Tuesday, December 19, 2017

G.A. Henty and Hernán Cortés

After reading a number of books pertaining to the history of the Spanish Conquistadors and other early explorers of the New World, I decided to end with a fictional, historical novel by G.A. Henty, By Right of Conquest Or, With Cortez in Mexico.

Henty had written more than 120 historical novels, which remained popular even twenty years after his death. Many of these novels fall into the category of juvenile adventure stories and Henty's novels were part of F. Scott Fitzgerald's boyhood reading.

The wikipedia article linked to above states that Henty usually researched his novels by ordering several books on the subject he was writing on from libraries, and consulting them before beginning writing. This appears to have been the case with his fictional work on Cortez. Like historian John S.C. Abbott, Henty appears to have relied on The Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, although Henty's version of history doesn't always align with Bernal Diaz del Castillo's eye witness account.

Henty has been criticized for being xenophobic towards non-British people and for his glorification of British imperialism. Indeed, the hero of By Right of Conquest is English, and not Spanish. Henty may have held sympathetic views toward many of the Aztec characters in the novels, but his racists view toward blacks manages to make its way into this work.

Of course, having been written in the very early days of the 20th century, this novel has a happy ending. The hero returns to England with his Aztec wife - a princess, no less - along with a fortune in gold and precious gems, living happily ever after.

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