In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse

 In a Dark Wood Wandering  cover

In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse was first published in Dutch in the Netherlands in 1949 but wasn’t published in English until 1989. It was one of my 20 Books of Summer and although I finished it in August I didn’t manage to review it then. The setting is 15th century France during the Hundred Years War. The French King Charles VI is not a well man, described as being mad but he has periods of lucidity over many years. His wife Queen Isabeau is in charge of things for most of the time and she manages to keep her husband isolated, even from his brother Louis d’Orleans. Isabeau hates Louis wife Valentin and after Valentin gives birth to a son Isabeau turns everyone against her, accusing Valentin of being a witch and causing the king’s illness. For her own safety Valentin has to leave the court. Louis isn’t really interested in power but given that he’s the king’s brother he can’t help being involved in the power struggle between the dukes of Burgundy, Berry and Bourbon.

Again and again Louis d’Orleans’ actions show that he isn’t cut out for leadership anyway, poetry is his favourite pastime and he has plenty of time to compile it when he is taken for ransom by the English after the Battle of Agincourt and spends 25 years as a prisoner in England.

This book is 574 pages long and is a great read. Over decades the book was translated by Edith Kaplan, Kalman Kaplan and Anita Miller. The writing is really descriptive, such as the scene before the Battle of Agincourt:

The moon hid behind clouds; a fine, even cold rain fell. There was no wind, but the raw damp of the long night seemed far less bearable than a dry cold. On the muddy plain the French army stood with its vast camp of tents: hundreds of bonfires smouldered in the dank mist. Torches flashed like comets through the darkness. Flags and banners hung limply; from the pointed tops of the tents water trickled down the gold and silver escutcheons.

If you want to read a much more detailed review of this book have a look at Helen at She Reads Novels thoughts here.

10 thoughts on “In a Dark Wood Wandering by Hella S Haasse

    • Carl,
      The translator Anita Miller said that the author wasn’t happy with her translation of the title as The Forest of Expectations. Her son specialised in Renaissance literature and he suggested In a Dark Wood Wandering which is a line from Dante – not that I would know!

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed this. It’s such a beautifully written book. I’m glad I managed to read it right at the beginning of the year when I was still able to concentrate on long books!

  2. The title is so appealing, so I’m glad you thought it was a great read too! I’m thinking of adding a section for translated fiction to my next Classics Club list, and this sounds perfect for that…

  3. I bought a copy when it was first translated (I didn’t realize it was as long ago at 1989) and really enjoyed it. I studied the 16th century in college but have not spent as much time on this period so a lot of it was new.

    • Constance,
      As it was mainly French history a lot was new to me too, but I did find it interesting that both England and France had had kings with years of mental health problems, albeit with 80 years or so apart. I suspect they were related distantly.

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