The Prisoner of Zenda is a book that was extremely famous in its own time, but is overlooked nowadays. Numerous works, fiction and non-fiction, bear testimony to the impact that this novel had on popular literature. It has been translated and adapted many times; several films have been made on this novel. The story is one that fires the imagination. It is an old fashioned tale of romance and chivalry. An English gentleman travels to the (fictional) country of Ruritania, gets involved in political manoeuvres, and falls in love. To ensure the well-being of the people of the country, and to save the honour of his beloved, he has to perform a task of immense daring.
The British are well known for their wanderlust. The figure of the British tourist in ‘exotic’ lands is an immensely popular one. The Englishman often wins the admiration of the foreigners with his sense of honour and justice. The novel describes intrigues and scandals at a European court. The hero, Rudolf Rassendyll, is a figure of truth in a place where almost everyone is busy with his or her schemes. Anthony Hope was a lawyer, and his interest in politics was but natural. Published in 1894, this novel presents turn-of-the-century Europe. The values and the beliefs were traditional, but science was progressing with a wild haste. The gun had gained a place beside the sword. The train had outpaced the horse. Telegrams had replaced the king’s messengers. The chivalrous knight and the modern nobleman- Rudolf Rassendyll straddles both worlds with ease.
The Prisoner of Zenda is a Victorian Arthurian romance. Rudolf Rassendyll narrates the tale of his adventures in Ruritania. The novel is unputdownable- it is fast-paced, lucid, witty. The descriptions of the beauty of Ruritania help us to escape to a land of fantasy and romance, if only for one afternoon.
I had heard a lot about this book, and was especially interested in it after reading the Bengali adaptation, Shorodindu Bandopadhyay’s Jhinder Bondi. I am happy to say that all my expectations were fulfilled when I read this novel at last. The sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, is also a good read, though it lacks the freshness of the first part. After reading many different kinds of romance novels and love stories it was refreshing to come across an old fashioned tale that celebrates love for its purity, and a hero whose love is absolutely selfless. The novel has many colourful characters- the august Princess Flavia, the villainous Black Michael, the indomitable Colonel Sapt, the dashing Rupert of Hentzau, the romantic Fritz von Tarlenheim, the beautiful Antoinette de Mauban. Time flies as the reader sets out to rescue the mysterious prisoner of Zenda.
Book Reviewed by Amrita Dutta
Did you read this book too? Got an opinion on it? Share it!