Thursday, 9 July 2015

Review: Memoirs of a Cavalier by Daniel Defoe

Daniel Dafoe's Memoirs of a Cavalier relates the story of an unnamed cavalier who left England in search of an adventure in the early 17th century and ended up fighting in Gustavus Adolphus' army against the Holy Roman Empire. After the Swedish king's death, he returned to England and took part in the civil war. These two wars form the first and second half of the novel. As it is, this review only concerns the first half of this novel, because that is the part of history that is the focus of my interest.

I was drawn to the novel because of some reviews I read said that it offered a detailed view of the period. However, this only concerns the descriptions of the battles and you get very little insight into the daily life of 17th century soldiers or civilians. The cavalier moves quickly from one battle to the next, using the time between to explain his involvement in the various events. The tone is very realistic in some ways, and it is understandable that readers originally thought that the memoirs were authentic.

Overall, the novel reads like a "travelogue with battles" and is not very exciting except for a period enthusiast. For a Finn, it was nice to see a couple of references to Finland cavalry, the troops we nowadays call hakkapeliitta, especially when the author compares them extremely favourably to the Royalist army of England when he finally goes back to his homeland: "I believe I might say, without vanity, one regiment of Finland horse would have made sport at beating them all."