Hunters in the Snow Summary

Daisy Hildyard

Hunters in the Snow

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Hunters in the Snow Summary

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Hunters in the Snow by Daisy Hildyard explores history through the eyes of an unnamed doctoral student whose has recently passed. The student’s grandfather had been compiling copious notes in order to write a seven-volume history of England, but was unable to finish the work over the course of his life. He tells this history—or rather, his granddaughter tells it through his notes—via the journeys of Edward VI, Peter the Great of Russia, a former slave named Olaudah Equiano, and Lord Kitchener.

King Edward VI of England was Henry VIII’s only legitimate son and was crowned following his father’s death. Edward’s reign lasted from 1547 to 1553. After he died, he was succeeded by Lady Jane Gray, who ruled for only nine days before Edward’s sister Mary Tudor (later succeeded by Elizabeth I) deposed and executed Jane. Edward was only nine years old when he was crowned king and was England’s first monarch raised in the Protestant faith. Due to his youth, Edward was little more than a figurehead, and England was actually under the control of a Regency Council, initially controlled by his uncle, Edward Seymour. In the midst of Edward’s reign, a rebellion occurred, spurred by economic and social problems that existed long before Edward sat on the throne. When he was 15 years old, he became terminally ill.

Peter the Great was the Russian Tsar who ruled from 1682 until 1725. Hunters in the Snow chronicles a specific time in Peter’s life—his 1697 Grand Embassy. For a year and a half, he traveled incognito through Western Europe,. He hoped to gain support from other European rulers in order to fight the Ottoman Empire. While he was unsuccessful in drumming up political support, Peter’s travels brought an exchange of knowledge. He learned about Western European shipbuilding, which late influenced the development of the Russian navy. When he reached Manchester, England, the knowledge he gained about city planning influenced the design of Saint Petersburg. Peter westernized Russia in other ways, including fashion.

Olaudah Equiano was a former slave turned freedman living in London in the latter half of the eighteenth century. In 1789, he wrote and published an autobiography that spurred the creation of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, the act that ended the British slave trade. During his time in London, Equiano went by the name Gustavus Vassa, joining the abolitionist group known as Sons of Africa. Equiano’s autobiography is now widely regarded as the first work of modern African literature. In England, he married Susannah Cullen in 1792. They had two daughters, Joanna and Anna Maria Vassa.

Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener was the British Secretary of State for War in the early 20th century. He’d earned notoriety in 1898 while leading the British Army in the Sudan. During the Boer War from 1899 to 1902, he served as Chief of Staff. In 1914, the prime minister appointed him to his final position—it was in 1916 that he went down with the British cruiser Hampshire. This is the story relayed in Hunters in the Snow. He was on his way to Russia, seeking an alliance against Germany, when the Hampshire hit a German mine. Despite having lost popularity after military failures in Gallipoli, his death renewed England’s admiration of him despite his flaws.

Each of these historical figures enforce the theme of Hildyard’s book: the importance of understanding the past. Emphasis is placed on the biases and lenses through which any one historian might view past events.

While Hildyard’s Hunters in the Snow received criticism for its lack of a solid, unified plot, it was lauded for addressing the importance of historiography. Another theme in Hunters in the Snow is deception. This theme is further explored by the unnamed narrator. Though the historian grandfather whose notes form the novel is named Jimmy, the narrator is known only as his granddaughter. While that’s not deceptive in and of itself, it does speak to Peter the Great’s deception while traveling incognito.

Hildyard was also praised for her technical skill. This pseudo-novel has also been called somewhat autobiographical, stuck somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. Daisy Hildyard was chosen as one of the 5 Under 35 by the National Book Foundation in 2013. Hildyard earned her doctorate from the University of London in 2013, where she studied language.

Hunters in the Snow is really two books in one. The first is the recounting of history through the four figures highlighted by Jimmy’s research. The second is Hildyard’s own fictionalized autobiography, told through the granddaughter’s experiences at her grandparents’ farm in Northern England.