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|Kingdom of Ruritania|
|Series||The Prisoner of Zenda|
|Kingdom of Ruritania|
|Series||The Prisoner of Zenda|
Ruritania is a fictional country in central Europe which forms the setting for three books by Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), The Heart of Princess Osra (1896), and Rupert of Hentzau (1898). Although the first and third are set in the recent past—between the 1850s and 1880s—the second is set in the 1730s, although it refers to subsequent events that happened between that time and the time of writing.
The kingdom is also the setting for sequels and variations by other writers. It lent its name to a genre of adventure stories known as Ruritanian romances, and is used in academia to refer to a hypothetical country.
Hope depicts Ruritania as a German-speaking, Roman Catholic country under an absolute monarchy, with deep social, but not ethnic, divisions reflected in the conflicts of the first novel. However, the names given to some settlements in Ruritania, such as Strelsau and Hentzau, indicate that sometimes Slavic names underlie the German and like the Sorb population of Saxony, a Slavic-speaking population cannot be discounted.
Geographically, it is usually considered to be located between Saxony and Bohemia; the author indicates that the capital city, Strelsau, is reached by railway from Dresden. The distance and direction are not clearly stated, but to reach Strelsau from Paris the hero must pass through Dresden then cross the border and travel some 60 miles to the capital. It is probable that Hope had Prague in mind for Strelsau, described in the novel as second only to Paris in terms of desirability for an ambassadorship. Hope's novels give the impression that Ruritania would not be a pleasant place for a modern person to inhabit, with its feckless, autocratic king, police surveillance of suspected subversives and a social structure deeply polarised between the rich and poor. In The Heart of Princess Osra, set in the 18th century, Hope refers to a palace "which stood...where the public gardens now are (for the Palace itself was sacked and burnt by the people in the rising of 1848)". In this novel, it emerges in passing that Jews were not then allowed to hold an interest in land in the capital.
Other, more recent authors have created homages set in Ruritania, such as Simon Hawke's science fiction re-working The Zenda Vendetta (Time Wars Book 4) (1985), John Spurling's After Zenda (1995) and John Haythorne's The Strelsau Dimension (1981).
Neither Hawke nor Spurling adheres to the Hope canon; their works show influences from the film adaptations. Hawke relocates Ruritania to the Balkans, and makes it smaller and more socially cohesive; Spurling, who places the country in the Carpathians, thus hinting at its being in fact the former Habsburg province of Transylvania—today part of Romania—introduces ethnic and linguistic divisions; Haythorne puts Ruritania on the Northern side of Czechoslovakia to Spurling's setting, in approximately the same location as Hope's original.
Hope's novels resulted in "Ruritania" becoming a generic term for any small, imaginary, Victorian or Edwardian Era, European kingdom used as the setting for romance, intrigue and the plots of adventure novels. It lent its name to a whole genre of writing, the Ruritanian romance, including the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon. An early reference in a non-canonical story is the mention in The Adventure of the Illustrious Client, a Sherlock Holmes short story from 1924, of an ocean liner named the Ruritania. In Evelyn Waugh's 1930 comedic novel Vile Bodies, one character is a deposed and maudlin "ex-King of Ruritania"; he is presumably the same figure who appears in several witty P.G. Wodehouse stories, mostly as the doorman of Barribault's Hotel.
Later authors develop the idea further. Ruritania inspired other fictional countries, such as Ixania in Eric Ambler's The Dark Frontier, Riechtenburg in Dornford Yates' Blood Royal and Fire Below, and Evallonia in John Buchan's Castle Gay and The House of the Four Winds, which share with the original the depiction of complex power struggles in which a visiting protagonist from a real country becomes deeply involved.
In 1970 Neiman-Marcus selected Ruritania as the subject of its annual fortnight, in which the arts, culture, and goods of a country are highlighted both in the store and through special events. Previous subjects included real countries including England, France, Italy and Denmark.
In the 1974 novel Royal Flash by George Macdonald Fraser, Ruritania is claimed to be a fictional country based on the (equally fictional) Duchy of Strackenz that borders Germany and Denmark, and the events of The Prisoner of Zenda were simply imitations of the adventures of Harry Paget Flashman whilst in Strackenz.
In 2006, Ignacio Padilla published La Gruta del Toscano (ISBN 84-204-7072-4), a novel in which Ruritanians discover a cavern in the Himalayas, somewhere on the border between China and Nepal. The cavern seems to be an earthly replica of Dante's inferno, and several expeditions try to reach its ninth circle, including one directed by "La cofradía de Zenda", a group of Ruritanian mountaineers. Part of the action is set in Strelsau, capital of Ruritania.
Ruritania is mentioned in Anno Dracula and The New Traveller's Almanac. In Back in the USSA, Princess Flavia of Ruritania marries into an alternate history Romanov dynasty. The short story "A Shambles in Belgravia" features Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler working to cause a scandal in the Ruritanian government. Will Self works Ruritania into an interpretation of Turandot in Chapter 11 of Great Apes.
Warren Ellis used the Ruritania setting as part of his 2008 graphic novella Aetheric Mechanics, in which Britain and Ruritania are fighting a war in the air after Ruritania annexed Grand Fenwick. Ruritania appears in a newspaper headline in Volume III of Alan Moore's graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Shirley Jackson joked in her nonfiction book Life Among the Savages about her coin-collecting son and husband receiving "heavy little packages from Ruritania and Atlantis" which often arrived with postage due; she had to pay it with pennies because the numismatists had absconded with all the other coins in the house.
In the 1967 film Doctor Dolittle, Ruritania is one of the places suggested as a sight-seeing destination by Emma Fairfax in the song "Fabulous Places".
Jurists specialising in international law use it and other fictional countries when describing a hypothetical case illustrating some legal point. Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer cited Ruritania as a fictional enemy when illustrating a security treaty between Australia and Indonesia signed on 8 November 2006: "We do not need to have a security agreement with Indonesia so both of us will fight off the Ruritanians. That's not what the relationship is about," he said. "It is all about working together on the threats that we have to deal with, which are different types of threats".
Walter Lippmann used the word to describe the stereotype that characterized the vision of international relations during and after the First World War. Ruritania is used as the name of a highly nationalist country in Equatorial Cyberspace, a fictional continent used for a peace-building and conflict resolution simulation at McGill University.
Ruritania has also been used to describe the stereotypical development of nationalism in 19th century Eastern Europe, by Ernest Gellner in Nations and Nationalism, in a pastiche of the historical narratives of nationalist movements among Poles, Czechs, Serbians, Romanians, etc. In this story, peasant Ruritanians living in the "Empire of Megalomania" developed national consciousness through the elaboration of a Ruritanian high culture by a small group of intellectuals responding to industrialization and labor migration.
Economist Ludwig von Mises discussed currency reform for Ruritania and its "rurs" in the expanded edition of The Theory of Money and Credit (1912), chapter 23. He also references it in Human Action. Murray Rothbard, a former student of von Mises, also mentions the fictional country in his own works.
Vesna Goldsworthy of Kingston University, in her book Inventing Ruritania: the imperialism of the imagination (Yale University Press, 1998), addresses the question of the impact of the work of novelists and film-makers in shaping international perceptions of the Balkans. Goldsworthy considers stories and movies about Ruritania to be a form of "literary exploitation or narrative colonization" of the peoples of the Balkans.
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