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Book review: The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hentzau by Anthony Hope

Having responded to a question on social media about favourite literary villains that mine was Rupert of Hentzau, I happened to find a second hand copy of these two books. The Prisoner of Zenda is subtitled ‘Being the History of Three Months in the Life of an English Gentleman‘. Rupert of Hentzau is simply tagged ‘Being the Sequel’. They were first published in 1894 and 1898 respectively.

Photo of the book with crossed swords between the two titles.
Reader’s Digest edition of The Prisoner of Zenda and Rupert of Hetzau

I had read them as a youngster, meeting an anti-hero for the first time.  Meanwhile I had almost completely forgotten the stories, but found reading them as an adult a far less exciting experience. The language is dated, although the writing is very good. I noticed the assumption running through the books that the majority of characters were well-versed with Christian values and considered the morality of their decisions and resultant actions.

Set in a fictional European country (Ruritania) the stories are exciting at times and have some love interest. There are issues around loyalty, conspiracy and skulduggery. It would be a shame if these books were regarded as too old-fashioned to be of interest to a modern readership. They reflect the changes in people’s attitudes over time.