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"The Laughing Cavalier" by Baroness Orczy

The Laughing Cavalier is available for free download from our ebook catalog.

Strange how the literary mind works; if I can be so conceited as to call my mind "literary." While reading The Laughing Cavalier I continually chastised myself for thinking snobbish thoughts. To be specific, "This book is so enjoyable, it cannot have been a critical success." Baroness Orczy's books did manage to buy her an estate in Monte Carlo, but what did the critics say? My research never turned up a pro or con on this issue, but I wondered just the same.

Not without just cause. Anyone who has been to high school knows that "the classics" can get really boring. More recently, I pondered the phenomenon of "Critical Acclaim" again when I read The Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The stories presented in this book were intriguing until the timeline progressed to the 60's, at which time the stories became progressively pointless and uniformly depressing. When I finished Gail Godwin's "A Sorrowful Woman," I closed the book and forgot about reading any more "critically acclaimed" works. To Ms. Godwin's credit, hers was a well-written story, but the only inspiration one gets from this story might be to buy razor blades.

Only recently, I read in the Wall Street Journal that Daphne Du Maurier died a wealthy but sorrowful woman because her works never received the critical acclaim she craved. I thought maybe she should take it as a compliment. In my plebeian opinion Rebecca is one of the finest novels ever written, and as intriguing as The Last of the Mohicans is boring.

So tell me again, what this has to do with The Laughing Cavalier? No, I don't think the critics liked TLC. Yes, I do recommend it. TLC is an engaging and even educational novel. You learn some European history. You learn some art history, and you learn a lot of words from the Dutch language. The words, even the swear words, can create a learning curve that may take a while to overcome.

The story takes place in Holland, where a plot to kill the Stadtholder (one of those Dutch words for a ruler) was in the planning in a Cathedral on New Years' Eve, 1624. As luck would have it, the sister of one of the plotters overheard the plans. The plotters found it necessary to remove the young woman until the deed was done, and since they could not find it in their hearts to kill her, they arranged to have her kidnapped. When they happened upon the "laughing cavalier", Diogenes, they knew they had found the perfect man for the job. The Cavalier is very good at what he does, and the kidnapping is accomplished without a hitch, except that Diogenes must return to finish posing for his friend, Franz Hals, who needs to finish his painting called The Laughing Cavalier, in order to sell the painting and feed his family. After the painting is finished, Diogenes and Hals mosey over to the local tavern to quench their thirst. There they meet a local nobleman who is overcome with grief because his daughter has been kidnapped. Hals, unaware of Diogenes' previous deed, encourages the nobleman to hire his friend to rescue her. Although Diogenes tries to demure, Hals will not take "no" for an answer, and the nobleman, convinced, offers Diogenes half his fortune to bring his daughter home.

Unlike The Scarlet Pimpernel, his ancestor, Diogenes, has not yet established himself as a man of sterling character or irreproachable moral integrity. Some of the fun of TLC is that one is uncertain whether he will wind up in jail or on the scaffold, and whether he just might deserve such a fate.

An interesting historical note is that Baroness Orczy was a painter as well as a writer, although she was not successful as a painter, a likely reason why she included a real-life painter in her novel. Franz Hals was actually a painter of this historical period. His painting of The Laughing Cavalier appears as the cover for this ebook download.


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