He is thirty years old and yearns for adventure.
Ruritania is a city-state near Dresden. The novel looks back before Germany was united. Rudolf attended boarding school in Switzerland, so he speaks fluent German. A new king is about to be crowned in Ruritania, so he decides to join the festivities.
His family does not want him to go.
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Yes, it will be a bit crazy, just like going to Rio during Carnival. But it is more than that. That apparently accounted for the relatively recent appearance of redheads like Rudolf in the family tree. It might considered bad taste to have a suspected illegitimate line of the royal house showing up at such an auspicious time. When Rudolf arrives in Ruritania, he finds himself in a bigger adventure than he could have imagined.
It turns out that Rudolf and the man about to be king are not only cousins but look so much like each other than hardly anyone can tell the difference. Plautus, Shakespeare, and others have used look-alikes for comic purposes. While our narrator never fails to see the humor or irony in his situation, the overall tale is too serious. It is a matter of justice and of life.
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Things get further complicated because the king-to-be is betrothed to the beautiful Princess Flavia, a crowd favorite like Princess Di. It is, of course, an arranged marriage, and while each respects the other, the relationship is based more on duty than on love. Rudolf meets the princess, and she falls in love with him.
Oh, and there are others who ally themselves with the Duke for their own purposes. It gets delightfully complicated. I do not think I have enjoyed a swashbuckling novel as much since I read The Three Musketeers a long time ago. Read it and have lots of fun. And, yes, there is something for everyone. Fans of romance novels would like it, too. The Prisoner of Zend a raises thoughtful questions about the nature of faithfulness and true love.
What will Princess Flavia do? Rupert of Hentzau is the sequel. Count Rupert was a minor character in Zenda, an evil ally of the Black Duke. Here he tries once again to disrupt the Kingdom of Ruritania, three years after the Prisoner of Zenda ends. Beverly of Graustark revises the usual Ruritanian plot, placing a young American heroine at the centre of the action: Subsequent novels take the history of Graustark as far as the s, when the tiny country is menaced by socialists before another American hero saves the day.
Once as well known as The Prisoner of Zenda , the series helped to make McCutcheon a wealthy man, with a collection of paintings by Millet and Corot, and a peerless library of first editions of Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Rudyard Kipling.
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Adaptations ensured that the kingdom of Graustark was also known to many who had never read the books: These concern, respectively, Barovia, Lichtenburg, Concordia, and Gaillardia. Sequels covered, among other topical subjects, the space race, and the oil crisis. The Mouse that Roared was adapted for the screen in , with Peter Sellers in multiple roles, and its sequel, The Mouse on the Moon in That there has been no significant film or television version of The Prisoner of Zenda itself for more than thirty years may indicate that the original adventure formula really has become stale, and no longer performs the cultural work it once did.
The name Ruritania now appears most often in legal, political and economic textbooks when an imaginary country is needed to map out a particular scenario, e.
The screen comedy, Dave , for instance, republicanizes the impersonation plot with an American presidential lookalike. There are echoes of Beverly of Graustark , but also an interesting difference: Beverly had to marry a European Prince to become a Princess; Mia simply is one. Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net.
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British Adventure, Empire and the Imagining of Masculinities. Masculinity and the New Imperialism: Rewriting Manhood in British Popular Literature, Its Strange and Complete History. Barrie and Rockliff, The Imperialism of the Imagination. Masculinities in British Adventure Fiction, The Public is Never Wrong. Eastern European Ruritanias predominate only in the early twentieth century, roughly in line with the geopolitics of the period.
The success of The Prisoner of Zenda led him to become a full-time writer, though he also ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal Member of Parliament on several occasions.
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