“England is the country of melancholy.“
The Toys of Princes from Ghislain de Diesbach is a short story collection. Here are the contents:
The Toys of Princes
The Magravine’s Page
The Force of Destiny
The Devil at Stillbad
The Chevalier d’Armel’s Wedding
Iphigenia in Thuringia
On the Thunersee
The Apparitions of Kirmünster
The Canoness Vanishes
The Divine Baroness
Of Love and Money.
Through the stories, all set in the 19th Century, we repeatedly see the excesses of the nobility. And what excesses they are!
The lead story, The Toys of Princes concerns a Prince whose father was deposed:
Imitating the bad example set by the subjects of the King of France, those of the Prince Elector of Bramberg had overturned the monarchy in order to proclaim the republic.
The Elector dreams of regaining his throne and reads the papers “hoping to learn that the cursed Corsican had been murdered.” A few days before the marriage of his son Clément, to a Countess he loves, the Emperor sends a letter which states he wishes to arrange a match between one of his nieces and Prince Clément. The Emperor promises that if Clément marries Valérie he will put Clément on the throne of Bramberg. The niece, Valérie, is in love with a hussar. but both love matches are swept aside in favour of ambition. Valérie and Clément marry, and as King and Queen they spend years in “mutual sacrifice” with esteem for one other, but the memory of their past great loves never leaves their minds. Eventually those long-lost loves die, under nasty circumstances. The thought of all they had lost weighs on the royal couple’s mind. The Queen suffers from melancholy and “indeed as time passed, regret for her broken dream spread and flourished within her like an incurable sickness.” And then the King meets a “maker of automatons” who is commissioned to make two automatons in the images of the lost loves of the king and queen. But their faces, disappointingly, don’t look real. The queen has an epiphany:
I have heard that during the great revolution in France, some people had the books of their libraries bound with the skins of guillotined aristocrats. It is reputed to be extremely durable.
In The Margravine’s Page, an aging margravine (had to look that up–it’s the wife of a military governor) basically holds a beauty contest which involves culling 30 of the best looking men from the university. The “handsomest, and most well made” wins a prize of 10,000 thalers, and it’s a surefire way to jumpstart a career.
The Force of Destiny concerns a man who is forced to take shelter at an inn during a terrific storm. He meets a stranger there who has a tragic story to tell. For this reader, the story had a feel of Hoffmann.
The Chevalier d’Armel’s Wedding is probably the strangest of the bunch. Again this is another story of misrule and decadence. This time a young handsome man marries a woman, but after the wedding, she begins acting rather strangely.
There’s a gothic feel to the tales but that is wrapped with a dash of fairytale, fantasy quality. There are some horrors here but there’s a light touch too.The stories feel as though they were written in the 19th century, but as far as I can tell the original French version was written in the 60s.
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