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George Garrett: Death of the Fox

Garrett’s best-known novel is the first in his Elizabethan trilogy and is the story of Sir Walter Raleigh (sometimes spelled Ralegh, as Garrett does). Garrett had been long interested in Raleigh and had even planned to write his Ph. D. dissertation on him. This was abandoned but he had kept his notes on Raleigh and used them when he started to write his novel. The novel starts with Raleigh’s trial and ends just as the axe comes down on his head. In-between – and the book is over seven hundred pages long – Garrett gives us a superb portrait of a complicated and important person in British and American history as well, as a detailed description of Elizabethan England. His use of language is masterful. He does not try to write Elizabethan English, either real or faked, as, for example, Ford Madox Ford does in The Fifth Queen trilogy. Yet, it all comes out as very convincing, as his language remains formal.

Garrett does not just tell the story from Raleigh’s point of view. We get to see him and others from the perspective of other key players, including the famous such as King James I and Francis Bacon, the moderately famous, such as Sir Henry Yelverton, and lesser characters. All of them help give us a complex portrait of Raleigh and, in particular, the inevitable conflict between the public and private person. As the public person, he is a man of great achievements, cunning, adroit, in short, a fox. Privately, he is, of course, more troubled, not least in his role as husband and father. It is Garrett’s skill to show us these concerns and reveal a very complex person. Incredibly, this book is out of print for it remains one of the foremost historical novels of the twentieth century.

Publishing history

First published 1971 by Doubleday