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Four Feathers, The - A COWARD'S FEATHERS

Beginning in January of 1902, A.E.W. Mason (short for Alfred Edward Woodley) serialized his novel, The Four Feathers, in the magazine Cornhill. Less than four years had passed since the decisive battle of Omdurman which was the backdrop for his story.

The character of Harry Feversham was not entirely new. Mason’s short story, "The Coward," had first appeared in the April 27, 1901 issue of The Illustrated London News where the character’s name was Geoffrey Faversham. That set the stage for Feversham, a fictional young soldier who grapples with "the fear of fear."

Resigning from his regiment just before he is to sail off to war in the Sudan, Feversham receives a white feather from each of his three friends (Trench, Castleton and Willoughby). They have, in effect, called him a coward.

When his fianceé Ethne Eustace learns why he received three feathers, she gives him a fourth and ends their engagement. It is not the first time in world literature that a woman shames a man into doing the right thing when it comes to war. (An ancient example comes from Greece: Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata.)

How could Ethne have so misjudged the character of her future husband? How can she spend romantic time with Lt. Jack Durrance, Harry’s friend, while the undercover Feversham tries to regain his honor?

Harry, it turns out, is plagued not by cowardice but by the fear of it. He falters due to a fear of failure, not a lack of courage. He thinks that by avoiding the battle of Omdurman he would not have to face a moment when - perhaps - he could not do what was expected of him.

Mason uses music (in the novel, Mendelssohn’s Melusine Overture) to bind some of the characters together. (Scroll down 30% to hear an audio clip of "The Fair Melusina."). But the main theme of his story is the conflict within - as human beings fight against themselves - to make the right choice.

In other words . . . the personal battlefield - where all of us struggle every day, is the real focus of life - even when the temporary battlefield of war is most on our minds.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5119stories and lessons created

Original Release: Sep 01, 2002

Updated Last Revision: Jun 23, 2015


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"A COWARD'S FEATHERS" AwesomeStories.com. Sep 01, 2002. Sep 21, 2017.
       <https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/A-COWARD-S-FEATHERS-Four-Feathers-The>.
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