Valiant Gentlemen by Sabina Murray
Sir Roger Casement, British Consular Agent and Irish rebel patriot, who was hanged as a traitor. Photograph: George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images
- ‘Fiction is becoming darker, weirder, bent-out-of-shape’
- ‘I didn’t realise how much of a big deal the first woman thing was’
- Oliver Goldsmith: Ireland’s great social networker and the London migrant’s friend
- Summer fiction: A City of the Past, by Kathleen MacMahon
- Poem of the week: Let the Child Play
This historical fiction explores the relationship between Irish nationalist Roger Casement, the British sculptor Herbert Ward, Casement’s closest friend from his Congo period, and Ward’s wife, the American-born heiress Sarita Sanford. Sabina Murray makes Ward the great unrequited love of Casement’s life; Ward is oblivious of such feelings but, intriguingly, Sanford becomes aware of and accepts them.
The friendship lasts for almost three decades but is destroyed when they find themselves on opposite sides in the first World War. Casement “is built of a tough exterior and a tender middle, his constitution only remarkable by the extent to which his inner life is kept secret”.
His inner life involves homosexuality and an allegiance to Ireland which bewilders Ward; he arrogantly belittles Casement’s Irishness as “some degraded form of Englishness”. Our guiding perspective throughout is that of Sarita – she survives the upheavals of war and rebellion but with devastating loss. Some anachronisms jar, such as “do the math”, but this is a penetrating contemplation of relationships, of loyalty and betrayal, and of what it means to be “valiant”.