In Greek Waters by G A Henty


Word PressI do love G A Henty!  Any historical period about which you’re struggling to find an English language novel, just give him a try – he’s bound to have written one!  This one, covering the Greek War of Independence, was as good as his books always are, but did rather surprise me.  It was about a young English gentleman and his strongly Philhellene father going off to the Greek war in a schooner, which they’d bought and fitted out at their own expense, complete with a crew whom they were paying out of their own money, with the intention of aiding the Greeks.  The early years of the Greek War of Independence were rather like the Spanish Civil War in this respect, only mainly with the upper-classes (i.e. the people with the money!), most famously Lord Byron.  In an era in which Westerners going to fight in foreign wars tends to involve them joining terrorist organisations, it’s good to remember that it’s something that people used to do with the intention of fighting for freedom.

However, things didn’t proceed as I was expecting.  There were the usual G A Henry adventures with people being taken prisoner and narrowly avoiding sticky ends, rescuing young ladies whom they eventually married, etc, whilst, naturally 🙂 all the British characters behaved like perfect gentlemen and Johnny Foreigner played all sorts of rotten tricks, our heroes soon found that they were appalled by the behaviour of both Greeks and Turks alike and, rather than taking sides in the war, they concentrated their efforts on aiding the innocent civilians threatened by it, regardless of ethnicity or religion.  Philhellene feeling did wane as the war went on and, once Greece had become independent, there was a lot of anger in Britain and Western Europe about the Greek government not repaying its loans (does this sound rather familiar?!), but this was written in the early 1890s when, even though Britain was to some extent committed to preserving the territorial integrity of the Ottoman Empire because of concerns about Russian ambitions in both the Balkans and the Dardanelles, there was widespread anti-Turkish/Ottoman feeling following the Bulgarian massacres.

It really does G A Henty a lot of credit that he wrote a book which emphasised the suffering of civilians on both sides of a war, and the fact that ethnicity and religion should not matter when it comes to trying to help those in need, rather than the rights and wrongs of the politics of it all: it’s an attitude you might expect to find in a modern book, but perhaps not one written at the height of the Victorian Age of Empire.  And he does a wonderful job of blending it with all the usual Boys’ Own type stuff.  I’ve read quite a few of his books now, but I’ve still got loads to go and I’m very pleased about that!!


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