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The Royalist Romance

By Author: li.white
Total Articles: 41

If royalism itself was a relatively amorphous concept when Cassandre was translated, the theoretical framework which sustains its multifaceted literary modes such as royalist romance is correspondingly sophisticated. Important work has been done, particularly by Victoria Kahn, to elucidate the various implications of these kinds of romances in the 1650s, though the particular inflection if any lent to the romance genre by exile and by translation, an inflection which I examine in this essay, remains a comparatively uncharted subject.9 Kahn has persuasively shown that romances such as Percy Herbert's Princess Gloria (1653-61), Richard Brathwaite's Panthalia (1659) and William Sales' Theophania (1655), operate on a number of levels. In a general sense they represent compensatory and politically engaged fiction for defeated royalists who were attempting to explain the upheavals of the civil wars, peopled as they are Rolex Watches by characters displaying exemplary constancy despite their ruptured circumstances. Romance and its attendant passions can still, in royalism's present parlous position, be held to express true nobility, to uphold in contrast to Hobbes's dissection, in his Elements of Law, of the narrow self-interest inherent in the passions the virtues in which royalist readers can reassuringly see their own reflections.

Nonetheless, importantly, and in different ways, these romance authors also share some of Hobbes's scepticism; like him, they contribute to the ongoing crisis of political obligation by suggesting that a 'frank recognition of the centrality of interest is the foundation of any secure government'. The conventions of romance are ironically subverted as often as they are upheld, the disingenuousness of romance virtues, of chivalric codes of honor, exposed as often as their moral elevation lauded. From this starting point of a newly perceived, more nuanced romance genre, a creative fusion of Fake Watches conventional tropes of arcadian love and valor with a surprisingly hard-edged cynicism towards the expediency, self-preservation and, by extension, contingency, of political loyalty that the passions can generate, we can progress to more informed readings of these romances.

In Kahn's formulation, with which I agree, these examples illustrate how fierce, wide-ranging and above all, complex, debates taking place within royalism in the 1650s could be and were displaced onto the pages of prose romances, so that in delineating the hybridity, not uncommonly even within single episodes in individual stories, of its own interrogation of contemporary royalist preoccupations, romance 'renders a political crisis as a crisis of genre'. Even if, as Nigel Smith has commented, the inherent escapism of the romance genre means that 'the opportunity to read these works as political roman a clef is drastically reduced or transformed, if not eliminated', pervasive romance concepts such as sorrow, pity, violence, wonder and aesthetics need, therefore, like royalism itself, to be regarded as having a far more calibrated, multivalent potential than has often been recognised. Cassandra, with its added dimensions of exile and translation, is another such work about which more needs to be said, in which the intricacies of royalism and the romance genre in the 1650s can be profitably identified and illuminated.

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