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Michel and Angele   By: (1862-1932)

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[A Ladder of Swords]

By Gilbert Parker


If it does not seem too childish a candour to say so, 'Michel and Angele' always seems to me like some old letter lifted out of an ancient cabinet with the faint perfume of bygone days upon it. Perhaps that is because the story itself had its origin in a true but brief record of some good Huguenots who fled from France and took refuge in England, to be found, as the book declares, at the Walloon Church, in Southampton.

The record in the first paragraphs of the first chapter of the book fascinated my imagination, and I wove round Michel de la Foret and Angele Aubert a soft, bright cloud of romance which would not leave my vision until I sat down and wrote out what, in the writing, seemed to me a true history. It was as though some telepathy between the days of Elizabeth and our own controlled me self hypnotism, I suppose; but still, there it was. The story, in its original form, was first published in 'Harper's Weekly' under the name of Michel and Angele, but the fear, I think, that many people would mispronounce the first word of the title, induced me to change it when, double in length, it became a volume called 'A Ladder of Swords'.

As it originally appeared, I wrote it in the Island of Jersey, out at the little Bay of Rozel in a house called La Chaire, a few yards away from the bay itself, and having a pretty garden with a seat at its highest point, from which, beyond the little bay, the English Channel ran away to the Atlantic. It was written in complete seclusion. I had no visitors; there was no one near, indeed, except the landlord of the little hotel in the bay, and his wife. All through the Island, however, were people whom I knew, like the Malet de Carterets, the Lemprieres, and old General Pipon, for whom the Jersey of three hundred years ago was as near as the Jersey of to day, so do the Jersiais prize, cultivate, and conserve every hour of its recorded history.

As the sea opens out to a vessel making between the promontories to the main, so, while writing this tale which originally was short, the larger scheme of 'The Battle of the Strong' spread out before me, luring me, as though in the distance were the Fortunate Isles. Eight years after 'Michel and Angele' was written and first published in 'Harper's Weekly', I decided to give it the dignity of a full grown romance. For years I had felt that it had the essentials for a larger canvas, and at the earnest solicitation of Messrs. Harper & Brothers I settled to do what had long been in my mind. The narrative grew as naturally from what it was to larger stature as anything that had been devised upon a greater scale at the beginning; and in London town I had the same joy in the company of Michel and Angele and a vastly increased joy in the company of Lempriere, the hulking, joyous giant as I had years before in Jersey itself when the story first stirred in my mind and reached my pen.

While adverse reviews of the book were few if any, it cannot be said that this romance is a companion in popularity with, for instance, 'The Right of Way'. It had its friends, but it has apparently appealed to smaller audiences to those who watch the world go by; who are not searching for the exposure of life's grim realities; who do not seek the clinic of the soul's tragedies. There was tragedy here, but there was comedy too; there was also joy and faith, patience and courage. The book, taken by itself, could not make a permanent reputation for any man, but it has its place in the scheme of my work, and I would not have it otherwise than it is.


There will be found a few anachronisms in this tale, but none so important as to give a wrong impression of the events of Queen Elizabeth's reign.



If you go to Southampton and search the register of the Walloon Church there, you will find that in the summer of '57,

"Madame Vefue de Montgomery with all her family and servants were admitted to the Communion" "Tous ceux ce furent Recus la a Cene du '57, comme passans, sans avoir Rendu Raison de la foj, mes sur la tesmognage de Mons... Continue reading book >>

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