Posted by: Lizzie Ross | July 24, 2010

Take me back to Graustark, I’m too young to …

Graustark: The Story of a Love Behind a Throne (1901), George Barr McCutcheon, Grosset & Dunlap, 399 pp.

When I first got hold of a Graustark novel (The Prince of Graustark, 1914), I was entertained by the plot and characters. Only recently did I learn that my introduction to this imaginary eastern European country was actually the fourth volume in a 6-volume series, so I found copies in a local library of the first 2, and read them quickly.

Yankee know-how, strength, intrepidness, and purity-of-soul are tiresome topics these days, but I can see how they’d appeal to readers at the beginning of what was to become the American Century. U.S. citizens in the early 1900s must have felt they were witnessing the apotheosis of their country, the justification of history, the fulfillment of dream, and it’s easy for us to look back and nod with our superior knowledge of what was to follow.

Anyway, about the book:

In the first volume, Grenfall Lorry falls in love with a woman who turns out to be Princess Yetive, the ruler of Graustark. After he makes his way to Graustark in pursuit of the woman he loves, he lands in the middle of international intrigue (Graustark and its neighbors, Axphain and Dawsbergen) and must rescue her a few times before winning her hand.

Ahh, true love. But what an odd hero. Several times he threatens to kill the person he’s addressing, who twice turns out to be the Princess. He’s frequently so reckless and intemperate that he endangers himself, the Princess, his travel companion (Harry Anguish), and the entire country of Graustark. Yet everyone in the book admires him for being a strong American (despite the fact that his friend Harry ends up solving the central mystery).

Even if you put aside the main character, you have to deal with stereotypes: dependent women, subservient people of color or the lower class, and villains who would sneeringly curl their mustaches if they had them.

Oh well. I haven’t yet reviewed a book I didn’t like, and I can’t really say that I didn’t like this. But I don’t expect to read it again. The characters are just too tiresome. Skip the early novels and go for The Prince of Graustark; it still has the stereotypes, but the plot is much more delicious.

As usual, these books and others in the series are available on line (ProjectGutenberg and GoogleBooks).

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