Friday, July 05, 2013
In Praise of Meriol Trevor
When Meriol Trevor died in 2000, The Times obituary wrote at length about her two biographies of Cardinal Newman which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography, and it mentioned her children’s novels with respect. But there was nothing at all about her historical romantic adventures set, mainly in Luxembourg during the Napoleonic Wars, all published in the 1970s.
I have five of her Luxembourg novels and I’ve always enjoyed them. What interests Trevor is how people cope in times of war. Luxembourg, once a duchy in the Holy Roman Empire, has fallen to Bonaparte’s armies, and is now ruled with an iron hand by the French. The guillotine is set up in the town square – and it’s not just for show. The Luxembourgers are faced with a stark choice: become a Bonapartist and support the new regime or face the consequences.
In The Marked Man, Count Gabriel d’Erlen vows to fight on. Wild, passionate and impulsive as a youth, he now leads a band of partisans in the forest, dedicated to guerrilla warfare. His family home, Villerange, has been turned into a girls’ school, set up by stern Republican Monsieur de Trévires, whose dreamy daughter, the eighteen-year-old Claudine, is a senior pupil.
Claudine finds herself torn by conflicting loyalties: will she betray the wounded stranger she finds hiding in the Chateau de Villerange, or will she defy her father and the republican principles she has grown up with and help Gabriel escape? Claudine must face all the terrors and uncertainties of love and war and learn to trust her own heart.
In The Forgotten Country, Alix d’Erlen, married off at sixteen to an elderly nobleman, is now twenty-eight, beautiful, intelligent and a widow. Disgusted by her husband’s impotent fumblings, she wants nothing more than a life of chaste seclusion. But she has reckoned without the Emperor Napoleon, who likes arranging matches between ladies of the Ancien Régime and his parvenu generals. Alix is desperate not to be married off to the emperor’s choice and when the calm, cultured Conrad de Berthol, a fellow Luxembourgian, proposes, she hastily accepts him, assuming that their marriage will be a cool, distant affair.
They return to Conrad’s castle in Luxembourg where she discovers, to her horror, that he is in love with her. Instantly, all her barriers go up. But then events take a sinister turn. Soon, Conrad is on the run with a price on his head. Alix, faced with the very real possibility of his execution, discovers a depth of emotion she did not know she possessed.
I bought several of her books in a library sale and I asked the librarian why he was getting rid of them. He said, ‘We’ve tried to promote them several times but, somehow, they don’t ‘take’.’ They are possibly a touch literary for some readers, and she tends to head hop. She doesn’t go through the bedroom door but she certainly gets across the sexual chemistry between hero and heroine. On the other hand, her plots are terrific and there is plenty of emotion, excitement and danger. She obviously knew her chosen period well and her depiction of Luxembourg under French occupation is absolutely convincing.
I’ve always enjoyed them and I can’t say fairer than that.