The Ruritanian novel is a genre that is extinct, because it relies on a world-view likewise extinct today. Both The Prisoner of Zenda and its unsatisfactory sequel, Rupert of Henzau, belong to the pre-WW1 era. Winston S. Churchill attempted one, Savrola. But the genre was already dying in the 1920s when Dorothy L. Sayers described them in Have His Carcase:
When she ought to have been writing, Harriet would sit comfortably in an armchair, reading a volume taken from Paul Alexis’ bookshelf, with the idea of freeing the subconscious for its job. In this way, her conscious imbibed a remarkable amount of miscellaneous information about the Russian Imperial Court and a still more remarkable amount of romantic narrative about love and war in Ruritanian states. Paul Alexis had evidently had a well-defined taste in fiction. He liked stories about young men of lithe and alluring beauty who, blossoming into perfect gentlemen amid the most unpromising surroundings, turned out to be the heirs to monarchies and, in the last chapter, successfully headed the revolts of devoted loyalists, overthrew the machinations of sinister presidents, and appeared on balconies, dressed in blue-and-silver uniforms, to receive the plaudits of their rejoicing and emancipated subjects. Sometimes they were assisted by brave and beautiful English or American heiresses, who placed their wealth at the disposal of the loyalist party; sometimes they remained faithful despite temptation to brides of their own nationality, and rescued them at the last moment from marriages of inconvenience with the sinister presidents or their still more sinister advisers; now and again they were assisted by young Englishmen, Irishmen or Americans with clear-cut profiles and a superabundance of energy, and in every case they went through a series of hair-raising escapes and adventures by land, sea and air. Nobody but the sinister presidents ever thought of anything so sordid as raising money by the usual financial channels or indulging in political intrigue, nor did the greater European powers or the League of Nations ever have anything to say in the matter. The rise and fall of governments appeared to be a private arrangement, comfortably thrashed out among a selection of small Balkan States, vaguely situated and acknowledging no relationships outside the domestic circle.
So it was with some surprise that I found some examples of travel posters, exhorting us to travel by railway to Strelsau in 1938!
Let us hope that the Elphberg monarchy had survived the war, and was prospering in those dark days. Eastern Europe was a far more interesting place when the hills held the castles of Archdukes.
The poster comes from Deviant Art here., and is carried out by “mbhdesign”. Other Ruritanian travel posters appear at the site.
How marvellous! I wish I could give a list of Ruritanian novels. For who of us would not wish to buy a railway ticket and journey to Strelsau once more?