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Baroness Orczy - A Bride of the Plains Legolas Send a noteboard - 18/09/2012 10:18:51 PM
Baroness Orczy has gone down into history as the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the swashbuckling romance about a dashing British hero with a secret identity who rescues French noblemen from the guillotine in the 1790s - with thanks to the movie version starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon. Which, as I think even the fans of the novel will agree, does not exactly rate as a masterpiece.

So when I came across another novel by Orczy in the pile of books my mother was about to throw out, I did rescue it from that fate, but didn't exactly have high expectations for its quality. I was pleasantly surprised, though.

The novel is set in a small Hungarian village in the first decade of the twentieth century. Elsa, the heroine, says goodbye to her love Andor as he is called up for his three years service in the Austro-Hungarian army, which leaves Andor's wealthy rival Béla with an opportunity he does not intend to waste - he insists on having Elsa, the prettiest girl of the town, for his wife, even if he much prefers the company of the pretty but caustic "Jewess" Klara. Five years later, when Andor has been presumed dead for two years, Béla finally gets his wish and Elsa's hand; but then of course, Andor suddenly appears again on the eve of the wedding, and drama ensues.

Original or revolutionary, this plot is not. In addition, there is much for a reader to take offense at in the misogyny, anti-Semitism and suspicious reflections on the national identity of Hungarian peasants (none of which, however, should necessarily be attributed to the author herself). Nevertheless, the novel has real dramatic tension as well as a well-written (though rather baroque and no doubt to some people's tastes overwrought) atmosphere, and Klara is a very interesting character.

She is simultaneously fancied by most men in the village as a beautiful and vivacious woman, and despised by those same men (and the women, of course) as a Jew. In the meantime, her Jewish suitor is slowly driven insane by Klara's love of flirting with the few men in the village who have the education and the position to permit them to flirt with a Jewish girl (though that doesn't stop them from being anti-Semitic all the same). Due to her deep-rooted frustration about her complicated and lonely position, Klara is led to amuse herself with intrigues that will have dramatic consequences for herself as well as for others.

It may be a matter of expectations, I suppose: the Scarlet Pimpernel had surprised me with its levity and lack of substance, while A Bride of the Plains then exceeded my duly adjusted expectations for novels by Baroness Orczy. Still, I'm inclined to say this is a better and far more interesting novel, despite the largely predictable plot, mostly due to Klara and the anti-Semitic element. The novel probably hard to track down in book form, but for those so inclined, it can be found on Project Gutenberg (see link).
A Bride of the Plains (Project Gutenberg)
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Three reviews: The Yacoubian Building, The Monk, A Bride of the Plains - 18/09/2012 09:00:44 PM 7116 Views
Actually, it sounds like a bad copy of Naguib Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy - 18/09/2012 09:06:40 PM 1319 Views
I've yet to read the final two books of that trilogy. - 18/09/2012 09:36:33 PM 1213 Views
Mahfouz tackles almost all those "taboos". - 18/09/2012 11:20:59 PM 1183 Views
Matthew Lewis - The Monk - 18/09/2012 09:31:27 PM 1247 Views
Baroness Orczy - A Bride of the Plains - 18/09/2012 10:18:51 PM 1460 Views

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