Farewell the tranquil mind! Farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars
That make ambition virtue! O, farewell!
These lines from Othello inspired the title of Ronald Frederick Delderfield’s 1950 novel about a period of history that was anything but tranquil – the French Revolution. Having loved Delderfield’s A Horseman Riding By trilogy (which begins with Long Summer Day), I’ve been keen to read more of his books. This one wouldn’t necessarily have been my first choice – it’s currently out of print and with very few reviews online – but I came across a copy in a charity shop and thought I would give it a try.
Farewell, the Tranquil Mind is narrated by David Treloar, a young man from a family of Devon smugglers. From an early age, David has been different from the other male Treloars; while his brothers work with their father, bringing in shipments of contraband cargo, David stays at home and helps his mother run the family farm, Westdown. He is also the only one who has learned to read and write, having been taken under the wing of the agent, Saxeby, who introduces him to French politics through Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man. However, when a smuggling operation goes wrong and an exciseman is shot dead, the blame falls on David and he is forced to flee England.
Arriving in France in the middle of the Revolution, he is befriended by André Lamotte, the nephew of a Parisian wigmaker and perfumier known as Papa Rouzet. It is through his friendship with André and the Rouzet family that David becomes involved with various revolutionary groups including the Brissotins and the Cordeliers – and falls in love with Charlotte, Rouzet’s niece. With the situation in France becoming increasingly dangerous, David and Charlotte consider escaping to England – but not only is David still wanted for the murder of Exciseman Vetch, the English also now suspect him of being a French spy.
I found this book interesting, but certainly not as enjoyable as the Horseman Riding By trilogy, and I can see why it hasn’t been reissued like most of his other novels. The blurb made it sound quite exciting – and it is, in places, but in between there’s lots of exposition and political detail and this slows the plot down, making it less entertaining than I’d expected. Despite having read other books set during the French Revolution, I had to concentrate to keep track of all the different groups and who was on which side. It wasn’t just a case of royalists versus republicans; within the republican movement there were many separate factions – as well as the two I’ve mentioned above, there were Jacobins, Girondins, Montagnards, Dantonists and several others, each with their own ideas on the goals of the Revolution and how the country should be run.
I liked David, but I felt that Charlotte’s role in the book was too small and understated for me to get a clear sense of who she was or what she was like and this meant that I didn’t feel fully invested in the romance element of the book. It’s disappointing when I think of how well defined even the minor characters were in the other books of Delderfield’s I’ve read. This novel was written very early in his career, though, which maybe explains why it doesn’t feel as accomplished. It’s worth hunting down and reading if you’re particularly interested in learning more about the political side of the French Revolution, but otherwise probably not the best place to start with Delderfield! I’m still looking forward to reading more of his books and would welcome any suggestions as to which one I should read next.
This is book 18/50 read for the 2023 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.