Tuesday, June 7, 2011

G is for Gervais

The first of Princess Una’s ill-begotten suitors.

My favorite aspect of Prince Gervais of Beauclair is the fact that he is not handsome. In fact, I picture him as being distinctly plain. But this does not prevent him from thinking himself very fine indeed! He is described as having an “air of graciousness with perhaps the smallest hint of disdain about the corners of his mouth.” This hint of disdain says it all.

Prince Gervais thinks he’s quite the catch. And no facts the contrary are going to lessen his opinion of himself. At least, as far as he projects to the world.

I had a blast writing this character. He is, at least in this novel, more of a caricature than most of the novel’s cast. But I suspect he does that on purpose. I suspect he makes himself a caricature for purposes of his own. He certainly takes him ever-so seriously, both in his romantic endeavors and his little sparing match with Prince Felix! But is this the true Gervais, or is he as much in disguise as the mysterious jester from Southlands?

When we snippets of overheard conversation (via Una’s ears later in the story), we get hints that perhaps Gervais doesn’t value himself as highly as he pretends to. He knows he’s made a hash of it. And, for all his charm, he has not had as much success with the ladies as we are at first led to believe. There is an “heiress of Milden” mentions who apparently turned him down. Who was she, we must wonder? Why did she not accept his suit? Was it another case of a father finding out about gambling debts and sending him packing? Or was she perhaps a little more astute than my naïve heroine?

Perhaps a later book will provide revelation someday.

In the meanwhile, poor Gervais is left with only his slowly fading charm to recommend him.

Gervais started out the first novel-length draft of Heartless with the name “Gallant.” That story was still more fairy-tale and allegorical, so the characters had names that fit the allegory style (save for Aethelbald which, as I have already said, was purely chosen to be funny). Unlike John Bunyan with his always-appropriately named characters, however, I chose to work in opposites. Gallant and Lionheart are brave titles . . . but their bearers reflect the opposite traits. Neither prince is courageous, thoughtful, or chivalrous. Their natures belie their names. Poor lads.

But as Heartless developed into a more classic adventure novel with a little less emphasis on the fairy-tale, I decided that Gallant was probably an overkill. I was reading Rafael Sabatini’s marvelous swashbuckler, Scaramouche, at the time, and the villain of that story, the marvelous Marquis La Tour d'Azyr sported the first name “Gervais,” which I really liked. Thus was my Gallant rechristened.

Fun trivia: The hero of Scaramouche is named Andre. Which is also the name of Gervais’s friend/attendant later on when we see him at the tavern. A tiny (and probably unnoticeable) literary nod to Sabatini, whose wonderful swashbuckler inspired my own attempts and fencing scenes.

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