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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1269

First published: Les Rois en exil, 1879 (English translation, 1880)

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Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Political romance

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Locale: Paris

Principal Characters:

Christian II, exiled King of Illyria

Frederique, Queen of Illyria

Prince Leopold, their son

Elysee Meraut, the prince’s tutor

Sephora Levis, Christian’s mistress

The Story:

When a revolution broke out in Illyria, King Christian II and Queen Frederique fought bravely against the rebels, and after the story of the siege of Ragusa became known throughout Europe, much was said about the wonderful bravery of the king. In reality, most of the credit for the defense of the city should have gone to Frederique, who was in every way a queen. Christian was a king who had never had any great desire to wear the crown or occupy the throne.

At last, the deposed rulers fled to Paris, where they took some rooms in a hotel. There they were greeted by the Duke of Rosen, his son, and his daughter-in-law. Three years before, the duke, a former Illyrian minister, had been deposed by the king to placate the liberal elements of the country. Now he had come to offer his services to his sovereign once more. They were accepted.

The monarchs thought that their stay in Paris would be brief, that the new republic would soon collapse and the monarchy be restored. Accordingly, Frederique refused to unpack anything. There was an air of the temporary and transitory about their lodgings.

Later it became clear that the republic would last and that the monarchy was doomed. Frederique resigned herself to a long exile from Illyria. The royal family purchased a house and settled down to wait. As time passed, Christian became more and more a frequenter of Parisian theaters and cafes until his activities were known all over the city and were the subject of much conversation and scandal. The Duke of Rosen’s daughter-in-law became his mistress.

Following the recommendations of two priests, the queen had engaged a tutor for the young prince. He was Elysee Meraut, who was supposed to teach the prince all that he would need to know to be a good sovereign. The prince, however, was not particularly intellectual. Furthermore, his father did not encourage the lessons, for he had given up all hope of ever regaining his lost throne; in fact, he was glad to escape the responsibilities of the crown.

Although the Duke of Rosen tried to do his best with the royal finances, the monarchs, in reality, were bankrupt. Elysee discovered that fact when he learned that the king was selling decorations, citations, and military orders to cover his debts. When the queen learned of the situation, she consulted the duke, who admitted that he had been using his own funds to support the monarchs in a regal style. She forbade him to continue his expenditures, and the household took on an air of austerity.

In the meantime, the king had given up his mistress and had become enamored of Sephora Levis, the wife of Tom Levis, a broker who posed as an Englishman and who had made a fortune out of catering to the whims and needs of exiled royalty. Sephora did not love the king. She promised him, however, that she would become his mistress after he had abdicated his throne. She wished to show him, she insisted, that she loved him for himself and not for his title. In reality, Sephora, Levis, and one of the king’s councillors were involved in a plot to profit handsomely by Christian’s abdication, for the Illyrian diet had offered the king a large private fortune if he would renounce the throne for himself and his descendants.

At first the king was unwilling to abdicate because he enjoyed too much the privileges of royalty without being willing to assume the responsibilities of his position. At last, however, he gave Sephora a title and promised her that he would give up his claim to the throne. Elysee, learning of his intention, notified the queen. She and Leopold went at once to the king’s room, where he had just signed the act of renunciation. After informing him of a plan to invade Illyria, a plot hitherto kept from the pleasure-loving monarch, Frederique threatened to jump from the window with her child unless Christian destroyed the document he had signed. The king yielded to her desperate demands.

The invasion attempt failed, for the Illyrian authorities had been warned in advance of the conspirators in Paris. Frederique came to the conclusion that there was only one course for Christian to take; he should abdicate in favor of his son. The king signed an act of abdication by which the young prince became King Leopold V of Illyria and Dalmatia.

Meanwhile a feeling very close to love had grown between the neglected queen and the loyal tutor. One day, while the prince and Elysee were shooting at a mark in the garden, Leopold was accidentally wounded in one eye. In sorrow and anger, the queen banished the tutor, and he went back to his dingy apartment.

Frederique took her son to consult a famous Parisian oculist. The doctor told her that the prince had lost the sight of one eye, that he would certainly lose the sight of the other eye, and that an operation was impossible because it would imperil his life. The queen was in despair.

A short time later she heard that Elysee Meraut was dying. As he lay on his deathbed, he heard the door open. Then there came to him a familiar voice—the voice of the young King Leopold, whom the loyal monarchist had loved. Frederique had brought him to see his old tutor. Elysee Meraut died a happy man.

Critical Evaluation:

KINGS IN EXILE, or LES ROIS EN EXIL as it is known in France, was completed by Alphonse Daudet in the summer of 1879. It appeared first as a serial in LE TEMPS and was subsequently published in book form, going through twenty editions in only a few weeks. The immediate success of the book was in no small part due to the fact that certain of the characters were reminiscent of well-known personages. For example, Elysee Meraut, hero of the novel, is based on Constant Theroin, a Royalist orator who held sway in the Latin Quarter, a man of exceptional erudition who harangued whatever audience he could command in the cafes and reading rooms of Paris. While the fictional King of Illyria, around whom the novel revolves, is a wastrel without honor or dignity, and the rest of the exiled Royalists are a sorry sight, it is the humble tutor Elysee Meraut who passionately pleads the monarchic cause and who preserves unsullied the high ideal of the divine right of kings.

Daudet’s irony in KINGS IN EXILE, however, almost landed him in trouble. Since the models for the characters were alive and in Paris at the time of the novel’s publication, many readers found the author’s irony too scathing and the exposure too complete. There was a feeling that Daudet was becoming too scandalous—an impression heightened when the novel was dramatized four years later and the royal personages in its pages appeared as beings of flesh and blood upon the stage. In general, though, most found the book to be brilliant. Gustave Flaubert devoured it in one day and hailed it as a triumph. Modern readers, too, find the novel interesting, for it combines both simple and complex techniques in the formation of a timeless political romance.

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