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 TrĂ©vires, 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 RĂ©gime 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.

Elizabeth Hawksley


Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you for the recommendation, Elizabeth. I know Meriol Trevor's name but haven't read any of the books. I will see if I can get hold of them.

Michelle W said...

I have loved Meriol Trevor's books for years. Found them in our library and eventually bought many of them at a library sale. I have all of the Luxembourg novels. It's interesting to see that the first begins just after the French revolution and the last is set after Waterloo. So the six cover a long period and at the end the young lovers are now twenty years older.
They immediately appealed to me, as she wrote so well, so smoothly. The plot keeps a reader hooked and the characterisations are particularly well done. She presents conflict and honour extremely well. This is especially brought into focus with the relationship between the two Erlen brothers - as the younger, Dominique chooses to follow Bonoparte and in the series becomes a general in the French Army.
I also appreciate her inclusion of religion as part of the times and the characters, but it is not intrinsic to the plot.
I've read other of her historical novels and enjoyed them as well. She wrote YA historicals too, the Letzenstein Chronicles, and they are very similar in style.
If you can't find the books, some of the titles have recently begun to come out on Kindle.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Thank you for your comments, Michelle W - it's great to meet another fan!
Meriol Trevor never repeats herself; her heroes and heroines are all very different characters and the minor characters are fully-rounded people, too.
I also enjoy her other novels like 'The Civil Prisoners' where the heroine is one of a group of British civilians detained in Verdun after the break down of the Peace of Amiens in 1803.
Some of her Luxembourg characters turn up, too, which allows the reader to feel at home in her world, like meeting old friends.

Jane Jackson said...

I hadn't heard of her but they sound like the kind of book I would love. Like Nicola I shall try to get hold of them. Thanks for bringing them to my attention, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I think they'd be your sort of books, Jane and Nicola - plenty of adventure and romance, together with well-researched - though not intrusive - historical background.

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Thanks for this, Elizabeth - you have given me another author to read. Her books sound interesting so I shall see if I can find them

Anonymous said...

You might be interested to know that Amazon have now (July 2014) published the first 4 Luxembourg books (The Fugitives , The Marked Man, The Enemy at Home and The Forgotten Country) in Kindle format.

If I get round to it, I'll contact them and ask if they propose to publish the other two ( The Treacherous Paths, The Fortunes of Peace) as well.

They've also got some of her other novels of the period, both familiar ( The Fortunate Marriage, The Wanton Fires, The Civil Prisoners) and at least one which I've never seen in any library - The Sun with a Face.

Trevor is short on the things that sell this sort of period piece - heaving bosoms, feisty heroines, quarrelsome exchanges with sexual overtones, undertones and midtones. I suspect many people will find her narratives decidedly pedestrian and, probably the worst thing, is that one sometimes feels that the author is rather detached from the fate of the characters.

I find that her characters are varied and that her moral judgements are nuanced (especially in the series involving The Fortunate Marriage). I think that she manages to reflect the ambiguous circumstance of Luxembourg, especially once Napoleon enters the picture - neither wholly French nor wholly part of the Holy Roman Empire which Napoleon is dismantling.

Perhaps the Amazon Kindle re-issues will prompt more people to read these books, but to gain a better following, those of us who appreciate her, will have to promote her for what she is and not lead anyone to expect the modern Regency novel - they are more a traditional "historical" novel with a strong romantic element.