Book of the Month, May 2023 – ‘The White Company’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

For May’s must read Book of the Month, I have chosen The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), first published in 1891. Doyle was a physician by profession, but will always be remembered for creating Sherlock Holmes, who character was based on his former university teacher Joseph Bell. Doyle killed Holmes off in December 1893 in The Final Problem so that he could devote more time to writing historical novels, of which The White Company is one.

The novel is a medieval adventure travelling between Hampshire, France and Spain around 1366-7. Twenty-year-old Alleyne Edricson leaves the monastery which had cared for him as a child, to spend a year in the world outside before deciding whether to return to the cloister for life. He meets up with the seasoned archer Samkin Aylward and the disgraced novice monk Hordle John, who take him under their wing and into the service of Sir Nigel Loring. The three travel with Sir Nigel and his troops to France to collect his other warriors in the White Company, before joining the Prince of Wales’ forces to fight the Battle of Najera in Castile.

The story is an energetic ‘Boys Own’ style romp where deeds of chivalry and derring-do are scattered liberally among humorous and fearsome mishaps and adventures. It includes a bewildering array of colourful characters, at least twenty of whom were loosely based on real historical figures. The detailed descriptions in the novel and its slow start reflect the fashions of the times that Doyle wrote the book. As the details are not superfluous, I soon got used to the wordy narrative and found it did not interfere with the telling of the tale.

I have always respected Doyle for his novels about Sherlock Holmes and about Professor Challenger, and bought this book to experience how he wrote adventure stories set in a medieval era only forty years later than my own historical novels. Like Doyle, I use chapter titles, plenty of action and a lot of local colour to keep the stories moving. Our approaches differ though in the style of writing. Doyle is more verbose, emotionally superficial, and sacrifices realism for adventurism; a reflection of the audience he wrote for and the era in which he wrote.

So there we have it, May’s Book of the Month! Be sure to check back in June as I’ll be revealing another must read.

Take care,

Maggie x

Shopping Basket
Scroll to Top