Death of novelist and playwright Elizabeth MacKintosh
Many Ricardians and lovers of detective novels will remember today the death of Elizabeth MacKintosh on 13 February 1952 in London.
Elizabeth MacKintosh was born on 25 July 1896 in Inverness. Her first detective novel, The Man in the Queue, was published in 1929 under the pen name Gordon Daviot. She would write seven more novels under another pen name, Josephine Tey. Her 1951 novel The Daughter of Time was probably for many the starting point of an interest in Richard III and his time.
In this book, Inspector Alan Grant (he features in five of her books) is immobilised in hospital after an accident. Grant had a lot of confidence in his ability to read faces and characterise the person. Someone gives him a stack of pictures as something to interest him during his enforced inactivity. One of the pictures is a portrait of Richard III. Grant, not recognising who the person in the picture is, analyses him:
Someone used to great responsibility, and responsible in his authority. Someone too-conscientious. A worrier; perhaps a perfectionist. A man at ease in a large design, but anxious over details. A candidate for gastric ulcer. Someone, too, who had suffered ill-health as a child. He had that incommunicable, that indescribable look that childhood suffering leaves behind it.[i]
So he is surprised to find out that this was a portrait of the “monster of nursery stories”, Richard III. He sets out to find out more about this king from contemporary sources, assisted by Brent Carradine, an American doing historical research in London. According to their investigation, the real Richard was nothing like the monster he had been described as, and even manage to convince one of Grant’s nurses to change her preconceived ideas. The book closes with the nurse looking at the portrait that started the journey and remarking “When you look at it for a little while, it’s really quite a nice face, isn’t it.”[ii]
Of course, we must not forget that this is fiction and there is much more to Richard III than what can be covered in this story. However, if it encourages the reader to do their own research and approach the subject without a made-up mind, this novel is a good starting point.
The history of Richard III in its wider context was also part of her earlier novel Brat Farrar (1949), which resonates with the story of Perkin Warbeck.
Elizabeth MacKintosh actually preferred her plays over her novels, to which she referred as her “yearly knitting”.[iii] She was to revisit the history of Richard III in her play Dickon, which was published posthumously in 1953.
A new biography, Josephine Tey: A Life, by Jennifer Morag Henderson was published last November. A paperback edition will be available in a few months time.
Avery, G., ‘MacKintosh, Elizabeth (1896–1952)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. [last accessed online 2 Feb. 2016]
Barnes, G., ‘Truth, fiction, and The Daughter of Time’, Sydney Studies (2000). Available from URL: http://openjournals.library.usyd.edu.au/index.php/SSE/article/viewFile/550/519 [accessed 2 Feb. 2016]
Butler, P.J., ‘The Mystery of Josephine Tey’, Ricardian Register (Fall 2002). Available online from the American Branch of the Richard III Society, URL: http://www.r3.org/links/to-prove-a-villain-the-real-richard-iii/every-tale-condemns-me/josephine-tey [last accessed 2 Feb. 2016]
You can download a free copy of The Daughter of Time from ebooks@Adelaide at URL: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tey/josephine/daughter_of_time/
[i] Tey, J., The Daughter of Time. Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1951, p.26
[ii] ibid., p.189
[iii] Gielgud, J., foreword, in G. Daviot, Plays (1953), quoted in ODNB