The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
In the Day of Adversity (1895)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
In the Day of Adversity was written by John Bloundelle-Burton. John Edward Bloundelle-Burton (1850-1917) was a British writer of historical dramas. He wrote often and well, but he is now mostly forgotten. In the Day of Adversity is a typically fine effort by him, and much better than Denounced.
In 1687 Georges St. Georges is a member of Louis XIV’s Chevaux Léger, the King’s mounted cavalry. He has been recalled to Paris by direct order of the King and begins riding back to Paris, accompanied by his infant daughter Dorine. His wife has recently died, and St. Georges is still in mourning. Moreover, he suspects that his parentage is not humble, as he grew up believing, but that he is from more exalted lineage–that he is, in fact, the illegitimate son of the honored and wealthy Duc de Vannes. The King’s letter ordering his return specified that St. Georges stop at the home of the Marquis Phélypeaux, the Bishop of Lodève, which he does, but not before leaving his daughter at a nearby inn–St. Georges has reason to believe that both he and his daughter are in danger. The Bishop, an unpleasant man, gives St. Georges a message to carry to the King. St. Georges collects his daughter and then accepts the offer of companionship from Boussac, a musketeer he meets at the inn. They ride together, and a friendship grows between them. But they are followed by a group of men, and when the pair fight off the attackers both men notice that the attackers were trying to kidnap or kill Dorine, thus confirming St. Georges’ suspicions to both himself and to Boussac, in whom St. Georges confided. St. Georges and Boussac do not capture the leader of the men, however, who was wearing an antique morion which completely concealed his face. St. Georges and Boussac part, Boussac joining his regiment, and St. Georges continuing on, as the King’s letter dictates, to the manor of the de Roquemaure family, whose son, when he reaches his majority, will inherit the de Vannes fortune, and who St. Georges comes to suspect was behind the attack on himself, Boussac, and Dorine. St. Georges leaves Dorine with a trustworthy girl in an inn near the de Roquemaure house and then meets with the Marquise de Roquemaure (the Duc de Vannes’ love, when both were young) and her fetching daughter Aurélie. The three hit it off, or so St. Georges thinks, but the following morning he is awoken and told that Dorine has been stolen. St. Georges, who thinks of little except his child, is heartbroken, and searches in vain for her. He arrives in Paris, as he was ordered, but late, and when he meets Louvois, the sinister and cruel Minister of War, the meeting goes badly. Accusations and insults are exchanged, and Louvois shows St. Georges a letter, signed by the King, firing St. Georges from the Army and ordering him to leave France immediately. St. Georges tells Louvois that he knows that Louvois is a part of the conspiracy to kidnap Dorine, tells Louvois that he intends to see the King tonight and explain everything to him, and threatens to kill Louvois if he tries to prevent St. Georges from seeing the King. St. Georges rides for Marly, where the King is staying, but on the way he encounters Raoul de Roquemaure, in the company of his mistress. St. Georges provokes a duel, insulting the woman along the way, and escorts the pair into a nearby inn so that they may fight in private. St. Georges and de Roquemaure fight and St. Georges is on the verge of running de Roquemaure through when the woman stabs St. Georges in the back.
When St. Georges recovers he is sentenced to hard labor on a galley. After two years his ship is sunk by an English warship, but St. Georges is rescued by the English captain, who sees that St. Georges is a gentleman despite his awful condition. St. Georges returns to England with the captain and lives there for two years, eking out a living by gardening, translating, and teaching the sword. When the time comes for the English to attack the French, St. Georges takes part on the side of the English, helping to sink French ships at the Battle of Le Hogue. During the battle he finds a dying Raoul de Roquemaure, who tells St. Georges that Aurélie, Raoul’s half-sister, is the one who has been holding Dorine the past four years. St. Georges watches Raoul die and then returns to France. St. Georges intends to track down Aurélie de Roquemaure and rescue Dorine, but the presence of the fleur de lis brand on his shoulder, which all criminals bear, gives him away as a criminal, and he is pursued on the road by the military. St. Georges is eventually captured and put on trial. He honorably admits all, deciding to die in obscurity rather than drag his daughter into his shame. As a traitor he is sentenced not just to die but to be broken on the wheel, but the night before his execution he is freed and pardoned by order of the King. St. Georges discovers that Aurélie de Roquemaure, who he has been blaming for years, was responsible (with the help of Boussac) for persuading the King to free him, and that she has been raising Dorine as her own daughter, and that she has forfeited all right to the de Vannes fortune. St. Georges and Aurélie marry and move to England and live happily ever after.
In the Day of Adversity is entertaining. During the years of his greatest output Bloundelle-Burton was compared not only with Stanley J. Weyman (see: From the Memoirs of a Minister of France) but also with Robert Louis Stevenson (see: Kidnapped) and with H. Rider Haggard (see: King Solomon’s Mines), and it is clear to see, on reading In the Day of Adversity, why Bloundelle-Burton was so highly considered. The combination of atmosphere and historical detail is strongly portrayed. Throughout the novel Bloundelle-Burton convincingly conjures up the feel of ancien régime France, from rural, wintry Burgundy to Paris sweltering under the summer sun, from the court of Louis XIV to the country estates of oppressive nobles. Bloundelle-Burton’s descriptions of environment and setting are fine, and his depictions of historical politics and manners has the feel of veracity. The characterization and dialogue are both well-done, the plot paced properly briskly, Bloundelle-Burton throws in a few surprising plot twists, and the novel does not require overwhelming amounts of historical knowledge on the reader’s part to enjoy it.
The novel has only two flaws, one minor and one serious. The minor flaw is Bloundelle-Burton’s tendency to put plot summaries in monologue form, which ruins the naturalistic feel of the dialogue. The more serious flaw is the major difference between Bloundelle-Burton and Stanley J. Weyman & Baroness Orczy (for example, The Scarlet Pimpernel): the sense of fun. The best work of Weyman and Orczy and the members and followers of the Yellow Nineties swashbucklers (see: Historical Romances) have a joie de vivre to them, a sense of joy and humor and wit, which is lacking in In the Day of Adversity. This is probably deliberate on Bloundelle-Burton’s part. St. Georges is a more serious character, in a more emotionally dramatic predicament, than characters in most of Weyman’s and Orczy’s work, so it is natural that he will lack the wit and joy of Weyman’s Duc de Sully or Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. And the setting of In the Day of Adversity is, if not grim, not inclined to humor and light-heartedness. But the lack of humor and the absence of a sense of fun renders In the Day of Adversity less purely enjoyable to read, if not significantly poorer in quality.
Print: John Bloundelle-Burton, In the Day of Adversity. Nashville, TN: Rarebooksclub.com, 2012.