for the service. His fortune is made when he recovers a beautiful and highly-valued ruby necklace after a battle. He takes the booty and makes for home, determined to start a new life -- one with a purpose other than domination and warfare. A chance meeting with a railway man prompts him to choose his new business -- a horse-and-cart transport company that services those areas of England that the railways have left behind. He sets out to survey the land and, again by chance, comes across a runaway teen who will become his wife. The novel then follows the growth of Adam and Henrietta's marriage and family and the building of his business. Both are tested and strengthened through times of gain and loss.
This large book (over 600 pages) covers a mere nine years in the life of Adam Swann. Though a few passages seemed repetitive, the bulk of the book is fresh and well-written. There are many topics addressed from the nobility of the tradesman to the role of women in Victorian England. Also, if you aren't familiar with the geography of Great Britain when you start this book, you will have a much better understanding of it by the end! The only thing I regret not doing is pulling out a map while I read so that I could better understand some of the territorial discussions. There is obviously also quite a bit of history in the narrative including the death of Prince Albert, the passage of the first British labor laws and a certain incident at Staplehurst that any fans of Dickens will know about.
While none of the characters in God Is an Englishman are flawless, you come to care for many of them. This, I suppose, is the impetus to continue this story through two other novels, Theirs Was the Kingdom (recently released) and Give Us This Day (June 2010). Though I don't have a burning need to continue through the saga, I think that the chances are high that I will read the other two books. Delderfield is an authoritative but friendly author and am glad to see his stories back in print.
Booksie's Blog Sandie
It's 1858, and Adam Swann has just left Her Majesty's service. Not sure exactly what he wants to do with his life but blessed with some capital, a chance encounter with a railway official starts him thinking. He decides that there is a gap in the haulage industry; getting goods from the train to their final destination, and determines that he will fill this gap. It's the perfect time for such a venture. The Industrial Revolution is just starting, and Adam gets in on the ground floor.
Another encounter sets his life story. Henrietta is the daughter of the local factory owner, and his heiress. Charming but spoiled, a wild captivating streak that is quickly apparent makes Adam determined to win her. When he does, and they marry, her father disinherits her, but that doesn't matter. Adam and Henrietta are one of the great love stories. Their lives together make for a stirring story.
I was absolutely thrilled when I heard that R. F. Delderfield's books were being re-released. God Is An Englishman is the first book in a trilogy about these characters. I read this series thirty years ago, and reading it again was just as satisfying this time around. I'd always remembered it as one of those steller series that work their way into your soul, and it didn't disappoint on the second reading. The series is a sweeping historical epic, and the reader gets a birdeye view of English society, the way industry changed the landed vs. landless power structure, everyday culture, and more. The love story is fascinating, and it is a rare reader that wouldn't be mesmerized by the twists and turns of Adam and Henrietta's relationship. I usually end a review with a recommendation for which readers would like the book. I can't do that here, because I can't imagine any reader that wouldn't love this series. This series is, then, recommended for all readers, but especially for those lovers of historical fiction.
Reading Extravaganza Lilly
Ever since I can remember, I have always been drawn to big books. And I'm not talking about 'chunky' ones only but big in meaning, characters and events, very often spanning generations. Therefore, when I first looked into R.F. Delderfield's God Is an Englishman trilogy, I knew I was up for a feast.
God Is an Englishman is the first book in this wonderful saga about the Swann family. Adam Swann, a 31-year-old cavalryman in the service of Queen Victoria's army, decides to break off with his family's military tradition and gives up his soldierly life in lieu of starting anew in England as a businessman. The road ahead of him will not be easy, as old sentiments still prevail where people making a living in a new, industrial England are looked down on and someone like Adam, giving up his army career is thought foolish. Adam Swann persists in his desire to be his own boss and not spent his life serving somebody else, even if it's the Crown of England. In his struggles to become a respectable and successful owner of a horse-carriage business, he has a few supporters, including his young wife, Henrietta and, surprisingly, his own father. The readers follow Adam and his personal and business lives for nine years. These are very tumultuous years for England as well. It is the 19th century, the country changes from an agricultural one into an industrial empire, with railroads ruling the transportation, mills, mines and factories replacing the farms and Adam Swann takes on a daring project of using horses as his road to success.
I thoroughly enjoyed God Is an Englishman, so much so that even before I finished it, I went and got part two (Theirs Was the Kingdom). It's not an easy read by any means, but very captivating and really a requirement for anyone who wants to read more about one of the most important periods in England's history. Some might say that it's reminiscent of Dickens's books but I should say that probably only in the time set. Through Delderfield's book I got a hopeful outlook, not a grim one. True, it's still England where poverty is on the rise, where child exploitation flourishes but it's also England where one doesn't have to belong to royalty in order to become well-off, successful and if they're persistent enough, respected. 'Common' people now have a chance to have careers and to be truly in charge of their lives. I must say that I liked this approach and I just was riveted by Adam Swann and by the whole process of him starting from a scratch and, despite unexpected failures and 'bumps ', holding on to what he believed and never losing sight of what Adam deemed as success.
That's one great part of God Is an Englishman. Another one is the multitude of characters, bad, good and just average, but they all change, they all grow and, as a reader, you really have your pick in which ones are going to be your favorites. Mine was Henrietta, Adam's wife. I think she grew the most throughout the novel. She changed so much but still somehow retained her youthful innocence despite some occurrences that would turn many into bitter, prematurely old women. Henrietta and Adam's marriage is not an easy one, some would even say it's doomed from the beginning, but yet again, Delderfield just serves us this happy story, with both parties fulfilling their dreams, among the turmoil of their times. Don't get me wrong, it isn't a 'happily-ever-after Cinderella' story but an uplifting one nonetheless, despite the many problems that could endanger both Adam's and Henrietta's happiness.
I say that if you're a 'saga junkie', if you are even remotely interested in the history of England and want to meet people, who in the end you feel are your friends or at least next door neighbors, God Is an Englishman and you will be a perfect match.
Special thanks to Danielle J. from Sourcebooks, Inc. for sending me a copy of this book for review.
Special thanks to Sourcebooks, Inc. for re-issuing the Swann saga and other R.F. Delderfield's titles. The editions are wonderful and I wouldn't have known about this 1970's British writer without Sourcebooks.
The Tome Traveller's Weblog Carey Anderson
It is 1857 and British soldier Adam Swann has been in the service of England for years, serving in numerous countries of the empire. But the battle that leads him to break free of the Army, and his family's long service in it, occurs in India. When a wild horde of natives attacks his troop, knocking him senseless and off of his horse, he begins to see the futility of his life as a career soldier. There was one small thing that helped him to decide, though. When he awoke briefly in the dust of the road after being knocked out, he happened to see a necklace of large rubies that had been in the lead attacker's possession. Through the daze he is in, he manages to slip the necklace into his pack before losing consciousness once more.
That necklace is the key to Adam's future. He resigns his commission and returns to England, where the germ of an enterprising idea is born during a trek on horseback through the country he has been away from for so long. He wants to create a delivery company that will haul goods in the areas that the railway doesn't reach. On the same trip he encounters a young woman, Henrietta, who has run away from her father and his plans to marry her off for his own personal gain.
Henrietta turns out to be unlike the women that Adam has previously known. She is bright and has an unusual way of looking at the world. She even dreams up the logo for his yet-to-be company. They are soon married and then Adam is off to make his commercial dreams a reality. He seems to have either an extraordinarily clear eye for business or the devil's own luck, because he succeeds and founds an empire in the booming world of Victorian England.
This book is a grand family saga, the first in a trilogy that is followed by Theirs Was the Kingdom and Give Us This Day . I thought it was fantastic: a big, meaty, complex book that delves into the lives of the main characters and numerous side characters, as well. It vividly paints the world of Victorian England, the effects of the industrial revolution and arrival of the railway. It is intricate and interesting, with enough technical detail to please male readers and enough romance to keep women happy. A fine balance.
For some reason, though I have long known about R.F. Delderfield books, I have never read one before. It is always such a pleasure to discover a new (to me) historical fiction author, especially one who wrote close to twenty books....a whole list of promising reads for me to discover. If you love historical fiction, R.F. Delderfield is an author you won't want to miss!
Medieval Bookworm Meghan Kawka
Adam Swann is a soldier, but he's sick of fighting. Left for dead on a battlefield in India, Adam opens his eyes to spot a ruby necklace, the means for funding his dreams. When he recovers from his illness, he heads to England and decides to start a shipping company after taking the advice of a railroad man and exploring England on his horse. On his way home, he spots a young girl, half-undressed and washing in a puddle. This is Henrietta Rawlinson, daughter of a cotton giant, fleeing from an arranged marriage that makes her feel ill. Adam takes her with him, marries her, and launches Swann-on-Wheels, their brainchild. As the company grows and expands, so do the couple's fortunes, and this novel is their epic story.
I want to start off by saying that this book took me a week to read but I loved every minute of it. I read a few smaller books in between, but I just adored spending so much time in Victorian England. I felt like I lived in Adam and Henrietta's world and could understand their issues and problems but also cheer for them to push forward, move past whatever problems they were having, and succeed at everything. This is the kind of book that becomes a favorite, at least for me, because I love huge complex stories like this.
Since this novel was originally written in 1970, I assumed it would feel dated, but it really doesn't. Even its treatment of women is open-minded; Edith remarks that women could rule companies very easily, were they given a chance, and then Henrietta actually does take the reins of leadership and proves herself an astonishingly capable woman both at home and at work. This may be a bit anachronistic for the mid-19th century, but having smart female characters to care about makes this an immeasurably better novel than it would have been otherwise. I felt a little uneasy with the fact that Henrietta's character changes because Adam pushes it to do so, but as the novel progressed it became clear that he'd just given her an opportunity rather than actually pushing her at all; that was just how he thought of it.
I loved, loved, loved that this was set in Victorian England and didn't just focus on London, but the entire country, and more so that specific issues are highlighted and addressed. For example, the use of children as chimney sweeps was a huge dilemma, and it's brought right home here. The novel also includes workers' strikes and the changing attitude towards employment going on around this time. The Swanns do have a comparatively cushy life, but we see how hard Adam works and his financial difficulties, so it is vastly different in feel than a book focusing on the aristocracy, for example. We even have mention of the Civil War in the USA and how it affected production in England; there is a sense of history here as historical events happen with Adam and Henrietta and their managers on what feels like the forefront of a new England. It's a heady feeling; it's a heady book.
If I had to say one negative thing about the book, though, it would mainly be that the setting up of Adam's company does bog down at times. The beginning of the book took me much longer because it was more about the logisitics of his company than about the people in the book. I enjoyed the detail about setting up a company and being introduced to all the secondary characters, but I would have been happier with less. By contrast, I loved the sections about the main characters that followed, and once the business got off the ground the book sped much more quickly. I had at first set myself a goal of reading 50 pages each day, but by page 200 I knew I couldn't go that slowly.
God Is an Englishman was a delightful, absorbing, utterly fascinating read. I could happily have kept on reading more. This is the start of a series, so while this book ended in a nice solid fashion, I know I'm going to seek out the rest of the series as soon as I can.
Books Like Breathing Grace Loiacana
Let me start this out by saying that Delderfield is now one of my favorite authors. These books are huge but kept me interested the whole time I was reading and usually when a book goes over 500 pages, it is pretty hard to keep me interested the whole way through.
I really enjoyed God Is an Englishman perhaps even more than To Serve Them All My Days. It was more of a romance and drama than To Serve Them All My Days. I also got quite a bit more attached to the character is this one. I really liked Adam. He was ambitious and a bit cutthroat. I liked that a lot. His wife Henrietta was also a great character but I am not quite sure how I feel about her. I think my opinion of her has been polluted by Adam's perception of her as innocent and unintelligent. I was rooting for her throughout the book. I wanted her to step up and show Adam how strong and intelligent she was. I thought all hope for her was lost--especially after the incident with the chimney sweep--but when Adam was incapacitated, Henrietta took control of the business and I was so proud of how she handled herself. Her story is, perhaps, the most interesting and engrossing part of this book because of how much she grows and matures throughout the story.
Adam and Henrietta's marriage was perhaps one of the most interesting that I have ever encountered in fiction. Adam underestimated Henrietta to the point that it was almost painful for me to read but yet they were a great couple and I really liked them. Adam married Henrietta when she was very young but seemed to expect a maturity out of her that she obviously was not experienced enough to have. He had unrealistic expectations from the beginning but he seemed to resent her for it. It was frustrating for me and I wanted to smack him for it.
This was a really great book. If you are looking for a book about a complex relationship, pick this up because it is definitely worth the read.
Fumbling with Fiction Chandler Craig
Favorite thing about the book?
I have a few friends who are very into the world of historical fiction by way of both writing or reading, so I wanted to jump on board and dive into the genre myself. Previously, I've been into a few historical novels like Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie's Choice and I'm happy to say that God is an Englishman had exactly what I look for-a strong sense of time and place. The book covers the eleven years between 1857 and 1866, a portion of the life of a British soldier in Victorian England. It's a fascinating time period that probably receives far less recognition than it should. There's the booming industrial revolution and the arrival of the railroad, rampant poverty, and the ruling British empire. While it feels like a distinctly British book, I find it hard to believe that the discerning American reader would fail to find some parallels in recent US History.
Ok, so you might think with historical fiction, time and place is sort of a given. That's why I've got to mention the characters. There are a ton, but they each feel distinct and add humanity to a business-first period. I would venture to say that the side characters are much more enjoyable than the main character, Adam Swann, though.
What was most surprising about the book?
I'm not sure why but I was surprised that this was a family saga. A sort of family history within a national history.
Henrietta. She's a breath of fresh air in a dense and complex story. I love that she comes up with the logo for Adam's business-I find it unusually amusing that branding started so early in history.
Obligatory least favorite part of the book?
The length and density of the book is admittedly intimidating-not a lot of white space! Other than that, the pacing of the first half of the book is detailed and sometimes serves to drag the pacing.
After this book you felt...?
Who would you recommend this book to?
The men in my life. My dad, my grandfather, etc. My history buff friends.
The Curious Reader Jessica West
I was not sure what to expect of this book, but when I received it and saw how large it was, I was certainly surprised. I was further surprised by how engrossing a book it actually was. Giving a plot outline really doesn't convey how good of a book this is, but I'll go ahead and try anyway.
God Is an Englishman tells the story of Adam Swann and his rise to prominence in London in the 1860's. His story begins when he makes the decision to end his career as a soldier and begin his life as a businessman, at the age of thirty-one. His chosen field of commerce is transportation, where he decides to fill the gap that the great trains of that era cannot. At the same time that he is establishing his business, he meets Henrietta, and from their first meeting he is captivated by her. Although she is much younger than him, she is a strong-willed woman, and circumstances conspire to create a situation in which he marries her after only knowing her for a few months. Thus begins the story of not only their life together, but the story of the newly formed Swann-on-Wheels transportation company.
The historical detail in this book is truly fascinating. Even when Delderfield is going through details that should be tedious - train schedules, shipping and transportation issues - he makes it interesting. Adam Swann is a fantastic character, one that you love to root for. And I loved following his marriage and family life, as he and Henrietta grow to know and truly love each other throughout the years. This is the first book in a trilogy, one I am going to have to follow through the rest of the series.
A Garden Carried in the Pocket Jenclair
This is a book that I've heard about for years without ever seeking it out, so I'm grateful to Sourcebooks for sending me a review copy (even if I'm way behind in reading and reviewing this book and others).
It is a classic and deserves to be.
In 1857 Adam Swann leaves the military with a tiny secret or two or three, a handful of rubies from his service in India. He has a dream, and he intends for the rubies to help finance it. Adam Swann is a capitalist with very liberal leanings; he believes in commerce, but not at the expense of his fellow man.
This is the story of how he establishes his business and grows it from the ground up with wonderful enthusiasm and attention to detail. It is also the story of the men and women who, for various reasons, come to believe in Adam Swann and his dream.
From Hamlet Ratcliff (lion tamer extraordinaire) to young Rookwood who rises from an orphaned boy to a gaffer; from the bawdy Falstaffian character of the old coachman Blubb to Edith Wadsworth of the Crescents -- each of the minor characters materializes into a real individual over the course of the novel. And those are just a few of those who are involved in Swann-On-Wheels, hauliers.
This is also the story of Henrietta, the run-away girl who becomes Swann's wife.. Henrietts emerges from a spoiled adolescent to mother, and finally, to genuine partner in the marriage. She blossoms slowly, learning some hard lessons along the way. Delderfield also has Adam Swann learn a few things about himself and his wife during the nine years of the marriage.
Delderfield manages to keep the story of commerce interesting and includes many historical details from the period. One of the more interesting is the episode concerning the Staplehurst train wreck; Charles Dickens was on the train (along with Ellen Ternan and her mother, although they aren't mentioned) and participated in rescuing some of the passengers.
This is a long novel and the first in a trilogy, but it is an epic worth pursuing. When I picked up the novel again after neglecting it, I couldn't put it down. The last 300 pages flew by.
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June 01, 2009
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