How does it feel to have your grandmother read your book, and tell you…
It clearly shows your lack of experience with women
… Awkward, uh?
And it’s even worse, I guess, when your grandmother is Frances, Duchess of Marlborough, and you are a young army officer who wrote the book on your way to India, and your name is Winston S. Churchill.
One of the many bits and pieces that went into Hope & Glory is the literary genre (or sub-genre) of Ruritanian Romance, those stories of passion and derring-do set in unlikely small European nations, like Anthony Hope’s Ruritania or George Barr McCutcheon’s Graustark.
And right now I am working on a small sourcebook for Hope & Glory, set in one of these micro-nations that dot the post-Catastrope landscape of Lost Europe, and in particular a place called Valiria – a fantasy name if ever there was one – which is perched on the Pyrenees, between the iced plains of France and the wind-swept steppes of Spain, where the mammoth roam.
And of course, while I juggle real-world history (Valiria is actually a post-Catastrophe Andorra) and fictional suggestions, I find myself facing a peculiarity of Ruritanian Romance: most of the stories are set in Eastern Europe, in the Balkans or in the Carpatians. There is precious little Ruritanian Romance in southern and western Europe, except for a weird thing called Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania, that happens to be a novel written between 1897 and 1900 by a guy called Winston Churchill.
The story is set in Laurania, a mock-Italian/mock-Spanish nation, in which the rightful republican government was upturned by a revolution not too dissimilar from the English Civil War. But now a counter-revolution is brewing, and we follow a woman named Lucille, the wife of Molara, the leader/Lord Protector of Laurania, as she leaves her husband behind and gets involved with Savrola, a dashing young man.
Much swashbuckling and heart-throbbing passion ensue, even if the Duchess of Marlborough was not impressed.
Nor where the critics – and many noticed that Savrola is basically the author projecting himself inside the novel.
Basically, what we’d call today a Mary Sue.
The book was serialized in Macmillan Magazine, making 100 pounds to Churchill. It was variously reprinted and serialized, and turned into a radio drama by the BBC – and can be found today as a free ebook in the Internet Archive, for your delectation and education.
Admittedly there are better books by Churchill, that finally found his true calling in a quite different field1.
He apparently was not too proud of his youthful novel.
“I have consistently urged my friends to abstain from reading it.”
Some bits of Savrola will find their way in my Valiria supplement – a few quotes, maybe, for color.
Not, I am afraid, its leading lady.
But I’d love to drop in a reference to Frances, the Duchess of Marlborough. She sounds like my kind of lady.
- or maybe not so different, politics being after all a job in which being good storytellers comes as a plus. ↩