Valiant Gentlemen

Written by Sabina Murray
Review by Jeanne Greene

In 1889, Roger Casement and Herbert Ward are employed by a British expedition in the Congo and their friendship is forged, differences overlooked. Ward is a patriotic Englishman. Casement, Irish-born but raised in England, is ambivalent about his Englishness. Casement is homosexual, and his preference is illegal in England. Ward neither shares nor questions Casement’s choices.

Ward parleys his knowledge of Africa into speaking tours, but when he draws the interest of Sarita Sanford, a wealthy American, and they marry, he is freed to become a sculptor in a happy relationship. Casement is welcome in their home—until the “Irish question” drives a wedge between them. With a European war impending, Parliament delays Irish Home Rule indefinitely.

Casement ultimately turns on England, but why? A lifetime of compromises? The need to salvage his Irish heritage? Casement is tried and convicted of treason. When Ward authenticates excerpts from Casement’s leaked diaries which reveal his “sexual degeneracy,” petitions for clemency fail, and Casement is hanged for treason in 1916.

Murray writes with such conviction and compassion that it is hard to imagine another outcome. Reconstructing the lives of two extraordinary men and a remarkable woman in brilliant prose, she makes sense of their decades-long friendship and why it was fated to break apart on the eve of Irish revolution. Highly recommended.