The Half-Hearted is the sixth book in my John Buchan reading project, Buchan of the Month. You can find out more about the project and my reading list for 2018 here. If you would like to read along with me you will be very welcome – leave a comment on this post or on my original challenge post.
What follows is an introduction to the book (no spoilers!). It is also an excuse to show off a picture of my (undated) Hodder & Stoughton edition of The Half-Hearted (without dust jacket unfortunately). I will be posting my review of the book later in the month.
The Half-Hearted was written in 1899 and published in September 1900 by Isbister & Co Ltd. However, it had first appeared in serial form (in thirty-three parts) earlier that year in Good Words, a magazine also published by Isbister. Hodder & Stoughton published a new edition of The Half-Hearted in 1920.
Buchan’s first contemporary novel, The Half-Hearted is dedicated to his friends, Raymond Asquith, Harold Baker and Cuthbert Medd. Buchan’s first biographer, Janet Adam-Smith, believes its hero, Lewis Haystoun, owes much to Raymond Asquith. The book features a very current issue in foreign affairs at the time, the so-called Great Game being played out between Britain and Russia in Central Asia and, in particular, the North-West Frontier of India (also the subject of Rudyard Kipling’s Kim).
In Lewis Haystoun, Buchan explores the idea that a life of easy pleasure may result in a man becoming ‘morally soft’. As Lewis sets off into dangerous territory he feels, ‘At last he had found a man’s work. He has never had a chance before. Life had been too easy and sheltered; he had been coddled like a child; he had never really roughed it except for his own pleasure. Now he was outside this backbone of the world with a task before him, and only his wits for his servant.’ It’s probable these were close to Buchan’s own views.
David Daniell describes The Half-Hearted as ‘an interestingly uneven novel’ and as A Lost Lady of Old Years ‘brought up to the present and turned upside-down and inside-out’. (You can read my review of A Lost Lady of Old Years here.) However, Daniell does admit that there are some ‘marvellous things’ in The Half-Hearted. Why not join me in reading The Half-Hearted and see what you can find that is marvellous. The book is also one of my #20BooksofSummer.
David Daniell, The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of the Work of John Buchan (Nelson, 1975), pp.75-78
Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 ), pp.98- 101