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Ruritanian Romps: Kitsch Sentiment and Style

Romances ruritaniennes : style et sentimentalité kitsch
Amy Sargeant

Résumés

Cet article entend démontrer comment, à travers des motifs thématiques et formels récurrents, un cycle de romances ruritaniennes produit au Royaume-Uni dans les années 1920 et 1930 exemplifie l’essence du kitsch aussi bien au niveau scénaristique que de la mise en scène. Partant des analyses de Gillo Dorfles, Hermann Broch et Ludwig Giesz, cette production filmique peut être qualifiée de kitsch du fait même qu’elle est déjà une imitation de ses sources littéraires. Les romances ruritaniennes peuvent de plus être interprétées comme un catalyseur en trompe-l’œil des angoisses des Britanniques face à la situation géopolitique de l’époque et comme une diversion fantaisiste occultant les problèmes qui touchent leur pays. Après avoir présenté l’œuvre d’Anthony Hope en tant que père fondateur du genre, l’article se concentre sur l’adaptation en 1927 de la pièce de Noël Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlour (1926), comme emblématique d’un produit dérivé réflexif.

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Ruritanian Romps: Kitsch Sentiment and Style

1This article addresses a cycle of Ruritanian romps spanning manifestations on page, stage and screen from the turn of the century to the interwar period. Individually, they may be regarded as responses to particular events in European history. Cumulatively, they constituted a repository of motifs on which writer, playwrights and directors generally drew by way of one another as a means of providing popular – frequently escapist – entertainment.

  • 1 Quentin Falk, quoting from Collected Essays (1969), Travels in Greeneland, London: Quartet (...)

2British journalist Hugh Carlton-Greene recalled his older brother, novelist Graham Green, reading Anthony Hope’s 1906 Sophy of Kravonia (in which an Essex kitchen maid ascends, via Parisian high society, to the throne of a Balkan enclave) in their nursery; Graham Greene (who contributed to the cycle with his 1932 entertainment, Stamboul Train) recollected director Ernesto Maria Pasquali’s 1916 adaptation of Sophy as the first film he ever saw and, more than seventy years later, could “hear still the rumble of the Queen’s guns crossing the high Kravonian pass beaten hollowly out on a single piano.” 1 French director André Hugon’s La Princesses aux clowns [The Princess and the Clown, 1924], based on a story by Jean-José Frappa (1923), further confirms that an appetite for such romps was not unique to English-speaking audiences. However, this essay is especially concerned with a return to Ruritania in British films of the 1920s and 1930s as an ambiguous manifestation of concurrent political and social unease. Meanwhile, I argue, Ruritania on screen unambiguously qualifies as kitsch in its combination of excessive sentimentality with a superabundance of decorative effect.

  • 2 Gillo Dorfles (ed.), “Transpositions”, Kitsch: An Anthology of Bad Taste, London: Studio Vi (...)
  • 3 Clive Bloom notes the debt owed by Buchan and other popular authors to Anthony Hope for (...)
  • 4 Christine Gledhill says that Cutts both scripted and directed The Queen Was in the (...)
  • 5 In von Arnim’s original, Priscilla is accompanied by her maid and Fritzing in her fanciful (...)
  • 6 Hermann Broch, “Notes on the Problem of Kitsch”, in Gillo Dorfles (ed.), op. cit., (...)

3Gauged by Gillo Dorfles’ severe ethical and aesthetic standards, transposition from one medium to another – a “betrayal” – already tends towards kitsch. 2 Although British cinema – not least in the silent period – was frequently lambasted by native “high brow” critics for its dependency on literary and theatrical precursors, this practice was hardly unique to Britain and, indeed, continues. Noël Coward’s singular Ruritanian venture The Queen Was in the Parlour (1926) was pre-empted by Saki’s posthumously published Toys of Peace (1923), coincided with the publication of Agatha Christie’s The Secret of Chimneys (1925), and anticipated John Buchan’s Castle Gay (1930) and The House of the Four Winds (1935) – both making reference to the fictitious Balkan state, Evallonia. 3 Such films as The Queen Was in the Parlour (Graham Cutts, 1927, a co-production made in Germany and here to be discussed in some detail), 4 The Vagabond Queen (Géza von Bolvary, 1929), The Runaway Princess (Anthony Asquith, 1929, loosely adapted from Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1905 novel, The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight) 5, Princess Charming (Maurice Elvey, 1934) drawn from an Austrian original) and The Queen’s Affair (Herbert Wilcox, 1934, released in America as Runaway Queen) further entrenched Ruritanian themes, taking as their primary object of imitation Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda (1894). For Hermann Broch, writing in 1933 and 1950, kitsch is “a system of imitation”: “Kitsch does not take its realistic terminology directly from the everyday world, but uses prefabricated expressions, which harden into clichés.” 6

  • 7 Gillo Dorfles, “Introduction”, ibidem, 10.
  • 8 Ludwig Giesz, “Kitsch-man as tourist,” ibid., 10.
  • 9 Dorfles suggests various etymological derivations for “Kitsch,” including the German verb “(...)

4Furthermore, Ruritania qualifies as kitsch, by way of the sentiments commonly evinced and its routine stylistic treatment, by way of an appeal to Ludwig Giesz’s 1960 coinage, “Kitschmensch”. 7 Reading and viewing of Ruritania, and its succeeding equally fictitious substitutes, allows the vicarious tourist a diverting yet comfortable experience of the already known unknown: “As far as the kitsch man is concerned, the fascination of tourism lies in the process of the ‘familiarisation of the exotic’, analogous to the privacy of kitsch delight in art… or, alternatively, in the ‘exoticisation of the familiar.’” 8 However, “kitsch”, whatever its etymology, should not, I suggest, not least in this Ruritanian exemplar, be dismissed simply as rubbish. 9

  • 10 Vesna Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination, New Ha (...)
  • 11 Tatler, 15 September 1926, University of Bristol Theatre Collection, MM/REF/PE/WR/CN/46/29 (...)

5The Balkans, observes Vesna Goldsworthy, “with its turbulence and upheavals, was the recipient of any number of projected anxieties about the identity of Europe.” 10 For British audiences, Ruritania encompasses fears projected both outwards (the instability of geo-political borders) and inwards (potential threats of disruption to the established social status quo). As the Tatler reviewer remarked, in the wake of the General Strike, apropos of The Queen Was in the Parlour, “Ruritania will never never never turn Bolshevik.” 11 Notions of kitsch prove useful to my discussion of the cycle in terms of recurrent narrative devices and the consolations which the narratives afford to their possibly fearful audiences.

6After outlining some general, recurrent thematic and visual features of Ruritanian romps, the essay moves to a discussion of Anthony Hope as the founding father of this particular imaginative terrain. The very fact that Hope supplies a prefabricated model for subsequent imitators seemingly prescribes the film cycle as kitsch. Coward’s self-consciously derivative The Queen Was in the Parlour is then discussed in its stage and film versions. Deploying comedy, romance and the conflicting responsibilities of love and duty, its action set against exotic locations and lavishly costumed, The Queen Was in the Parlour is an exemplary instance of Hope’s legacy.

Defining Ruritania: thematic and aesthetic features

  • 12The Prisoner of Zenda at the St. James’s”, 11 January 1896, MM/REF/TH/LO/ST.J/10.
  • 13 St. John Ervine, “At the Play”, The Observer, 29 August 1926, 9.

7Defining features of British adventures in Ruritania include their hazy geography and fanciful history (exotic in both space and time), their casual racism and overt xenophobia. A reviewer of the 1896 stage production of The Prisoner of Zenda estimated Ruritania to be “one of those German States created for the benefit of stamp collectors.” 12 A critic covering the 1926 stage première of The Queen Was in the Parlour commented that a court usher, given little else to do, “looked Slavonically impressive.” 13 Elizabeth von Arnim describes the Grand Duchy of Lothen-Kunitz as lying “in the south of Europe”,

  • 14 Elizabeth von Arnim, The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight [1905], London: Smith, Eld (...)

that smiling region of fruitful plains, forest-clothed hills, and broad rivers. It is one of the first places Spring stops at on her way up from Italy; and Autumn, coming down from the north sunburnt, fruit-laden and blest, goes slowly when she reaches it, lingering there with her serenity and ripeness, her calm skies and her windless days long after the Saxons and Prussians have lit their stoves and got out their furs. 14

  • 15 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 46.

8Goldsworthy – to whose authoritative literary survey this essay is much indebted – locates Hope’s Germanic Ruritania, by dint of its proximity to Dresden, “no further south-east than Bohemia”, yet becoming “one of the most widely used symbols of the archetypal Balkan land.” 15 Lidoff (Ernest Thesiger, with something of the Transylvanian night about him), the court official who pursues, in The Vagabond Queen, the future “Queen of Bolonia and all the Bolonies”, “of the royal house of Perhapsburgs”, to London, reads a copy of The Balkan Times reporting the disappearance of Princess Zonia – meanwhile ensconced for bed and breakfast at the Coronia in Mayfair. ‘Colonel Carr’ (Jimmie, complicit companion to skivvy Sally, the Queen’s hapless double) is said to be on a naval mission from Saveloy to Bolonia (“... we’re all brothers under the skin”) while Corporal Heintz hails from the 57th Frankfurter Horse Guards. The opening titles to the English release of The Princess and the Clown (in which a marriage is arranged for a son by his tyrannical father) set a general tone:

Tis an age of strange ups and downs in which we live. A cut of the cards, and Kings become beggars while paupers become rulers. A time of mysterious disappearances and dramatic reappearances, giving rise to romances, the truths of which are stranger and more thrilling than any fiction. Let us tell you the story of Saronia, that turbulent little kingdom in Europe which found peace and prosperity through the romance of the Princess and her Clown.

9In Saki’s “The Cupboard of the Yesterdays”, ‘the Wanderer’, recalling his childhood, says to ‘the Merchant’ that:

  • 16 Saki [H. H. Munro], “The Cupboard of the Yesterdays,” The Toys of Peace and Other (...)

The Balkans have long been the last surviving shred of happy hunting-ground for the adventurous, a playground for passions that are fast becoming atrophied […] The Balkan lands are especially interesting to us in these rapidly moving days because they afford us the last remaining glimpse of a vanishing period of European history. 16

  • 17 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 110.

10“In an increasingly industrialised Europe,” observes Goldsworthy, “the Balkans offered the opportunity to bring together the quaintness of historical romance, with its princes and princesses, and the uncertainties of the European present.” 17 It may well be that, for British audiences, an enthusiasm for Ruritania betrayed a nostalgic desire, in the narratives’ reassuring invocation of the adventuring spirit associated with previous empire-builders, substituting for and thinly masking the fear that the empire thereby achieved was under threat and on the wane.

  • 18 Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys [1925], London: Harper, 2001, 388.
  • 19 Ibidem, 385.
  • 20 Ibid., 395.
  • 21 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 110.

11In The Secret of Chimneys, plain Anthony Cade, Eton and Oxford educated and more English than the English, emerges from the Congo to re-claim his “comic-opera” title, Nicholas Sergius Alexander Ferdinand Obolovitch (a mess and a surfeit of derivations). 18 In The Runaway Princess, a London policeman stifles a laugh and interrupts Priscilla’s declaration of her official title (Princess Wilhemena Marie Alexandra Victoria, Princess of Lothen-Kunitz, Grand Duchess of Gerstein…) before turning to Alberto Lorenzo Geian Battiste, Crown Prince of Savona (the self-same prince from whom Priscilla has unwittingly fled to escape her parents’ arranged marriage), while in The Princess and the Clown, Olga, fleeing revolution at home, provisionally rediscovers her intended husband in the form of Michaelis, the celebrated star of the Parisian stage. Cade takes as wife the daughter of a peer, marriages of royalty into the aristocracy then being fashionable. 19 Together, they determine to restore order to Herzoslavakia (a mangled Slovak concatenation of Bosnia and Herzogovina). “We’ll have a lot of fun,” says Virginia, imperiously, “teaching the brigands not to be brigands and the assassins not to assassinate, and generally improving the moral tone of the country.” 20 The primary aim of many of these Balkan constructions, concludes Goldsworthy, ‘“is to project an image of the superiority of Britishness by infantilising or exoticising the Balkan Other.” 21 The corresponding films do this by way of humour, in performance, intertitles and dialogue.

  • 22 Noël Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlour [1926] Act II, Play Parade, v. III, Lond (...)

12Another recurrent feature, I would suggest, is that they offer the possibility of class ascendancy. “Haven’t there been Kings in this world who have acted like clowns? – Then why should not a clown be a King?” a tumbling Michaelis asks Princess Olga in The Princess and the Clown. Sometimes the promise of ascendancy is proffered through marriage (as in Hope’s Kravonia) – only to be withdrawn (in The Queen Was in the Parlour, Nadya sacrifices her love for Sabien and Sabien sacrifices himself – blue blood, as in Hope’s Ruritania, ultimately prevails). Ruritanian royals often live in the false hope of ordinariness (Anna’s mother, in The Queen’s Affair, is said to have gone with her roller-skating instructor to Chicago taking Anna with her) before having their extraordinary responsibilities thrust upon them. Prince Keri, in Coward’s The Queen Was in the Parlour, bemoans that he and Nadya are not individuals. “We’re political puppets on strings. It’s very labour-saving in the end” – an arrangement which Nadya finds hateful. 22 Prince Michael, in The Princess and the Clown, in favour of whom the people of Saronia seek to force the tyrannical father to abdicate, initially shows “more interest in the arts and even his pets than in the affairs of state”. Priscilla, in The Runaway Princess, is bored with her life of indolent luxury in the castle of Lothen-Kunitz and, like Nadya, “wouldn’t marry a Prince for anybody”. Attempting to pass incognito in London, she seeks employment as a secretary. “Foreign languages useful”, prompts the advert. The Prince of Savona (equally travelling incognito), has already recognised the bicycling Princess from the photograph in a newspaper which he reads while in pursuit of her. Priscilla’s now willing return to marital obligation is marked by a reversal of the film’s opening downward panning shot of the castle. In The Queen’s Affair, true love trumps political difference, with Anna (feigning as Anne James) falling, unwittingly, for the President, Carl (feigning as John Smith), who has deposed her. Anna appeases anarchists by nominating an adversary as her consort. The British Foreign Office, meanwhile, refuses to recognise Anna’s domain, Sirocca, because it has no football association: a gentle jibe at British priorities as much as Ruritanian aspirations to grandeur.

  • 23 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 94.
  • 24 Hermann Broch, “Notes on the Problem of Kitsch”, in Gillo Dorfles (ed.), op. cit., 50. In (...)

13Various aspects of the Ruritanian phenomenon render it ripe for dramatic enactment and pictorial presentation. These include swashbuckling rapid action (appealing to popular male audiences); morganatic marriages – however provisional and compromised (appealing to popular female audiences, “sisters under the skin”); 23 constitutional machination and court intrigue (in The Queen’s Affair, “new” guardsmen provide an ominous rustic chorus, evading anxiety with humour in black shirts and jodhpurs); exotic locations (“picture-postcard” framed views of castles of various vintages and higgledy piggledy villages nestling on hillsides); picturesque peasantry (Astrakhan hats and sheepskin jerkins); exaggeratedly frogged, tasselled and braided uniforms (as much ornamented as the names carried by their wearers); and extravagantly spangley frocks. Conversely, one of the gratuitous spectacular attractions afforded by Graham Cutts’ 1927 adaptation of The Queen Was in the Parlour is a vision of loveliness, Lili Damita (as Princess Nadya), naked, in a glass bath. While Broch draws attention to “the decorative emphasis” as prevalent in his laudably tentative attempts to define kitsch, the sensational aspects of Ruritania on page, stage and screen serve to draw not only the superficial attention of kitsch man – and woman – but also to assert that Ruritania (perhaps substituting for any number of Balkan aliases, past and in the interwar present) uses decoration as a decoy, to compensate for a lack of authentic political substance and potency. 24 In other words, the Balkans and environs are here doubly kitchified – in spite of their actual, crucial role in recent and contemporaneous politics.

Ruritania’s founding father: Anthony Hope

  • 25 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 157.
  • 26 Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory [1995], London: Fontana, 1996, 82.

14To qualify as an author of Ruritanian romps, suggests Goldsworthy, it is necessary to have no actual experience of the Balkans, possibly providing a slim veneer of authenticity – or, exceptionally, to be in a position where one really ought to know better. 25 Like its contiguous imaginative terrain, Transylvania, Ruritania lies beyond a forest still inhabited by wolves. “Is it not too much to say,” asks Simon Schama, “that classical civilisation has always defined itself against the primeval woods ?” 26 In Cutts’ film version of The Queen Was in the Parlour, Nadya gazes wistfully, nostalgically, towards the other side of a snow-capped mountain range.

  • 27 Anthony Hope, Memories and Notes, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927, 91. Mason appeared as (...)
  • 28 See The Graphic, 26 October 1912, 651 and cover illustration showing a picturesque cavalca (...)
  • 29 Anthony Hope, op. cit., 189.

15Anthony Hope was the pen name of Anthony Hope Hawkins. From Marlborough he went up to Oxford, where he was a contemporary of his fellow “waste product” (commented Hope), the equally successful author (and actor), A. E. W. Mason. 27 He participated enthusiastically in political debates and subsequently stood, unsuccessfully yet creditably, as a Liberal parliamentary candidate. His interest in the Balkans as the setting for his future novels may – just may – have been sparked by Gladstone’s fervent support of Bulgaria during the 1870s Eastern Crisis, ensuing border skirmishes and settlements, and the abdication of Alexander Battenberg, modern Bulgaria’s first Prince, in 1896. Hope’s descendants, on page, stage and screen, may have had in mind the murder of the Serbian king and his wife in a coup in Belgrade in 1903, hostilities between “the Cross and the Crescent” in 1912,28 the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 and the re-configuration of the Balkan map at Versailles in 1919. The territories were, perhaps, the “toys” of the peace settlement. The Bulgarian politician Alexander Stambolisky was brutally killed in a right-wing coup in 1923. In The Princess and the Clown, Michael, the Tyrant of Saronia, “in his vanity”, foolishly forgets that “history has a habit of repeating itself.” Hope was an ardent Royalist and, something of a dandy himself, confessed an affection for the familiar panoply of British Royalty: plumed helmets, cuirasses glinting in sunlight and horse-drawn carriages. 29 During the First World War, Hope volunteered his services to Wellington House and was duly knighted for his pains.

16From Oxford, Hope had gone to the bar and had continued to practise with the publication of his first short stories and novels. He was not only the founding father of Ruritania but also serves as proof of Goldsworthy’s assertion: he never set foot in the Balkans. Following the critical and popular acclaim awarded to The Prisoner of Zenda in 1894, Hope hired a workshop in Buckingham Street, close to his old professional haunt, London’s Courts of Justice, and theatreland, of which he had evinced a passion since boyhood. For the eminently clubbable Hope, it was also convenient for the Garrick.

  • 30 Gillo Dorfles, “Introduction”, in Gillo Dorfles (ed.), op. cit., 10.
  • 31 George Bernard Shaw, Arms and the Man [1898] Act I and Act II, Bernard F Dukore (e (...)
  • 32 See Amy Sargeant, British Cinema: A Critical History, London: BFI Publishing, 2005, (...)

17Hope distanced himself from fin de siècle high-brow literature and drama. Again, paraphrasing Dorfles, it may be said that Hope’s kitsch clashes not only with alleged contemporaneous good taste but also represents ‘a basically false interpretation of the aesthetic trends’ of its age – perhaps for political reasons. 30 Yet George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man, first performed in 1894, is hardly a more serious consideration of the Balkan Question. Set against battles between Serbia (supported by Austrian forces) and Bulgaria (with support from Russia) in the mid 1880s, Captain Bluntschli, a pragmatic Swiss mercenary with a penchant for chocolate creams, says that he signed up on one side rather than the other merely because he arrived in Serbia first. He is dismissive of his Bulgarian protectors’ claim to ascendancy (the Petkoffs claim twenty years’ provenance while Michael, in The Princess and the Clown, is only “the Second King of Saronia”) and their boast of a library (which amounts to no more than a shelf of paperbacks). The Petkoffs’ interior, indicates Shaw, “is not like anything to be seen in the west of Europe. It is half rich Bulgarian, half cheap Viennese”, and young Raina Petkoff wears ersatz fashions – already considered outdated in the Austrian capital. 31 While Shaw’s purpose in this “Anti-Romantic Comedy” was to debunk nineteenth century Romantic conceits of the role of the cavalry in modern warfare, Balkan delusions of grandeur are rendered as the butt of his humour. The Petkoffs and the rulers of Saronia are parvenus, in contrast to both the longevity of the British monarchy (in spite of its evident historic discontinuities) and to its modernisation (the Constitutional curtailing of monarchical power). In The Queen Was in the Parlour, tyranny is represented by the brutish behaviour of Nadya’s husband. In The Queen’s Affair, Anna reads Vansittart’s biography of Victoria, Sixty Glorious Years, in preparation for her journey from shop floor servitude to royal service. 32

  • 33 Anthony Hope, op. cit., 181.
  • 34 Vesna Goldsworthy, quoting The Manchester Guardian, op. cit., 49.
  • 35 Anthony Hope, op. cit., 181.
  • 36 Ibidem, 94 and MM/REF/TH/LO/LYC/49.

18Hope was a champion of “the sort of thing the ordinary man likes to read”: novels of rapid narrative, stirring incident and normal emotions, “drawing the line only at exaggerated sentiment and solemn preachiness.” 33 Hope willingly, un-selfashamedly, espoused popularism, as opposed to Shaw’s self-proclaimed intellectualism. Reviewers were appreciative of his “genius”: “Its distinction, as we take it, lies first in a very pure and simple narrative English; and secondly in a happy blending of romantic ideals with modern humour and scepticism.” 34 Hope was a friend and admirer of Henry Rider Haggard and Mason, whose works similarly transferred to screen. 35 In 1896, Zenda lent itself readily to stage adaptation, providing an ideal star vehicle for the actor manager George Alexander (triple billing – as opposed to Betty Balfour’s equivalent star double casting in The Vagabond Queen and the casting of Charles de Roche as Michael/Prince Michael in The Princess and the Clown). The lavish London production was subsequently reprised in the provinces. 36 The sale of Hope’s novel and its 1898 sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (more swashbuckling), was promoted by the adaptation. Hope’s success, notes Goldsworthy, was “indicative of the widespread thirst” for royal adventures of this kind:

  • 37 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 45.

Soon after its publication, The Prisoner of Zenda became one of the best-selling novels of its time. Even before its fame was boosted by numerous theatre productions in Europe and America, and by film adaptations … the novel sold thousands of copies. During Anthony Hope’s own lifetime (he died in 1933), The Prisoner of Zenda became a primer in schools as far apart as America, Egypt and Japan. 37

  • 38 MM/REF/TH/LO/ST.J/10.

19Hope toured America, where the role of Rudolf was assumed on stage by Edward Sothern. 38 Ruritania was, apparently, Kitschmensch transportable and translatable.

Noël Coward’s self-conscious pastiche

  • 39 John Rylands Library, Basil Dean archive DEA/2/19/2.
  • 40 “Mr. Coward in the Balkans”, Manchester Guardian, 25 August 1926, 4.
  • 41 Ibidem. See also, Manchester Guardian 12 April 1927.
  • 42 Basil Dean, Seven Ages, London: Hutchinson, 1970, 302; see also Coward, Noël Coward: (...)

20Whereas The Vagabond Queen pursues Hope’s recurrent theme of mistaken identity, The Queen Was in the Parlour adopts comedy, romance (a love triangle) and the conflicting responsibilities of love and duty. Coward signed a contract with producer Basil Dean for the play (originally titled Nadya and staged as Souvenir in America) in 1925. 39 As The Queen Was in the Parlour, the play was launched in London in 1926 and was praised by the Manchester Guardian critic as “romantic beyond the dreams of Los Angeles”, with a royal personage declaring to “make good” by marrying into a commoner’s life before making “the self-sacrificial march to the throne” (a scenario duly imitated by The Queen’s Affair). 40 “The Balkans (or wherever it was) had need of her”: “Mr Coward has now added to his multitudinous achievements the power to Balkanise himself without becoming ridiculous.” 41 By the mid-1920s, Coward was a safe bet – both as an actor and a writer, sometimes, as with The Vortex (1924), deliberately, self-applaudingly, writing parts for himself. Dean observed that patrons failing to secure tickets to see Coward on stage in The Constant Nymph (1926) at the New Theatre could instead pass up the road to see Coward’s new play at the Duke of York’s. 42

  • 43 See, for instance The Sunday Times review, 29 August 1926: “the sole intent for our delight (...)
  • 44 Noël Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlour, Act II.

21Anticipating and pre-empting justifiable accusations of plagiarism from Hope (which, indeed The Queen Was in the Parlour duly elicited), 43 Coward ironically acknowledged his source: Nadya refers to General Krish as the first cousin of Colonel Sapt in Zenda. “He’s perfectly charming, and so delightfully true to type. Courteous, grey-haired and efficient,” says the Duchess, “no European court would be complete without them”, while Keri says that his father and Rupert of Hentzau were at school together. 44 The Vagabond Queen has a Prince Sapp von Muttstein (“last of a long line of Mutts… back from ransacking the coffers of the East and the bargain basements of the West”), perhaps a humorous distortion of the ‘Grand Duke of Mittenheim’ in Hope’s The Heart of Princess Osra (1896). Miss Phipps, Nadya’s loyal servant in The Queen Was in the Parlour, is meanwhile cast in the familiar mould of Miss Pross in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859), who dutifully defends her mistress to the last. In The Runaway Princess, Priscilla’s escape is abetted by her resourceful maid and a kindly old retainer, Fritzing; in The Queen’s Affair, Anna, summoned from a shop floor in New York is accompanied back to Sirocca by the former nanny who remembers her mother’s flight to Chicago. Anna says that she would rather be back in America selling stockings: “so would we all”, replies Marie, solidly, reminding her of her duty. Ruritanian servants evince a reassuring nostalgia for an era when lower orders dutifully served – and required the same of their masters and mistresses.

  • 45 MM/REF/TH/LO/LYC/49.
  • 46 In the programme for the 1894 production of Arms and the Man, Shaw thanks “Mr. Sch (...)

22Dean and Coward, I suggest, were also aware of the cinematic potential, at home and abroad, of a pastiche of Hope and a return to Ruritania. Henry Ainley had starred in the adaptations of The Prisoner of Zenda (Cecil Hepworth, 1915, reprising his 1911 stage role)45 and Rupert of Hentzau (George Loane Tucker, 1915); Sophy had been re-made (again, with Diana Karenne) as The Virgin of Paris (Gerald Fontaine, 1920); Louis Mercanton directed a film version of Hope’s 1897 Phroso in 1922; Rex Ingram’s version of The Prisoner of Zenda, from Mary O’Hara’s screenplay, was released in 1922. The Queen Was in the Parlour transferred to screen in 1927, closely followed by adaptations of Coward’s The Vortex (Adrian Brunel, 1927) and Easy Virtue (Alfred Hitchcock, 1928). The April 1927 launch of The Queen Was in the Parlour (released in America as Forbidden Love) followed hot on the heels of A Student of Prague (Henrik Galeen, 1926, starring Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt). Gainsborough, in collaboration with the Austrian production company, Sascha, astutely cast a French actress, Damita, as Nadya of Krayia, opposite Paul Richter (then best known to British audiences for his role as Siegfried in Fritz Lang’s highly-acclaimed 1924 Die Nibelungen) as her lover, Sabien Pascal. Sabien, proposing to Nadya, declares that he loves her a thousand times more than she loves him. Orchids (as indicated by Coward) are deployed as a consistent signifier of love, and, along with joker figures and playing cards, constitute a visual motif translatable across an intended transnational audience. Cutts’ production includes a spectacular Parisian fancy-dress ball (as in The Princess and the Clown and Sinclair Hill’s 1927 A Woman Redeemed), tobogganing and acrobatic ice-skating (vicarious tourism). Cutts’ Krayia looks West (with “Tyrolean” drawstring blouses – as per Shaw’s costume sketches for Arms and the Man) and East (with Krayian court flunkeys in fezes). 46 As in The Secret of Chimneys, there is a band of swarthy, flat and soft-capped assassins. In The Vagabond Queen (Géza von Bolváry, 1929), an intertitle comments “Bolonia and Chicago had much in common – here today and gun tomorrow” and a revolutionary sniper boasts “I never miss – have I not dispatched 8 kings, 3 queens and 4 aces?” The Queen’s Affair (Herbert Wilcox, 1934), looking towards Europe in the 1930s, mocks Fascist and Nazi salutes and has an anarchist leader (unfunnily, in retrospect) rapturously announcing: “there will be oceans of blood… the sea must flow with… lots of it…”

23Curiously, in the introduction to his 1950 anthology of plays, Coward remembered the 1927 production of The Queen Was in the Parlour as French and commented that Nadya was played with “excessive vivacity” by Lili Damita. He was no less forgetful yet more dismissive of the subsequent Hollywood version, Tonight is Ours (Stuart Walker, 1933):

  • 47 Noël Coward, Play Parade, op. cit., viii.

[It] was called One Wonderful Night or One Glorious Night or One Night of Something or Other. I saw it once by accident in Washington and left the cinema exhausted from the strain of trying to disentangle my own dialogue from the matted mediocrity that the Paramount screen writers had added to it. It was performed doggedly by Claudette Colbert and Frederic March who were so obviously bogged down by the script that I felt nothing but an embarrassed sympathy for them. 47

  • 48The Queen Was in the Parlour”, Kine Weekly, 5 May 1927, 54-5.
  • 49 Michael Balcon, Michael Balcon presents … A Lifetime of Films, London: Hutchinson, 1969, 2 (...)

24The Kine Weekly reviewer, in 1927, praising Damita’s performance as “exceptionally good”, reservedly commented that “Noël Coward’s play without the dialogue leaves rather a skeleton of a Ruritanian plot.” 48 The producer, Michael Balcon, subsequently endorsed the critic’s opinion, observing that, on screen, in the 1920s, Coward’s plays “were deprived of their very essence”. 49 Indeed, the film loses in translation from the stage much of the typical brisk banter and witty flirtatious repartee of the opening expository exchanges between Nadya and Sabien. For instance, returning from a carefree night out on the Parisian tiles, Nadya surmises that “Anyhow, the kitchen is probably now entirely flooded with coffee.” “Excellent,” comments Sabien, “What are you going to do to-morrow?”

NADYA: You mean today

SABIEN: Yes – to-day

NADYA: I shall sleep until lunch-time – then I shall come and fetch you in the car and we’ll eat a little – just a very little at Laperousse – then a short drive to the Bois, and then I shall have to go and be fitted.

SABIEN: You never stop being fitted.

  • 50 Noël Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlour, op. cit., Act I sc.1.

NADYA: I shall then come back and rest so as to be in the right mood to enjoy Louise. I adore Louise. I shall clutch your arm and cry happily – and look dreadful for the rest of the evening. 50

25Nadya (who visits the modiste, Jenny – while Priscilla, in The Runaway Princess, is mistaken for “the new foreign girl” at the Berkeley Street London modiste, Paris) and Sabien, in Cutts’ film, mostly carry the drama and romance of the narrative, with comedy transferring to subsidiary characters. Predictably, promotional publicity for the film equally vaunted its spectacular aspects. “Lavish settings, fascinating photographic and lighting effects. Alpine snow shots of indescribable beauty,” gushed the Daily Film Renter:

  • 51 “It should bring patrons in thousands. Really charming picture.” Press commentary for The (...)

There is no question about this being a tip-top showman’s picture. Sumptuously dresses and set, beautifully acted, with Lili Damita in her most vivacious mood, and possessing a wholly delightful technique in lighting and photography, it should bring patrons in thousands. The above qualities, in combination with the three names of Cutts, Coward and Damita, should draw large crowds, who will go away entranced with this really charming picture. 51

  • 52 “Merry music at the box office. For the public sheer bread and honey”, Kine Weekly, 5 (...)
  • 53 “Meat which the public will eat. A work of art and popular winner.” Ibidem.
  • 54 Andrew Higson, “Transnational Developments in European Cinema in the 1920s”, Transnational (...)

26“Mr Cutts is an expert confectioner of passion and fashion,” added the Sunday Express review. 52 Just as Hope sought to please the “ordinary” reader, Cutts’ The Queen Was in the Parlour was seeking to delight an average cinema punter with “a popular “winner”. 53 Furthermore, if, as Andrew Higson has suggested, a feature of transnational cinema is an ability to convey one nation’s “local” as “exotic” to another, one advantage of Ruritania – as a neverland setting, its location geographically vague and its history fanciful – is to carry potential “otherworld’” appeal to an international audience. 54 Ruritania, as a setting for drama, romance, comedy and spectacle is universally recognisable as exotic – not least in the Balkans. British interwar renditions of Ruritania evade anxiety by way of trivialising the political status of their Balkan counterparts. However, the success of recent releases demonstrates that Ruritania still has legs and I, for one average viewer, am looking forward to The Second Best Grand Budapest Hotel.

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Bibliographie

BALCON Michael, Michael Balcon presents … A Lifetime of Films, London: Hutchinson, 1969.

BLOOM Clive, Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

CHRISTIE Agatha, The Secret of Chimneys [1925], London: Harper, 2001.

COWARD Noël, Play Parade, vol. III, London: William Heinemann, 1950.

COWARD Noël, Noël Coward: Autobiography, London: Methuen, 1986.

DEAN Basil, Seven Ages: An Autobiography, London: Hutchinson, 1970.

DICKENS Charles, A Tale of Two Cities [1859], London: Nelson, n.d.

DORFLES Gillo (ed.), [1968] Kitsch: An Anthology of Bad Taste, London: Studio Vista, 1969.

FALK Quentin, Travels in Greeneland, London: Quartet Books, 1984.

GLEDHILL Christine, Reframing British Cinema 1918-1928: Between Restraint and Passion, London: BFI, 2003.

GREENE Graham, Stamboul Train [1932], Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984.

GREENE Graham, A Sort of Life [1971], Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986.

HIGSON Andrew, “Transnational Developments in European Cinema in the 1920s”, Transnational Cinemas, vol. 1, n° 1, 2010, 69-82.

HOPE Anthony, The Prisoner of Zenda [1894], London: J. M. Dent, 1968.

HOPE Anthony, Rupert of Hentzau [1898], London: J. M. Dent, 1955.

HOPE Anthony, Sophy of Kravonia [1906], London: The Bodley Head, 1975.

HOPE Anthony, Memories and Notes, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927

SAKI (H. H. Munro), Toys of Peace [1923], London: The Bodley Head Ltd., 1926.

SARGEANT Amy, British Cinema: A Critical History, London: BFI, 2005.

SCHAMA Simon, Landscape and Memory, London: Fontana Press, 1996.

SHAW George Bernard, in Bernard F. Dukore (ed.), Arms and the Man [1898], Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

VON ARNIM Elizabeth, The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight [1905], London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1906.

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Notes

1 Quentin Falk, quoting from Collected Essays (1969), Travels in Greeneland, London: Quartet Books, 1984, 2 and 55; see also, Graham Greene, A Sort of Life [1971], Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986, 36.

2 Gillo Dorfles (ed.), “Transpositions”, Kitsch: An Anthology of Bad Taste, London: Studio Vista, 1969, 87.

3 Clive Bloom notes the debt owed by Buchan and other popular authors to Anthony Hope for escapist adventures “set within an international political crisis.” Clive Bloom, Bestsellers: Popular Fiction Since 1900, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, 113.

4 Christine Gledhill says that Cutts both scripted and directed The Queen Was in the Parlour and comments on the magnitude of the film’s sets and the often deft cinematography. Christine Gledhill, Reframing British Cinema 1918-1928, London: BFI Publishing, 2003, 116.

5 In von Arnim’s original, Priscilla is accompanied by her maid and Fritzing in her fanciful flight to an English village, whence she is pursued by a detective hired by her aristocratic suitor. Priscilla’s good looks attract the attention of the sons of the manor and the vicarage while her regal manners (considered inappropriate to her assumed humble status) provoke and expose the snobbery of the boys’ mothers.

6 Hermann Broch, “Notes on the Problem of Kitsch”, in Gillo Dorfles (ed.), op. cit., 72.

7 Gillo Dorfles, “Introduction”, ibidem, 10.

8 Ludwig Giesz, “Kitsch-man as tourist,” ibid., 10.

9 Dorfles suggests various etymological derivations for “Kitsch,” including the German verb “verkitschen” (“to make cheap”). See Dorfles, “Introduction”, op. cit., 10.

10 Vesna Goldsworthy, Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1998, 110.

11 Tatler, 15 September 1926, University of Bristol Theatre Collection, MM/REF/PE/WR/CN/46/29 (the reviewer, amongst others, suggesting that the play would make a good musical).

12The Prisoner of Zenda at the St. James’s”, 11 January 1896, MM/REF/TH/LO/ST.J/10.

13 St. John Ervine, “At the Play”, The Observer, 29 August 1926, 9.

14 Elizabeth von Arnim, The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight [1905], London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1906, 3.

15 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 46.

16 Saki [H. H. Munro], “The Cupboard of the Yesterdays,” The Toys of Peace and Other Papers [1923], London: The Bodley Head, 1926, 221.

17 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 110.

18 Agatha Christie, The Secret of Chimneys [1925], London: Harper, 2001, 388.

19 Ibidem, 385.

20 Ibid., 395.

21 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 110.

22 Noël Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlour [1926] Act II, Play Parade, v. III, London: Heinemann, 1950.

23 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 94.

24 Hermann Broch, “Notes on the Problem of Kitsch”, in Gillo Dorfles (ed.), op. cit., 50. In the same anthology, Lotte H. Eisner suggests that the “definition of kitsch in cinema is far less rigid and infinitely less consistent than in any other type of figurative art. Lotte H. Eisner, “Kitsch in the cinema”, ibidem, 197-8.

25 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 157.

26 Simon Schama, Landscape and Memory [1995], London: Fontana, 1996, 82.

27 Anthony Hope, Memories and Notes, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1927, 91. Mason appeared as the Russian Major Plechanoff in the 1894 production of Shaw’s Arms and the Man.

28 See The Graphic, 26 October 1912, 651 and cover illustration showing a picturesque cavalcade of peasants on “lean and shaggy horses”, entering Belgrade, “as wild a set of men as one might find in Europe”. The Sheffield company, Mottershaw, had produced newsreel footage of the Serbian royal family – riding groomed and somewhat plumper ponies.

29 Anthony Hope, op. cit., 189.

30 Gillo Dorfles, “Introduction”, in Gillo Dorfles (ed.), op. cit., 10.

31 George Bernard Shaw, Arms and the Man [1898] Act I and Act II, Bernard F Dukore (ed.), Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982.

32 See Amy Sargeant, British Cinema: A Critical History, London: BFI Publishing, 2005, 127.

33 Anthony Hope, op. cit., 181.

34 Vesna Goldsworthy, quoting The Manchester Guardian, op. cit., 49.

35 Anthony Hope, op. cit., 181.

36 Ibidem, 94 and MM/REF/TH/LO/LYC/49.

37 Vesna Goldsworthy, op. cit., 45.

38 MM/REF/TH/LO/ST.J/10.

39 John Rylands Library, Basil Dean archive DEA/2/19/2.

40 “Mr. Coward in the Balkans”, Manchester Guardian, 25 August 1926, 4.

41 Ibidem. See also, Manchester Guardian 12 April 1927.

42 Basil Dean, Seven Ages, London: Hutchinson, 1970, 302; see also Coward, Noël Coward: Autobiography, London: Methuen, 1986, 145.

43 See, for instance The Sunday Times review, 29 August 1926: “the sole intent for our delight was to out-Hope Anthony,” “Plays and Pictures,” Nation and Athenaeum, 4 September 1926; “Romance or Burlesque: Mixture of Elinor Glyn and Anthony Hope,” Westminster Gazette, 25 August 1926: MM/REF/PE/WR/CNO/46/20

44 Noël Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlour, Act II.

45 MM/REF/TH/LO/LYC/49.

46 In the programme for the 1894 production of Arms and the Man, Shaw thanks “Mr. Schönberg, Special War Artist to The Illustrated London News, for valuable assistance generously rendered.”

47 Noël Coward, Play Parade, op. cit., viii.

48The Queen Was in the Parlour”, Kine Weekly, 5 May 1927, 54-5.

49 Michael Balcon, Michael Balcon presents … A Lifetime of Films, London: Hutchinson, 1969, 27. Balcon hoped that Coward might write directly for the screen.

50 Noël Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlour, op. cit., Act I sc.1.

51 “It should bring patrons in thousands. Really charming picture.” Press commentary for The Queen Was in the Parlour, Kine Weekly, 5 May 1927, 2-3.

52 “Merry music at the box office. For the public sheer bread and honey”, Kine Weekly, 5 May 1927, 2-3.

53 “Meat which the public will eat. A work of art and popular winner.” Ibidem.

54 Andrew Higson, “Transnational Developments in European Cinema in the 1920s”, Transnational Cinemas, vol. 1, n° 1, 2010, 80.

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Référence électronique

Amy Sargeant, « Ruritanian Romps: Kitsch Sentiment and Style », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XV-n°1 | 2017, mis en ligne le 05 septembre 2017, consulté le 24 novembre 2017. URL : http://lisa.revues.org/9050 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.9050

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Auteur

Amy Sargeant

Amy Sargeant enseigne à l’antenne de Londres de la Tisch School of the Arts NYU. Elle a publié de nombreux articles et ouvrages sur le cinéma britannique. Sa recherche porte sur l’histoire du cinéma britannique et en particulier sur les relations entre cinéma et les autres domaines culturels. Son dernier ouvrage est Screen Hustles, Grifts and Stings (Palgrave, 2016).

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Les contenus de la Revue LISA / LISA e-journal sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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