R. F. Delderfield, 1972, 638 p.
Before I get started on my critique of this novel, it’s time for a bit of family history. My mother’s side of the family can perhaps be traced all the way back to Viking times. According to family folklore, some of her Scots ancestors fought against King Vortigern for the dominion of Britain way back around 400 AD. (In case you’ve forgotten Arthurian legend, Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, the infant heirs to the throne, were secreted away to Brittany before Vortigern could have them murdered. Uther later sired King Arthur). Mom’s family somehow thrived and reproduced all over the British Isles, to include Ireland, Cornwall and Wales. It is the Welsh part of the family that I’m going to concentrate on now, since it ties in nicely with To Serve Them All My Days.
My family’s Welsh ancestors were dirt-poor coal miners (of course). A couple of brothers managed to make it to America, and their descendants slowly moved West and eventually made it to Colorado where they continued the family mining tradition in Boulder Canyon, digging for silver and tungsten. My maternal grandfather was born and raised in Nederland, Colorado, and his father and older brothers were all miners. They lived in a tiny little shack, and Mom used to hate to visit there because she’d feel like a popsicle, even in summer, when the temperature sometimes hovers around 32% in the middle of the night.
To Serve Them All My Days features David Powlett-Jones, the youngest son of a Welsh mining family, as the main character. David’s father and a couple of his brothers were killed in the mines when he was a child. Like many youngest sons of mining families (including my maternal grandfather), David was spared the deep, damp darkness of mining and was educated instead. This was a lucky break for him, because he was hired as a schoolmaster at Bamfylde, a boy’s school in Devon. Teaching quickly became more than just a job for David; it became a lifesaver. As a shell-shocked veteran of WWI, he was a total mess, both mentally and physically. Bamfylde healed him and made him whole and strong again, and he helped keep Bamfylde whole and strong as well.
This may sound a bit twee, but it really wasn’t. Delderfield was a good writer and did an excellent job with character and plot development. To Serve Them All My Days was a cozy read, and I looked forward to settling down with the staff and students of Bamfylde every evening. Reading this novel was like slipping on an old pair of comfy slippers and cuddling with my little pug on the couch with an aromatic hot toddy steaming by my side. What could possibly be better?
I think it helped greatly that Ronald Frederick Delderfield attended a school quite like Bamfylde when he was a young man. It was obvious in the novel that he greatly approved of the English public (boarding, to us Yanks) school system. Bamfylde was loosely based on West Buckland School in Exmoor, Devon.
I was so impressed with this novel that I bought the Monsterpiece Theatre (har) miniseries on DVD to try out, and was quite impressed with it as well.
It’s no wonder, since it was adapted by Andrew Davies, who also adapted Pride and Prejudice (the excellent BBC Colin Firth version) and Bridget Jones’ Diary. This is one of the few times that I found the screen adaptation to be as good as the novel. The acting is superb. I especially enjoyed the performance of Alan MacNaughtan, whose curmudgeonly and witty portrayal of English master Ian Howarth, is impeccable. The only complaint I have is about some of the post-coital scenes with David and each of his lovers. The women gush over how wonderful he is in bed, which seems incredibly silly.
This is the end, except for one more thing. I’m going to give away the miniseries to one lucky commenter. If you’d like to be the next viewer of this great adaptation of To Serve Them All My Days, leave me a comment. If more than one of you whines about it, I’ll draw names on Friday, Sept. 26th. Try it, you’ll like it!