Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Mount TBR #18

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

The Adventures of Gerard – Arthur Conan Doyle

After he knocked off Sherlock Holmes, Conan Doyle wrote historical novels and short stories. The short stories would be printed in magazines and then bundled in hardcover. The stories featuring the infamous Brigadier Gerard were collected first in The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard (1896) with a second collection appearing as The Adventures of Gerard (1903).

Numerous of Conan Doyle’s ancestors served in the Napoleonic Wars, so he read widely about that conflict in both French and English. So the historical background is trustworthy. But the emphasis is the comic sides of the main character and his often swashbuckling though absurd adventures. Etienne Gerard, a colonel of the Hussars of Conflans, is a classic clueless guy that doesn’t know how clueless he is.

You would think his self-satisfaction, his boasting, and his narcissistic blindness, would get old but joke never gets tired.

You will sympathise with me. Up there I had been the model for every officer of my years in the army. I was the first swordsman, the most dashing rider, the hero of a hundred adventures. Here I found myself not only unknown, but even disliked. Was it not natural that I should wish to tell these brave comrades what sort of man it was that had come among them? Was it not natural that I should wish to say, "Rejoice, my friends, rejoice! It is no ordinary man who has joined you to-night, but it is I, THE Gerard, the hero of Ratisbon, the victor of Jena, the man who broke the square at Austerlitz"? I could not say all this. But I could at least tell them some incidents which would enable them to say it for themselves. I did so. They listened unmoved. I told them more. At last, after my tale of how I had guided the army across the Danube, one universal shout of laughter broke from them all. I sprang to my feet, flushed with shame and anger. They had drawn me on. They were making game of me. They were convinced that they had to do with a braggart and a liar. Was this my reception in the Hussars of Conflans?

With bravado, confidence, and joie de vivre, Gerard is amusing, to be sure. Conan Doyle, however, never makes heroism silly. Near the end, Gerard says, “[T]he memory of a great age is the most precious treasure that a nation can possess.” A romantic  reader can’t help think about that, though the source is Gerard.

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