Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Dove in the Eagle's Nest by Charlotte Yonge


I have already reviewed Miss Yonge's The Heir of Redclyffe, and did not really appreciate it, despite its role in Victorian medievalism and the formation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Fortunately that was the second book of hers that I read; if I had read it first, I might not have been able to bring myself to read The Dove in the Eagle's Nest, and would consequently have missed out on a very pleasant read.
The story is set during the reign of Maximilian I of the Holy Roman Empire, in the later 1400s. Young Christina Sorel lives with her uncle and aunt in Ulm under the shadow of the Swabian Alps, safe in that abode of prosperous and upright burghers from the noblemen of the mountains, which are half outlaws, half rebels, and absolute monarchs each of their own valley.
Christina's father, on the other hand, fits in quite well in the mountains. A ruffian and sword for hire, he left Christina to the loving care of her uncle and aunt when she was just a baby and went off to Adlerstein Castle to serve in the guard of the Freiherr Eberhard. Perched high in the mountains in his unassailable castle, the Freiherr finds it unnecessary to swear allegiance to anyone.
One day Christina's father returns to Ulm in search of his daughter. The baron's daughter Ermentrude appears to be in a slow decline, and as there are no gentle women in the castle to care for her, Hugh Sorel has decided to volunteer his own daughter for the job.
Although her aunt and uncle are horrified to think of Christina going alone among the wolves of Adlerstein, Christina herself sees it as her duty to her father and to a poor sick girl who needs her. But when she gets to the castle, she finds it even more unpleasant than she expected: the baron is a bandit, his son is a lout, his wife is a battleaxe, and his daughter is ignorant, shy, and neglected as well as ill.
This story spans years and many changes in fortune, so I will leave off there, and say only that Christina stays much longer than she intended at Castle Adlerstein, and that her faith, gentleness, and civilising influence gradually transform it into a far pleasanter place to live. It's a gentle, bittersweet story of love and loss over many years, often tear-jerking, and exquisitely well-researched: to read it is to get a fascinating picture of the political forces shaping the mountain nobility at that time.
True, the story's sentimental, but I can live with that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This book is mentioned in Episode 2 of Season 1 of the 1971 series Upstairs Downstairs. The housemaid Rose is reading it in bed while waiting up for the main character (Sarah) to return home.
The declared date of this episode is June, 1904.
Quite interesting to find this brief synopsis which adds to my sense of having more detail about these characters.
Sometimes a mention of a book in a movie or show is a shout-out to the audience about some favorite of the writer as well, so I will presume this book was something they also enjoyed.

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