Friday, 29 July 2016

Review: The Laughing Cavalier by Emmuska Orczy

Emmuska Orczy is best known for the The Scarlet Pimpernel novels (and plays and films) that are set in the 18th century Britain and France. However, she wrote two novels depicting an ancestor of her famous hero set in the 1624 Netherlands, the first of which is called The Laughing Cavalier - named after the famous painting by Frans Hals (see the title image) that Orczy claims depicts the hero himself. The hero goes around under the pseudonym of Diogones and is part of a group of three mercenaries who call themselves the Philosophers.

The story is set against the background of actual historical events. In late 1623, the Lord of Stoutenburg is on the run after his father has been sent to the gallows by the Stadtholder, Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange. The fictional side begins when he visits a woman he once loved for a short sanctuary on his way out of the country. In 1624, he returns, plotting against the Stadtholder and gathers his loyal men around him to achieve his revenge. Unfortunately, his beloved Gilda overhears the plotting and Stoutenburg needs to find a way to get her out of the way, so she will not tell her father what she knows. This is where the three philosophers get involved in the story, as they are hired to kidnap the lady and to get her out of the city.

Emmuska Orczy's writing style is old-fashioned, somewhat long-winded, and it is not only because the novel was written in 1914. Orczy utilizes flowery, archaic language in order to reflect the 17th century setting and to add to the melodrama of the story. There are short chapters in the novel that do not really take the story forward, but only serve to add to the melodrama by stressing the danger, difficulty or drama that has taken place in the preceding chapters. These make the story feel a little bit silly at times, but it is still a fine adventure where the hero faces many difficulties in his attempt to navigate the plots that he gets involved with and make it out alive from the many dangers he and his friends face.

Orczy draws a nice picture of the 1624 Netherlands as the characters travel around on skates and sledges, but there seem to be some freedoms taken with actual history. At one point it is said that the hero, Diogenes, has survived Magdeburg and Prague. Now, it is revealed that Diogenes' father came to the Netherlands with the Earl of Leicester. Historically this took place in 1585, so the son would have been old enough to participate in the Battle of White Mountain that took place in 1620 near Prague. However, the only event concerning Magdeburg that "only a few survived" in this era - that I know of - is the Sack of Magdeburg that took place in 1631, seven years after the events of the novel.

Despite its sometimes funny writing style, I enjoyed the novel well enough and will take a look at the sequel in near future. Both of the novels are available at Project Gutenberg.