And talking about small imaginary European states…
I guess everybody out there is familiar with Brewster’s Millions, if not the original novel from 1902, at least with the Richard Pryor movie of 1985, directed by Walter Hill. One of the dozen or so movies based on that novel, that was written by George Barr McCutcheon.
Now, McCutcheon’s other claim to literary fame is the creation of Graustark, a Ruritania-like, romantic European micronation that he explored in six novels.
Indeed, such was the popularity of McCutcheon’s novels that if a whole genre is known as Ruritanian Romance thanks to Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, that same genre is also known as Graustarkian Romance.
Far off in the mountain lands, somewhere to the east of the setting sun, lies the principality of Graustark, serene relic of rare old feudal days. The traveler reaches the little domain after an arduous, sometimes perilous journey from the great European capitals, whether they be north or south or west—never east. He crosses great rivers and wide plains; he winds through fertile valleys and over barren plateaus; he twists and turns and climbs among sombre gorges and rugged mountains; he touches the cold clouds in one day and the placid warmth of the valley in the next. One does not go to Graustark for a pleasure jaunt. It is too far from the rest of the world and the ways are often dangerous because of the strife among the tribes of the intervening mountains. If one hungers for excitement and peril he finds it in the journey from the north or the south into the land of the Graustarkians. From Vienna and other places almost directly west the way is not so full of thrills, for the railroad skirts the darkest of the dangerlands.
Going on for six books compared to Hope’s only two outings in Zenda, McCutcheon created a much more intricate plot. Or plots.
Political intrigue, national rivalries, war debts, marriages of convenience, murder and assassination, love triangles, anarchists, the works.
The princely state of Graustark (located somewhere south of Transylvania) also has two unreliable neighbors, Axphain and Dawsbergen, complete with scheming villainous rulers of the sort that cackle madly while contemplating geographical maps.
In the last novel even Communism rears its ugly head to menace the peace and the Graustarkian Way of Life.
While he apparently did not like being considered a Romantic or an author of Romances, McCutcheon tends to push the pedal on matters of the heart. The first novel of the series, published in 1901, is called Graustark: The Story of a Love Behind a Throne.
It was turned into a silent movie, and again filmed in 1923 (featuring John Gilbert) and in 1925.
In 1926 the second novel of the series, Beverly of Graustark, was also filmed, this time featuring Marion Davies, in the role of the American Beverly Calhoun, that has to dress in male attire because the legitimate prince of Graustark is recovering from a skiing injury, you see, and she is covering for him.
Sort of a cross-dressing version of The Prisoner of Zenda.
Together with a fair chunk of McCutcheon’s catalog, the first four Graustark novels are available as digital texts thanks to the Gutenberg Project.
As a Zenda fan, I tenmd to consider the Graustark novels inferior to Hope’s original creation, but anyone looking for a good romantic story set in a strange nation in the Edwardian period might like to check them out.
They are silly, and have not aged well, but they are still fun.