Manly PursuitsBook - 1999
On the eve of the Boer War, Professor Francis Wills arrives in Cape Town with the two hundred songbirds requested by Cecil Rhodes, who believes they hold the key to saving his life
A rich and evocative novel about fidelity and betrayal, exploitation and colonialism.
Cape Town, 1899. Cecil Rhodes, the great imperialist and diamond tycoon, believes that he has only months to live, and that the only thing that can save him is the sound of English birdsong in the South African countryside surrounding his Cape residence.
"The Colossus," as Rhodes is known throughout South Africa, recruits Francis Wills, an Oxford don and the world's leading expert in birdsong, to transport two hundred British songbirds-blackbirds, nightingales, chaffinches, robins and starlings-by sea from Southampton to the Cape Province. But the birds, confused by the change of season and hemisphere, refuse to sing. This is but the first obstacle for Wills, who finds himself irresistibly drawn to intrigue-romantic, political, and ornithological-in a country on the brink of war.
Ann Harries' splendid first novel is cast with a host of sharply drawn real-life characters, among them Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll who are friends of Wills' in England, and Rudyard and Mrs. Kipling, intimates of Rhodes in his imperialist oasis.
Blackwell North Amer
Cape Town, 1899. Cecil Rhodes, arch-imperialist and tycoon, believes he has only months to live, and that he can be saved only by hearing the sound of British birdsong on the slopes of Table Mountain. In response to a high-handed command from the bloated, overindulged 'Colossus' (as Rhodes is known to his adoring public), Professor Francis Wills, a reclusive Oxford don, arrives in Cape Town with two hundred songbirds - nightingales, chaffinches, blackbirds, robins and starlings - on the eve of the Anglo-Boer war. But the birds, confused by the change of season and hemisphere, refuse to sing. In Rhodes' gloomy, male-dominated estate, suffused with erotic undercurrent, Wills is drawn into intrigue - romantic, political and ornithological.
Manly Pursuits is a complex novel about loyalty and disgrace, Darwinism and diamonds, imperialism and 'the white man's burden', and sexual ambivalence in a repressive era.