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The Four Feathers by A. E. W. Mason

The Four Feathers (1902)

by A. E. W. Mason

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4751221,755 (3.64)24
  1. 00
    The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska, Baroness Orczy (AdonisGuilfoyle)
    AdonisGuilfoyle: Both novels are great examples of Victorian adventure/romance stories.
  2. 00
    The Tragedy of the Korosko by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (edwinbcn)

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Ethne Eustace...definitely one of the most psycho-evil-victorian-broads I have read of in a long while. I mean...SOMEONE SEND THE WITCH TO AFRICA AND LET HER DIE A COUPLE OF HUNDRED DIFFERENT WAYS ALREADY.

Phew. Glad this one's over and done with. ( )
  FutureMrsJoshGroban | Dec 17, 2013 |
Harry Feversham, son of a British general during the Crimean War, is haunted by both his family’s remarkable history of service in the British army and the stories of cowardice that he had heard told as a boy during his father’s annual “Crimea Nights” reunions. Due to his fear of becoming a coward and staining his ancestors’ reputation, Harry resigns his commission in the East Surrey Regiment just prior to Sir Garnet Wolseley's 1882 expedition to Egypt to suppress the rising of Urabi Pasha. Yet three of his comrades, Captain Trench and Lieutenants Castleton and Willoughby, send him three white feathers to express their disapproval of his act, and his Irish fiancée, Ethne Eustace, presents him with a fourth feather and breaks their engagement. Harry’s best friend in the regiment, Captain Durrance becomes his rival for Ethne.
After talking with Lieutenant Sutch, a friend of his father, Harry decides to redeem himself by acts that will force his former friends to take back the feathers and might in turn encourage Ethne to take back her feather. Thus, he travels on his own to Egypt and Sudan. Meanwhile, Durrance is blinded by sunstroke and is sent home. Over the next six years, Castleton is killed at Tamai, but Willoughby is now a commander and Harry, with the aid of a Sudanese Arab Abou Fatma, succeeds in recovering some lost letters and getting them to Willoughby. Then he learns that Trench is imprisoned in the “House of Stone” at Omdurman and allows himself to be captured in an attempt to rescue him. Meanwhile, Durrance and Ethne become engaged, though each secretly realizes that there are problems in their relationship. Will Harry and Trench escape? Does Ethne take back her feather? Can Durrance find a cure for his blindness? And who will marry whom?
This book was recommended to me by my friend Thaxter Dickey, a professor at Florida College. Alfred Edward Woodley Mason (1865-1948) was a British politician and author, of whom it is said that he delighted readers with adventure novels and detective stories written in a style reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Conan Doyle. I would add that this book reminds me of H. Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon’s Mines and She. Mason wrote more than twenty books but is best known for The Four Feathers. There is very little objectionable in the story. A few minor references to smoking tobacco, drinking alcoholic beverages, and dancing occur, and the name of God, as in “Good God,” “My God,” and “O God,” is used as an interjection. However, the facts that people prayed, trusted in God, and looked to His providence are also mentioned. And the idea of honor is quite strong. The plot may move a little too slowly and be a bit too complex for young children, but teens as young as thirteen and adults who like exotic adventure stories should enjoy it. I know that I did. ( )
1 vote Homeschoolbookreview | Apr 29, 2012 |
The classic 1939 film adaptation, although the plot is slightly different and more action based than the original source, has long ingrained the gist of A.E.W. Mason’s The Four Feathers on my imagination, but I was still slightly apprehensive before reading the novel. Although the story sounds like a boy’s own adventure – a soldier accused of cowardice travels incognito into battle to restore his honour – the book was written in 1902, and Victorian prose can be difficult to digest. However, I was pleasantly surprised by Mason’s style, which is plainly phrased for the most part, but also poetic in places – the symbolic device of Ethne’s violin – and modestly romantic.

Harry Feversham’s future seems determined – he will become a soldier, like his father and a long line of Feversham ancestors before him, and marry his beautiful Irish fiancée, Ethne Eustace. Yet Harry is haunted by his father’s stories of cowards during the Crimean War and the harsh treatment meted out to them by fellow soldiers, and on the eve of his regiment being sent into battle in the Sudan, Harry resigns his commission. He is sent three white feathers – the sign of a coward – and then Ethne adds the final insult to make up the four feathers of the title. Shamed by his former friends, and rejected by Ethne and his proud father, Harry decides to atone for his moment of weakness by winning back the respect of those who labelled him a coward.

The largest presence in the story is not Harry, or the war in Egypt, but honour, or at least an inflated Victorian concept of male pride. The question I was asking myself throughout is not why Harry resigns – whether for Ethne’s sake, or because his mother died and his father doesn’t understand him – but rather why he joined up in the first place! Basically, Harry’s problem is that he thinks too much. Instead of facing his fears by going to Egypt with his friends, he backs out because he’s afraid of letting everyone down. His Pimpernel-esque quest to prove his honour is both entertaining and satisfying, but ultimately unnecessary if he had only been honest with himself and his father.

A secondary thread of the story, similarly confusing, is the tangled affair of Harry, Ethne and Harry’s best friend, Jack Durrance. Jack met and fell in love with Ethne first, but stepped aside when Harry also fell for her, thanks to the machinations of an interfering third party. With Harry away in Egypt, fighting for his lost honour, Jack tries again with Ethne. They become friends and write to each other, but when Jack returns home wounded, Ethne takes pity on him and agrees to marry him, because ‘two lives should not be spoiled because of her’. I was ready to hate Ethne for hurting both men, but Mason’s characters are so believable that I finished with conflicting sympathies, wanting all three to be happy!

My knowledge of the historical battles described in The Four Feathers is slim to non-existent, but Mason crafts an evocative and disturbing background of heat, sand and incredible endurance. The ‘House of Stone’, where Harry meets up with Trench, nearly gave me claustrophobia!

Distinct from the film version, the novel is definitely worth a read. ( )
1 vote AdonisGuilfoyle | Dec 9, 2011 |
I have seen a couple of film versions of this book, so had a rough idea of the story. Fevasham, the last in many generations of fighting men, leaves the army on the eve of war in the Sudan. Three friends and his fiancee each give him a white feather for his cowardice. This leads him to prove himself to them. An interesting look at life at the time, if far-fetched at times. ( )
1 vote soffitta1 | Dec 19, 2009 |
I was very excited to read this book. Of all the choices I made for my classics challenge for this year, I was certain that I would enjoy this novel the most. In this case, my expectations were not met, and although I did ultimately enjoy this book, it will never be a favorite.

The Four Feathers is the story of Harry Feversham, an English officer, who is descended from a long line of military heroes and expected to follow in their footsteps. One night, as a boy, Harry is present when his father and fellow Crimean war veterans are relating the tales of their military exploits. That night, they also happen to relate two stories of cowardice, which so distress young, sensitive, and impressionable Harry, that he is convinced from that time forward that he is himself a coward at his core. Years later, after becoming engaged to the beguiling Ethne Eustace, Harry is in the company of three friends when he receives a telegram notifying him that his regiment will soon leave for the Sudan. Harry resigns his commission, and ultimately receives three feathers from his once fellow officers and friends, as well as a fourth from Ethne as she breaks their engagement. Having lost everything he values, Harry begins a quest to redeem his shattered honor, and force those who have charged him with cowardice to recognize his worth.

Prior to having read the novel, I had seen two movie adaptations. In both cases, the films contained quite a bit of action, intrigue, and hair-raising escapes. As I read the novel, I was somewhat surprised to find that the majority of the narrative resides in England and Ireland, and focuses particularly on the characters of Ethne and Jack Durrance, once Harry's greatest friend. Durrance is a great character; he is a born soldier who finds himself unexpectedly handicapped and forced to adapt in ways he had never expected. His honor is in some ways even greater than Harry's, and the ways in which he and Ethne relate to each other as romantic adversaries is interesting. However, I found myself longing to read about Harry. So much of Harry's story is told in hearsay and vague allusion by other characters that I found myself getting somewhat frustrated. For me, the last 70 pages of the book were the best as I was finally able to read about Harry and some of the situations in which he found himself.

Despite my frustrations, there are many things to love about this book. The three main characters of the book are all studies in self-sacrifice for the good of others. If you enjoyed any of the film adaptations of the story, you may want to give the novel a try. ( )
  knitbusy | May 26, 2009 |
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Lieutenant Sutch was the first of General Feversham’s guests to reach Broad Place.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142180017, Paperback)

Just before sailing off to war in the Sudan, British guardsman Harry Feversham quits his regiment. He immediately receives four white feathers-symbols of cowardice-one each from his three best friends and his fiancée. To disprove this grave dishonor, Harry dons an Arabian disguise and leaves for the Sudan, where he anonymously comes to the aid of his three friends, saving each of their lives. Having proved his bravery, Harry returns to England, hoping to regain the love and respect of his fiancée. This suspenseful tale movingly depicts a distinctive code of honor that was deeply valued and strongly promoted by the British during the height of their imperial power.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:44 -0400)

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"Just before his regiment sails off to war in the Sudan, British officer Harry Feversham quits the military. He is immediately given four white feathers - symbols of cowardice - one each by his three best friends and one by his fiancee. To disprove this grave dishonor, Harry dons an Arabian disguise and leaves for the Sudan, where he anonymously comes to the aid of his three friends, saving each of their lives. Having proved his bravery, Harry returns to England, hoping to regain the love and respect of his fiancee. This suspenseful tale movingly depicts a distinctive code of honor that - whether real or imagined - was deeply valued and strongly promoted by the British during the height of their imperial power."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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