rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
[personal profile] rymenhild
(I began this post in November. See, I can finish posts I promise myself I'll write! Sometimes!)

The year is 1910*. You are an Englishman or -woman of no particular importance. Somewhere in Eastern Europe, a small principality has mislaid its rightful prince. Because you are both insatiably curious and lucky enough to be connected to this principality in some way, you find yourself on your way to the principality, about to restore order!

*Or 1890, or Sometime Before 1914.

If this is happening to you, congratulations; you are living in a Ruritanian romance. You are likely to encounter dastardly uncles, alluring spies, personages of rank traveling incognito, and a full chorus of bandits, freedom fighters, shepherds and priests. (All Ruritanians are Catholic. It adds to the atmosphere of incense-scented mystery.) You will probably engage in swordfighting sometime in the near future. You may be shot. If so, you will probably survive, unless you have the poor luck to fall in love with the Rightful Prince or his betrothed bride, in which case the odds are fifty-fifty that either you or your True Love will die tragically.

This genre, being simultaneously monarchist and imperialist, is ultra-conservative. In the world of the Ruritanian romance, the royal heir is necessarily the best person to take the throne. The royal right trumps any other forms of authority. Even when, as in Zenda, the English impostor seems to be a better ruler than the Rightful Prince he impersonates, no one would think to depose the king and vote the impostor in as Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, you, o Englishperson, stand for the entire British Empire. Your British levelheadedness and loyalty to principles of honesty (except when speaking to dastardly villains, in which case you are encouraged to mislead them while speaking the exact truth), courtesy, good behavior and solid government will be the salvation of Ruritania. That's because, as we all know, the British Empire is the fount of all civilization, and it can bring its civilization to the primitive (but still white!) people of Eastern Europe. See? Britain has the truly enlightened people, and Ruritania has the delightful aura of unsocialized danger. It makes for an excellent story, as long as you don't bother to deconstruct imperialist rhetoric.

Despite all the dangers inherent in a visit to Ruritania (you know, stab wounds, gunshot wounds, broken heart, hangover from deliciously rustic beer), the journey is essentially safe. The concerns of Ruritania are limited to Ruritania; it is possible to return home again to England, and find England comfortably unchanged. The date of 1910 means that World War I hasn't happened yet, and it can't and shouldn't happen. Inside the story, we assume that the prince, once seated on his throne, will maintain a dynasty; that's the happy ending.

I wonder if certain people fighting in World War I actually expected to be playing by the rules of the Ruritanian romance, and were surprised to be wrong.

I also wonder whether Ruritanian romances written after WWI are actually meant to be read as quasi-Arthurian tragedies, in which the Rightful Prince, having been placed on his Predestined Throne, will inevitably be dethroned, and the plucky little kingdom will, equally inevitably, be swallowed up by the Soviet Union.

Anyway, that's why you ought to read the following examples of the form.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), Anthony Hope.
This is, of course, the first and best example of the trope, although I'm sure it must be picking up materials from earlier sources. Rudolph Rassendyll, English gentleman of leisure who owes his name to an illegitimate connection to the Ruritanian dynasty several generations back, is bored. Obviously, the way for him to stop being bored is for him to get on a train to Ruritania, discover that he's identical to his distant cousin the King, impersonate the King, fall in love with a beautiful Princess, encounter some wicked gentlemen, and engage in a great many wacky hijinks!

There is also a sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, which I have not read.

The Lost Prince (1915), Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Marco Loristan lives in dire poverty with his father Stefan. Stefan is secretly a Samavian patriot loyal to a long-vanished dynasty, and he has raised his son as another patriot. In the dingiest part of London, Marco meets The Rat, the disabled military-genius son of a decayed alcoholic English gentleman, and they team up to restore Samavia to its former greatness! I love this book very much, despite the fact that its plot makes exactly no sense, and despite the occasional and deeply bizarre excursions into pseudo-Buddhism. (Why pseudo-Buddhism? I have no idea.)

A College of Magics (1994), Caroline Stevermer
Faris Nallaneen is the Duchess of Galazon, or she would be if she were of age and she didn't have an interfering wicked uncle. Jane Brailsford is a bluestocking of good English family, with excellent taste in clothing and tea. They meet at a finishing school for witches, where they trade baked goods, gossip and novels (including The Prisoner of Zenda). Eventually they find themselves, with Faris's bodyguard and several other friends, back in Galazon and the neighboring kingdom of Aravis Aravill, where nothing quite goes as planned, and all the tropes of Ruritanian romance get extremely, wildly and hilariously confused. I especially like the revolutionary who misguidedly attempts to support Faris's claim to the throne of Aravill.

The Tin Princess (1994), Philip Pullman
Loosely associated with the Sally Lockhart books, this story of an English street waif who marries the Prince of Razkavia is generally referred to as one of Pullman's weaker books. I love it, but then I always love stories of plucky young women who defend tiny countries against all threats. Pullman's aware of the problematic politics underlying the Ruritanian romance, and he does gesture towards the class and social issues usually obscured by tales of Noble Princes and Rightful Heirs.

Lois Bujold's Barrayar (1991) is distantly linked to the form, with Cordelia Vorkosigan playing the Betan equivalent of the helpful Englishwoman, and five-year-old Gregor Vorbarra as the Rightful Prince.

If I've missed any romances, please share; I'm in the market for more imperialist monarchist wacky hijinks.

--

Edit: I was wrong about the name of the kingdom next to Galazon. It's Aravill, not Aravis. All those unpronounceable imaginary foreign names are the same to me. ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 08:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thistleingrey.livejournal.com
Sherwood Smith's Coronets and Steel, forthcoming this fall. Unfair, since it's forthcoming, but there was a full draft two years ago and I hear there's a contract now. It is sort of a rewrite of Zenda with several key things swapped--two women who look alike, and a female American protagonist. I enjoyed the draft and look forward to the polished version....

Hmm, what about Melissa Wyatt's Raising the Griffin (2004)? [livejournal.com profile] rachelmanija's review piqued my interest, and I enjoyed it. The less you know going in, however, the better: I suggest *not* reading the excerpt that Wyatt has (used to have?) at her website. Capsule: Alex, a sixteen-year-old boy living in England, is told that he needs to start being the heir to a recently revived tiny monarchy in eastern Europe.

p.s.

Date: 2010-01-23 08:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thistleingrey.livejournal.com
rachelmanija had this to say about her own review; that should probably be read first! Sorry.

Re: p.s.

Date: 2010-01-23 09:00 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I'm definitely adding the Wyatt to my reading list, and keeping an eye out for the Sherwood Smith. Thank you!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 08:42 am (UTC)
ext_14294: A redhead an a couple of cats. (Default)
From: [identity profile] ashkitty.livejournal.com
Hm. Possibly The Princess Diaries?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:00 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I haven't actually read them, but from what I know of them, they could certainly be a late addition to the genre. I'll have to find out.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 08:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] coraa.livejournal.com
It's niggling me that I've read some other fantasy that fits the trope, but I can't put my finger on it. I'll keep thinking.

It seems like a potentially rich vein to mine for steampunk stories, as far as that goes. Although, as you note, problematic in terms of politics. (Not that that can't be acknowledged, one way or another, within the story.)

Actually, it occurs to me that the Girl Genius graphic novels play with a number of these tropes—heirs, lost scions, bandits, and swordplay, for sure.
Edited Date: 2010-01-23 08:47 am (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:07 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (biting my trewand pen)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I actually think that steampunk writers have just about the perfect setup to engage with the political problems of Victorian and Edwardian England and Europe. The nifty brass machines come with pollutants, the romantic royals come with revolutions, extreme class distinctions, race issues and so on. There's so much stuff to play with that way!

I feel like Cat Valente's written an article on how the best steampunk is politicized, but I can't find it.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-24 06:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] thistleingrey.livejournal.com
Was it definitely an article? I have a vague memory of reading "The Anachronist's Cookbook," a short story, in full, but at her site there is now a stub, possibly because the story was picked up for sale (I want to say in the VanderMeers' forthcoming second collection of steampunk stories, perhaps?). *is fuzzy*

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 11:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] just-ruth.livejournal.com
If you get a chance to explore old book store - I heartily recommend the romances of George Barr McCutcheton. He made his mark in the early 20th century with a trilogy of such tales:

Graustark: The power behind a throne - wealthy American finds Germanic princess; rescues from revolution and marries same

Beverly of Graustark - Southern Belle and her resourceful but horribly non-PC Nanny (who doesn't get even a Baron-boo!) find themselves kidnapped by noble outlaw who turns out to be Lost Prince of Graustark's Chief Ally. Of note - she saves her "goatherd" from a whipping by a spirited tennis match.

The Prince of Graustark - son of first book has arranged marriage with daughter of second book - both resist, flee and meet aboard a cruise ship and swap flase names (cue Love Boat theme)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:07 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
Oooh, oooh, oooh! This is definitely relevant to my interests. One of the local libraries ought to have them.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 02:44 pm (UTC)
zdenka: Miriam with a tambourine, text "I will sing." (librarian)
From: [personal profile] zdenka
When I was much younger I read a ridiculous but enjoyable book along those lines called The Circus of Adventure, by Enid Blyton. I have no idea whether it would be similarly ridiculous and enjoyable now. It also involves some kidnapped English children and a parrot.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:09 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
Duly noted! I find that things that were ridiculous and enjoyable when I was a child are always still ridiculous, and almost always still enjoyable.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 02:50 pm (UTC)
zdenka: Miriam with a tambourine, text "I will sing." (geeky)
From: [personal profile] zdenka
Oh, and how could I forget The Last Camel Died at Noon, one of the Amelia Peabody books by Elizabeth Peters? (I heartily recommend the whole series; Victorian female Egyptologist fights crime, often while quoting Gilbert & Sullivan.)

The Last Camel Died at Noon is more of a parody of H. Rider Haggard and his ilk, but it also manages to deal with the Rightful Prince situation.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:10 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I started reading one of the Peters books, but I couldn't finish it, largely because I wasn't convinced that the heroine actually worked as a Victorian woman. There was something about her characterization that just seemed not quite right.

But if I go back and try again, I'll try that one.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-24 12:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] reconditarmonia.livejournal.com
I did not know there were Gilbert and Sullivan references! Those have been moved up my list.

Speaking of, doesn't The Gondoliers fit the model a little? G&S is full of switched-at-birth plots, but that's the only one I can think of with a missing prince.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-24 01:59 am (UTC)
zdenka: Miriam with a tambourine, text "I will sing." (geeky)
From: [personal profile] zdenka
Good. I think they are excellent. :-)

There is a missing prince. I would call The Gondoliers more a parody of Italian opera, specifically Il Trovatore. Oddly enough, there are no English characters in The Gondoliers.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-24 02:03 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] reconditarmonia.livejournal.com
Gondoliers is definitely a parody of Italian opera including Trovatore, but then, Trovatore has some of these elements as well. :) I wouldn't call either of them a Ruritanian romance, but Gondoliers does have the conservatism and certainly the wacky hijinks! :D I'd say they both fit into a broader framework of mid- to late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century stories.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 04:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] just-ruth.livejournal.com
Before I leave the subject of G.B. McClutcheon - he is the original writer of "Brewster's Millions."

It is far far removed from the movie with Richard Pyor -

Montgomery Brewster is a fairly ordinary bank teller in New York City. He is, however, the grandson of a wealthy Wall Street Broker who disinherited his father because he didn't like Monty's mother - an actress and costume designer. When Monty turns twenty-one, however, his grandfather dies and Monty finds himself with a million dollars (and in 1910, that was considerable.)

Monty soon finds himself with a "swell" set of friends and a shiny new fiancee (her Daddy owns the bank where he worked) much to the sad dismay of "little Peggy" the daughter of one of his mother's fellow thespians who also worked as a teller and whom Monty always regarded as a "dear sister."

Enter lawyer - it seems that Monty has an uncle who walked out on the family when Monty's father was disinherited. Heading west - he made twenty million dollars in silver mining and has willed it to Monty on one condition: Monty must not have a single penny of his grandfather's wealth to his name.

The executor, an irasable old miner, gives Monty a year to make the demands and "not be a damn fool" about giving it away. Monty takes up the challenge. Unfortunately, his attempt to lose money in the stock market nets him another hundred thousand.

He donates a substantial amount to the small school where he and Peggy went - gives a lavish party and sails off in a rented boat with his friends to tour Europe.

It becomes a marvelous travelog - with the friends staging their own Carnivale in Italy, gambling in Monte Carlo (alas! Monty can't seem to lose at roulette!) getting themselves into one scrape after another in all the "quaint" places. Peggy soon comes over to plead with Monty to think of his future and not become penniless.

Monty pats her on the head and tells her not to worry. When an Arab pirate decides Peggy's his newest prize Monty leaps to her defense and realizes it was True Love All Along.

Monty ends up with not one penny to his name and a pawn ticket for his watch to buy Peggy an engagement ring - when the happy ending appears to be derailed. . .

I wish they'd filmed this version!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:12 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
That sounds like some excellent wacky hijinks. Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 04:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
How about Margaret Weis' The Lost King (I think that's what it's called) and subsequent sequels? It is set in a corrupt democracy, 17 years after the overthrow of the monarchy, when various conditions bring a disillusioned mercenary who is righteous on the inside to protect the heir to the throne, raised in hiding, as he discovers his identity and retakes the throne. There's a truly excellent traitor who was part of the revolution that deposed the monarchy, and then supports the True King when he finds him (he is even the bastard son of a supposed-to-have-been-celibate monk)...

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 06:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] debka-notion.livejournal.com
Sorry, that was me- don't know why I wasn't signed in.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:12 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I haven't read Margaret Weis since I was about fifteen. For a truly excellent traitor, I should go back to her again!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 05:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meadb.livejournal.com
"I also wonder whether Ruritanian romances written after WWI are actually meant to be read as quasi-Arthurian tragedies, in which the Rightful Prince, having been placed on his Predestined Throne, will inevitably be dethroned, and the plucky little kingdom will, equally inevitably, be swallowed up by the Soviet Union."
That had me laughing out loud! Awesome.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:16 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
Glad to amuse! :)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 05:14 pm (UTC)
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (elizabeth book)
From: [personal profile] skygiants
I keep imagining that I have read A College of Magics, but it seems increasingly clear that I have not. Obviously this should be remedied!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:19 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Tutu: pretend I'm not enjoying this)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
You would enjoy it, I feel certain.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 05:32 pm (UTC)
gramarye1971: stack of old leatherbound books with the text 'Bibliophile' (Books)
From: [personal profile] gramarye1971
To cross genres a bit, Agatha Christie dabbled in Ruritania very briefly in The Secret of Chimneys, a mystery that leaves a few bodies along the way in its search for the lost Prince Nicholas Obolovitch of Herzoslovakia.

Since it was written in 1925, Christie deals with the aforementioned issue of revolution when she has the newly discovered prince comment to his lovely and plucky English bride that the average life of a new king or queen in Herzoslovakia is about four years. When he asks her if she minds this, she says to him, 'Mind it? I shall love it!' And presumably they ride off happily into the Ruritania sunset and die in a daring adventure before Herzoslovakia is overrun by various German and Soviet troops at some unspecified point in the 1940s.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 05:33 pm (UTC)
gramarye1971: a lone figure in silhouette against a blaze of white light (Default)
From: [personal profile] gramarye1971
Oh! And how could I forget the Tintin story 'King Ottokar's Sceptre'?

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:24 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
That is a perfectly apropos solution to the problem of approaching revolution! I'll look for the Tintin, too.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 06:54 pm (UTC)
ext_36698: Waterhouse painting of Circe, labeled "So Much To Read" (circe)
From: [identity profile] ayelle.livejournal.com
Perhaps Lloyd Alexander's The Illyrian Adventure? Although Vesper's American (in fact a Philadelphian), not British! And it's 1872.
http://www.amazon.com/Illyrian-Adventure-Lloyd-Alexander/dp/0141303131/

The series is often described as fantasy, and I suppose it is, but there's no actual magic. Your post has made me want to read it again, to see what Alexander is doing with the trope.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 09:25 pm (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
I think I may have read that in high school while devouring the SFF shelf of the school library, but I've forgotten details. Time, clearly, for a reread.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-23 11:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] redrose3125.livejournal.com
Also, Lloyd Alexander's Westmark, The Kestrel, and, The Beggar Queen.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-24 07:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] grondfic.livejournal.com
OK here goes:

You are an intellectually-challenged but gloriously blond young Englishman sent Abroad by your parents in order to break up your unsuitable liaison with the vicar's daughter, around 1905.

Whilst hanging out boredly in Lucerne, you find yourself under scrutiny by a Mysterious Dark Lady - several years your senior. You embark upon a passionate affaire which lasts but three weeks (and includes her semi-strangling you in the glorious, heavy ropes of her own sumptuous hair). Oh yes, and a Tiger Skin features rather prominently.

The Temptress is a Balkan Queen on the run from her degenerate husband, but determined to provide Her Beloved Country with an heir of robust stock.

At the end of the three weeks, the Lady Vanishes, leaving you fainting and distraught. However, nine months later you receive a message that Your Son has been born. Sadly - hard on this news comes the tidings of Your Lover's murder by her vengeful spouse. But hold! The Loyal Populace Rise in Anger, and do the monster to death.

Hurray! You're the Father of an Infant King! And that, my lad, will have to do you for one lifetime; for You Will Never Marry nor Look at Another Woman Again in That Way!

(Synopsis of Three Weeks by Elinor Glyn)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-24 07:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] grondfic.livejournal.com
On Edit:

Hurray! Project Gutenberg has the e-book -

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/8899

(no subject)

Date: 2010-01-24 10:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rachel2205.livejournal.com
I LOVE The Prisoner of Zenda!!

(no subject)

Date: 2010-02-05 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bracketyjack.livejournal.com
In addition to various authors already mentioned here (including McCutcheon) Clute's & Nicholl's Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, notices s. v. Ruritania Edmond Hamilton's The Star Kings (1949, vt Beyond the Moon, 1950) and Heinlein's Double Star (1956) as "clear reworkings of the the plot of The Prisoner of Zenda". Avram Davidson's The Enquiries (vt: Adventures) of Doctor Eszterhazy (1975, 1990) also gets a nod.

I wonder too about Ursula K. Le Guin's curious and mostly forgotten 'mainstream' novel, Malafrena (1979). It's years since I read it, and I recall very little except mild disappointment by comparison with the early 1970s sf, but hauling my s/h 1980 Granada pbk from the shelf I see that the blurb suggests it is in the right territory.

"Itale Sorde leaves his beloved Malafrena for the revolutionary ferment of Krasnoy. There his young life is shaped by a radical journal, an affair with a Baroness, insurrection, imprisonment and flight ... and the sweeping changes wrought on Europe in the shadow of Napoleon. [//] This enthralling work weighs on the scales of one man's life the conflicting claims of love and honour, liberty and loyalty, and much more."

Wow! Maybe I'll re-read it myself ...

B'Jack

(no subject)

Date: 2010-02-22 05:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] traumerin.livejournal.com
Drive-by comment: I've seen your journal around via mutual friends and I see we also have a shared interest in medieval studies. If you're still adding people to your academic filters, I'd be happy to be one of them. :)

(no subject)

Date: 2010-02-22 06:29 am (UTC)
ext_27060: Sumer is icomen in; llude sing cucu! (Default)
From: [identity profile] rymenhild.livejournal.com
Sure, and hello!

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rymenhild: Manuscript page from British Library MS Harley 913 (Default)
rymenhild

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