Critical Evaluation

(Essentials of European Literature)

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.