Wednesday, June 25, 2014

2014 Classics #12

The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard - Arthur Conan Doyle

Conan Doyle is remembered in our day for his Sherlock Holmes stories. Maybe a handful of hardcore readers have enjoyed The Lost World. However, he wanted to be remembered for his historical fiction, an example of which is a series of comic adventure stories about Brigadier Etienne Gerard.

Brigadier Gerard a boastful Hussar officer in Napoleon's Grand Army who claims his renown is deservedly based on his bravery and decisiveness in the field and his romantic success with women. Gerard often vainly touches on the injustice that his talents were seldom recognized with due regard, medals, and promotions. But we readers never tire of the running joke coming out of his narcissistic blind spots, his thick-headedness, and his overweening self-regard over his own great adventures.  Like this:

It has sometimes struck me that some of you, when you have heard me tell these little adventures of mine, may have gone away with the impression that I was conceited. There could not be a greater mistake than this, for I have always observed that really fine soldiers are free from this failing. It is true that I have had to depict myself sometimes as brave, sometimes as full of resource, always as interesting; but, then, it really was so, and I had to take the facts as I found them. It would be an unworthy affectation if I were to pretend that my career has been anything but a fine one. The incident which I will tell you tonight, however, is one which you will understand that only a modest man would describe. After all, when one has attained such a position as mine, one can afford to speak of what an ordinary man might be tempted to conceal.

I think the best story is "How the Brigadier Won His Medal" because it has the most action. The Emperor Napoleon orders Gerard to carry a crucial message by crossing territory infested with Russian and Prussian troops.

"How the Brigadier Held the King" is a good example of how Spanish partisans were portrayed a blood-thirsty savages. Gerard is captured and faces torture.

In "How the King Held the Brigadier" POW Gerard escapes from Dartmoor Prison. The overland run is well-done and hilarious to boot.

"How the Brigadier Slew the Brothers of Ajaccio" is another example of Southern European – this time, Italians – savagery. Gerard assists his Emperor as his Corsican chickens come home to roost.

"How the Brigadier Came to the Castle of Gloom" is an excellent example of gothic adventure story. I’d say this was the second best story on account of the atmosphere and stock situation of being locked up in a dungeon-like room.

"How the Brigadier Took the Field Against the Marshal Millefleurs" features a portrayal of a perfect villain, this time an Englishman.

"How the Brigadier Was Tempted by the Devil" Gerard and Napoleon team up to secure the latter’s evidence that he and his family are eligible to rule, just in case the Emperor can stage a comeback.

"How the Brigadier Played for a Kingdom" finds Gerard in the thick of German nationalists and a deceiving woman.

Very enjoyable stories. They were first published in the Strand Magazine, in the late 1890s. Readers interested in vintage genre fiction will like these stories. They can be had for free at Project Gutenberg.

No comments:

Post a Comment