The Blanket of the Dark is the ninth book in my John Buchan reading project, Buchan of the Month 2019. You can find out more about the project and my reading list for 2019 here. What follows is a (spoiler-free) introduction to The Blanket of the Dark. I will be publishing my review of the book later this month.
The Blanket of the Dark was published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton on 21st July 1931 and in the United States on 2nd September 1931 by Houghton Mifflin.
A return to historical fiction, The Blanket of the Dark is set in the Cotswolds during the period of the so-called Pilgrimage of Grace, an uprising that began in Yorkshire in October 1536 before spreading to other parts of Northern England. In the book, Buchan explores an imagined ‘might-have-been of history’ in which a lowly Abbey clerk, Peter Pentecost, learns he is in fact the son of the last Duke of Buckingham and should by rights be king instead of Henry VIII. Peter becomes the tool of unscrupulous men who would overthrow Henry VIII and place him on the throne of England. Many adventures ensue.
Janet Adam Smith notes that, as in Midwinter, the ‘high life is balanced by the low’ in the person of Solomon Darking and his band of followers (similar to the self-styled The Naked Men of Midwinter). She argues it’s Buchan’s way of showing history from the point of view of the ‘unimportant’.
Janet Adam Smith regards The Blanket of the Dark as Buchan’s ‘most deeply felt novel’. She is not alone in her regard for the book. David Daniell reports that Rudyard Kipling called it a ‘tour de force’ and Rose Macauley described it as ‘enchanting and beautiful’. Ursula Buchan, author of the recently published biography of her grandfather, Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan describes it as ‘one of Buchan’s very best novels’. It’s the one she always personally recommends. David Daniell praises the way in which Buchan knits together all the book’s elements, remarking that ‘the tone is relaxed but the control is tight…as if Buchan is drawing together all his skills under the influence of his response to the land and its people’.
Janet Adam Smith reports that combined sales for the Hodder & Stoughton and Nelson editions of The Blanket of the Dark totalled 73,000 copies by 1960 with a further 32,000 copies of the Penguin paperback edition sold up to 1964. Therefore, despite this being one of the most admired of Buchan’s novels, it was relatively unsuccessful in commercial terms, like much of his historical fiction.
- Janet Adam Smith, John Buchan: A Biography (OUP, 1985 )
- David Daniell, The Interpreter’s House: A Critical Assessment of John Buchan (Nelson, 1975)
- Kenneth Hillier and Michael Ross, The First Editions of John Buchan: A Collector’s Illustrated Biography (Avonworld, 2008)
- Ursula Buchan, Beyond The Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan (Bloomsbury, 2019)