Thursday, June 12, 2008
From the Shelves of the Paco Library
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is best known, of course, for his Sherlock Holmes stories, but he also authored some fascinating historical fiction, including two novels of medieval knighthood - The White Company and Sir Nigel - and a series of short-stories that are actually my favorite of all his works, featuring Brigadier Etienne Gerard, a commander of Hussars in Napoleon’s army. These tales are shot through with a marvelous sense of humor – sometimes uproarious – that may surprise readers whose acquaintance with Conan Doyle’s work is limited to the Holmes and Watson stories. Brigadier Gerard is a gallant, courageous and loyal officer who is also extraordinarily vain and, while frequently exposed to the perils of war, is never in danger of being accused of possessing a towering intellect. The stories combine a thoroughgoing knowledge of the Napoleonic wars with the author’s highly inventive imagination of realistic incidents, the whole topped off with the hero’s admixture of sterling virtues and comical flaws - all against the backdrop of the perpetual state of bafflement which existed between the French soldier and his English counterpart in their usually desultory and frequently futile attempts to understand one another’s alien ways, across a cultural chasm far wider than the mere physical barrier of the English Channel. The yarns are filled with secret missions, serendipitous captures, impossible escapes and hilarious misadventures (the scene in one of the stories in which Gerard escapes from an English prison and accidentally gets caught up in a foxhunt is practically Wodehousian in its zaniness).
The stories are currently available from Barnes & Noble, as well as from other booksellers, if you care to take the plunge.