Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Chevalier d'Auriac by S. Levett-Yeats

The Chevalier d'Auriac, published in 1897, was one of the novels that made S. Levett-Yeats one of the most popular Victorian writers of swashbuckling adventure tales.

Sidney Kilner Levett-Yeats (c. 1858–1916) had been a soldier and later a civil servant in India before his growing success as a writer allowed him to return to England. 

The Chevalier d'Auriac is set in the late sixteenth century during the final stages of the French Wars of Religion. The eponymous hero is serving in the armies of the Catholic League against the Protestant King Henri IV although in fact his sympathies lie more with the king.

The chevalier has been in trouble over duelling before and now he is in hot water again after a drunken quarrel ends with an affair of honour. Our hero has been told that instead of being executed out of hand he will be permitted to take part in the battle on the following day but that win or lose he will not be permitted to live out the day. Events however will (naturally) take an unexpected turn.

The drunken quarrel arose over an insult to a female prisoner. Although d’Auriac has no idea who the woman is she is certainly a high-born lady and he has certainly fallen in love with her. Falling in love can however have even more dangerous consequences than a duel.

You won’t be surprised to learn that our hero stumbles upon a plot. A particularly dastardly plot that is a threat not only to France but to the king himself. And that high-born lady mentioned earlier has some connection to it. She’s also been promised in marriage to two different men, both of whom she despises, and one of the people trying to force her into an unwelcome marriage is her guardian - King Henri IV. This puts the Chevalier d'Auriac in a bit of a dilemma, torn between his loyalty to the king and his desire to marry his lady love. 

The young chevalier soon has other problems - he becomes a hunted man, ordered into exile. Needless to say he disregards the order to leaver France and gets embroiled in countless adventures and narrow escapes. 

The author does assume that the reader will have at least a very basic knowledge of the background - the French Wars of Religion, the conflict between Catholic and Huguenot and Henri IV’s own contradictory and changeable religious policy. Readers without this background knowledge might be advised to do a bit of research first although most of it becomes reasonably clear from the context.

There’s no shortage of action and the mix of adventure and romance is always a good recipe for success for any author. Levett-Yeats handles the combination adroitly and the result is fine entertainment. Levett-Yeats might not be in the very top rank of Victorian adventure writers (he’s not quite in the same league as H. Rider Haggard and Anthony Hope) but he still qualifies as a very skillful practitioner of the art. Highly recommended.

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