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Peter Vansittart (1920–2008)

Author of Voices from the Great War

45+ Works 305 Members 11 Reviews 1 Favorited

About the Author

Historical fiction author Peter Vansittart was born in Bedford, England. He attended Winchester College and Worcester College. He was the director of the Burgess Hill school in Hampstead, London from 1947 to 1959. His first novel, I Am the World, was published in 1942. He wrote and edited more than show more 50 books in his lifetime including The Death of Robin Hood; The Game and the Ground; Green Kights, Black Angels; Voices from the Great War; and Survival Tactics. He died on October 4, 2008 at the age of 88. (Bowker Author Biography) show less

Includes the name: Peter Vansittart

Works by Peter Vansittart

Voices from the Great War (1656) 78 copies
Hermes in Paris (2000) 16 copies
Voices 1870-1914 (1984) 12 copies
In the Fifties (1995) 11 copies
A Choice of Murder (1992) 9 copies
The tournament (1962) 8 copies
Parsifal: A Novel (1988) 8 copies
Death of Robin Hood (1981) 7 copies
Lancelot (1978) 7 copies
A Safe Conduct (1996) 6 copies

Associated Works

Getting It Right (1982) — Introduction, some editions — 101 copies


In the period of the Black Death, a Flemish Duke challenges a neighbour the Duke of Utrecht, to a duel, which rapidly turns into planning and carrying out an elaborate tournament. The main character is the duke, who has noted the disappointment of his son in a marriage prospect. Other than the planing, there is no great plot action outside the narrow world of this small corner of europe. But the novel continues to define for me a good deal of medieval secular thinking.

the book was not a great success when published, but has been reprinted several times since.… (more)
DinadansFriend | 1 other review | Aug 12, 2023 |
I enjoyed this book, my first experience reading this particular author. I had never heard of Timoleon of Syracuse, a general and statesman in the days of Philip of Macedon. Two things kept me from rating this book as a 4: although very well written, the author's style took getting used to and I also could not connect with any of the characters. I felt like I was observing the story through a glass wall.

Timoleon [called Timo in the novel], born and raised in Corinth, is exiled from that city for fratricide, having assassinated his brother, Timophanes, the cruel ruler of Corinth. After many years living in the wilderness, he is found and called upon to liberate the city of Syracuse on Sicily from the threat of Carthage. [Syracuse is a Corinthian client-city or colony.] With his two faithful generals, Apelles and Theodotos [the latter he met on his wanderings], he defeats Carthaginians at the Battle of Cremesus in the midst of a gigantic storm. He becomes the ruler of Syracuse and improves the lives of the people. He defeats other Sicilian cities who support Carthage. When he is offered the crown, he refuses gracefully and quotes Pindar: "When the Despot first appears, he is a Protector." He goes on to say, "I am warning you against myself....Government is an art, rigorous, painful, sometimes fatal...."When the problem is solved, the ruler must have his say, then go quietly away." He realizes power can corrupt. Until the end of his life, he remains a respected elder statesman.

Plutarch greatly admired Timoleon and wrote extensively on him: http://ancienthistory.about.com/libra...

I regret I couldn't get close to Timo, although admiring him. The author used very many metaphors from myth. Once the style did not bother me any more, I began noticing how well crafted the novel was and how each word chosen was perfect. I enjoyed the exciting Battle of Cremesus; the description of the Eleusian Mysteries, of which Timo becomes an initiate; also the last section: "Darkness", about Timo's blindness and last days. As far as the title, which sounds like one for a second-rate murder mystery: I think the author is asking us to think about the morality or non-morality of political assassination. Through the whole novel, Timo is conflicted about his fratricide. The author brings up other concepts; this is a thoughtful novel.

Recommended for those who love historical fiction set in the ancient world.
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1 vote
janerawoof | 1 other review | Jun 16, 2016 |
I really enjoyed and highly recommend this novel, but am not sure of what words to write. It is another of the author's 'Roman' books and written in the author's own unique and inimitable style--long, lush descriptions and metaphor upon metaphor. The story concerns the Wall Emperor Aurelian ordered to be built around the city of Rome. Romans mutter secretly: is it to keep the barbarians out, or to keep Romans in? The novel gives us the fortunes of a fictional Senatorial family over the period of a number of years: Clodius Ammianus, his wife Domitia, daughter Clodia and sons Constantius, a high-ranking officer in the army, and the effete, irreverent Julian.

The novel gave a marvellous word-picture of Rome: the corruption, depravity, and the desire of her people for instant gratification. Constantius felt it's a "city of death and despairing." Other outstanding extended vivid descriptions: Aurelian's Triumph and the parading of the defeated Queen Zenobia of Palmyra before the populace; consulting of the oracle with her mentioning the cryptic number 19; and the halt of the Army on its march east at the town of Forum Trajani. The latter half of the novel went into personality development: I got a good sense of Aurelian, his successors, and of the family members. There was a cynical discussion of many of the different religions in the Empire. The Wall seemed to reflect the attitude of the government; first of all, it reflected Aurelian's enthusiasm and reforms. After Aurelian's death it was neglected, much as the Empire itself was. The Wall was metaphor for many things during the novel, lastly, Constantius' thoughts: it "sagged into an image of division and futility."
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1 vote
janerawoof | Aug 4, 2015 |
Sits alongside Life of Aglovale de Galis and Porius: odd, intensely individual Arthurian tellings with dismal publishing histories. Porius has been ‘painstakingly restored’ to author’s intentions, fifty years later; Aglovale has seen the light of day again with an Arthur-dedicated publishing house; Vansittart’s other novels are getting into paperback, which they didn't manage on initial publication, but Lancelot – miles better than the pbacked A Safe Conduct – is still a rare secondhand. The three of these are on my list of dead writers who needed indie.

Vansittart writes a historical fiction that is about the processes of history. Story comes second, with him. However, if I find his intellectual content strong and his storytelling weak, that may be the fault of his publisher, who limited him to seventy thousand words [as he says in an interview, Arthurian-focused: http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/te...]. (I think he saved on words by eliminating articles: ‘the’ and ‘a’ an unnecessary luxury when your publisher has scissors out). He is a determined legend-killer, and/or an extremist of realism. Lancelot, later taken over by the Courtly Love movement, doesn’t bother to distract himself much with women, although he knew Gwenhever from a brothel. Mind you, near the end, Lancelot (this is told in Lancelot’s voice) is driven to admit that there may have been more to Arthur, in the way of being material for legend, than he himself has seen, acknowledged, understood.

Lancelot also notes: “Their stories can of course be told very differently – I am not impartial and do not wish to be – and this will surely occur. The truth? Impossible. In telling stories we submit to matters beyond our control.”

It’s the processes of story-telling, or of converting history into story, that most interests Vansittart. Still, A Safe Conduct scarcely qualified as a novel, while Lancelot does. Maybe he has a bit in common with Julian Rathbone – I’ve only read The Last English King – in that he writes hf to analyse history, and our relationship to it. He hasn’t Rathbone’s overt modernisms but I was always sensible of the present day.

Again, I thought his great strengths were the punchiest, most innovative English, and his description of persons. That may be because I like those things. The Art of the Sentence is reason enough to read him. Not pretty, punchy. Knockout language use.
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Jakujin | Jun 6, 2014 |


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