Last spring, I came into some unexpected money from my writing. (Many thanks to the Thai people for finding their way to my historicals through my vampires!) I was so stunned that I kept an ancient promise to myself: I bought the top series written by a favorite author, someone so long forgotten that she doesn’t appear on any social networks, is nearly invisible on eBay, and her Google hits are, well, slim.
Elswyth Thane (1900-1984) was a romance author, screenwriter and the wife of Dr. William Beebe, the great naturalist. (Yes, the books came after her marriage.) Her experience in the theater and his world influence some of her works. But more important, she loved history.
I bought her backlist with the found money because I’d read my copies to shreds. I could quote scenes. I went to places she’d written about and I looked for the people, events, buildings. She could sum up a character in a few lines, or even a phrase.
Elswyth Thane is one of the very authors who’s managed to field both alpha and beta heroes that I adore. I’m always fascinated by her ability to find the “telling detail,” even in the most romantic scene.
Here are two scenes where the hero finds his true love. The first is from the end of DAWN’S EARLY LIGHT, where Tibby has literally followed Julian to the American Revolution’s Carolina battles, just to be close to him.
As he rode he heard behind him the triumphant huzzah of the British infantry charge. A wounded Continental rose from the ground almost under his horse’s feet and caught at the bridle.
“Get to the rear, you fool!” Julian shouted, trying to control his rearing horse. “The surgeons are at Green Spring, you know that as well as I do! No, I can’t help you, make for the rear, man, there is a bayonet charge coming!”
The soldier went on shouting back something which was inaudible in the battle din, until Julian’s glance followed the man’s pointing finger. With an exclamation he swung out of the saddle to kneel beside the crumpled thing on the ground.
“How did this happen, I left him with the surgeon – he had no business to follow me –” Speech died in him. Under his hand, as he pushed back the open waistcoat and shirt to expose the wound, was the small white breast of a girl, with a slow crawl of blood across it.
“Tibby!” Julian gathered her into his arms and stood up, holding her against him. “Oh, my Tibby, I should have known!”
The second scene is from the beginning of EVER AFTER, set during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee summer of 1897. Aristocrat Bracken Murray is cynical and world-weary, after his wife leaves him for another man – until the very young Lady Dinah Campion is thrown from her horse in front of him.
“You look sort of green around the gills,” said the choir-boy’s voice. “Did it give you a nasty turn when I went off?”
“It did. I’m frightened out of a year’s growth. Look.” He held up one hand in mid-air, making no effort to control its visible trembling. His heart labored unbearably in his side, there was a thin singing in his ears. He had received some sort of cosmic shock, which he tried to use for her benefit. “You can’t lunge about the countryside scaring people to death like this,” he said, still speaking as though he had entered a cathedral during service. Not sixteen yet, you blithering fool, it’s against the law, his own thoughts ran – never mind, I can wait – two more years – three, perhaps – Lord, it will take me that long to get into the clear myself – I can wait – but not forever –
“Well, don’t take it so hard, I’m all right,” she said unsympathetically.
EVER AFTER is the third in Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series of novels and is a brilliant, sun-filled story. THE LIGHT HEART, the fourth in the series, is its darker counterpart and takes the family saga up into World War One. I always dither over which book I prefer. EVER AFTER is pure joy but I love the character in THE LIGHT HEART. Every one of the main characters – Phoebe, Oliver, Rosalind, and Charles – are utterly real and completely dear to me. I agonize over their dilemmas and understand their choices, even when I’m crying. Thane’s understated portrayal of Oliver and Charles’ friendship, two British officers supporting each other during bitter crises at home and war, eternally amazes me.
Not all of her books are autobuys, especially outside the Williamsburg series. Also, any new reader has to be prepared for her rather one-sided depiction of Nazis and the German people. (In my opinion, she wrote about contemporary events where they were the enemy, i.e., World Wars One and Two. Everyone has their blind spots – and her individual German characters are very multi-dimensional.)
So I’m blissfully happy I rediscovered my old favorite. Now I’ve started a wish list of other authors I still remember and want to explore more deeply.
Are there any old favorites you’d like to rediscover? Any authors you still learn from?
Labels: Diane Whiteside