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Ruritania is a fictional country in central Europe which forms the setting for three books by Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), The Heart of Princess Osra (1896), and Rupert of Hentzau (1898). The kingdom is also the setting for sequels and variations by other writers. (See here for homages.) It lent its name to a genre of adventure stories known as Ruritanian romances, and is used in academe to refer to a hypothetical country.

In literature and creative arts

In Hope's oeuvre, Ruritania is depicted as a German-speaking, Roman Catholic country under an absolute monarchy, with deep social divisions (but not ethnic ones) reflected in the conflicts of the first novel. Geographically, it is usually considered to be located between Saxonymarker and Bohemia; the author indicates that the capital city, Strelsau, lies on the railway line between Dresdenmarker and Praguemarker. Hope's novels give the impression that Ruritania would not be a pleasant place to inhabit, with its feckless, autocratic king, police surveillance of suspected subversives, and society deeply polarised between rich and poor. In The Heart of Princess Osra, set in the eighteenth century, Hope refers to a palace 'burned down by the people in 1848. In this novel, it emerges in passing that Jews were not allowed to hold an interest in land in the capital. However, stage and film versions sanitised and romanticised the setting, ignoring Hope's references to the poverty and political unrest in Strelsau's Old City, and depicted instead a picturesque fairy-tale kingdom.


Other authors have created homages set in Ruritania, including Simon Hawke's science fiction re-working The Zenda Vendetta (Time Wars Book 4) (1985), John Haythorne's Communist-era The Strelsau Dimension, and John Spurling's humorous post-Cold War thriller After Zenda (1995). Among the later novelists to use this setting, neither Hawke nor Spurling adheres to the Hope canon; their works show influences from the film adaptations. Hawke relocates Ruritania to the Balkans, and makes it smaller and more socially cohesive; Spurling, who places the country in the Carpathiansmarker, thus hinting at its being in fact the former Habsburg—today part of Romania—province of Transylvania, introduces ethnic and linguistic divisions; Haythorne puts Ruritania on the other side of Czechoslovakiamarker to Spurling's setting.

Hope's novels resulted in "Ruritania" becoming a generic term for any imaginary small, European kingdom used as the setting for romance, intrigue and adventure novel. It lent its name to a whole genre of writing, the Ruritanian romance, including the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon. In Evelyn Waugh's 1930 comedic novel Vile Bodies, one character is a deposed and maudlin "ex-King of Ruritania"; he is presumably the same figure who appears in several P.G. Wodehouse stories, mostly as the doorman of Barribault's Hotel.

Later authors develop the idea further. Ruritania inspired other fictional countries, such as Ixania in Eric Ambler's The Dark Frontier, Riechtenburg in Dornford Yates' Blood Royal and Fire Below, and Evallonia in John Buchan's Castle Gay and The House of the Four Winds, which share with the original the depiction of complex power struggles in which a visiting protagonist from a real country becomes deeply involved.

In 1970, Neiman-Marcus selected Ruritania as the subject of its annual fortnight, in which the arts, culture, and goods of a country are highlighted both in the store and through special events. Previous honorees included Englandmarker, Francemarker, Italymarker, and Denmarkmarker, although the 1969 and 1971 events also had a general theme rather than a particular country.

In the 1974 novel Royal Flash by George Macdonald Fraser, Ruritania is claimed to be a fictional country based on the (equally-fictional) Duchy of Strackenz that borders Germanymarker and Denmarkmarker, and the events of The Prisoner of Zenda were simply imitations of the adventures of Harry Paget Flashman whilst in Strackenz.

Ruritania is mentioned in Anno Dracula and The New Traveller's Almanac. In Back in the USSA, Princess Flavia of Ruritania marries into an alternate history Romanov dynasty. The short story "A Shambles in Belgravia" features Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler working to cause a scandal in the Ruritanian government. In "Jumpman 2" Ruritania is briefly mentioned in a changed future quote:

"When in Ruritania, do as the Ruritanians do."

"It's Romans" Jules corrected "Do as the Romans do."

"What would the Romans be doing in Ruritania?"

Warren Ellis used the Ruritania setting as part of his graphic novella Aetheric Mechanics, in which Britain and Ruritania are fighting an aerial war. It is stated that Ruritania annexed Grand Fenwick. Ruritania appears in a newspaper headline in Volume III of Alan Moore's graphic novel, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Ruritania even makes an appearance in the card game "Contraband", in which one of the cards represents the Ruritanian Crown Jewels.

In academia

"Ruritania" is used as the placeholder name of a hypothetical country to make points in academic discussions, much as Alice and Bob are in logic and computing.

Jurists specialising in international law use it and other fictional countries when describing a hypothetical case illustrating some legal point. Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer cited Ruritania as a fictional enemy when illustrating a security treaty between Australia and Indonesiamarker signed on 8 November 2006: "We do not need to have a security agreement with Indonesia so both of us will fight off the Ruritanians. That's not what the relationship is about," he said. "It is all about working together on the threats that we have to deal with, which are different types of threats".

Walter Lippmann used the word to describe the stereotype that characterized the vision of international relations during and after the First World War. Ruritania is used as the name of a highly nationalist country in Equatorial Cyberspace [57969], a fictional continent used for a peacebuilding and conflict resolution simulation at McGill Universitymarker.

Ruritania has also been used to describe the stereotypical development of nationalism in 19th century Eastern Europe, by Ernest Gellner in Nations and Nationalism, in a pastiche of the historical narratives of nationalist movements among Poles, Czechs, Serbians, Romanians, etc. In this story, peasant Ruritanians living in the "Empire of Megalomania" developed national consciousness through the elaboration of a Ruritanian high culture by a small group of intellectuals responding to industrialization and labor migration.

Author and humor theorist Isaac Asimov, when telling ethnic jokes that were based entirely on ethnic slurs, would transplant them to Ruritania, e.g.
Q: Why do Ruritanian dogs have flat faces?
A: From chasing parked cars.


Author JG Ballard, after refusing a CBE, referred to the British Honors System as a "Ruritanian charade that helps to prop up our top-heavy monarchy". [57970]

Economist Ludwig von Mises discussed currency reform for Ruritania and its "rurs" in the expanded edition of The Theory of Money and Credit, chapter 23.

Author and mathematician Vernor Vinge discusses the "Ruritania of the mind" in his 1999 space opera, A Deepness in the Sky.

See also



References

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