The Geste of Duke Jocelyn: a Romance in Prose and Verse by Jeffrey Farnol (1919)

This month two members of the reading group read novels by Jeffery Farnol (1878 – 1952). He was a prolific writer of romantic adventure stories, many set in the past, and is almost forgotten today. From the reports of our readers, his appeal is largely inexplicable! Chronicles of the Imp (1912) was descibed as ‘a cross between Just William without the wit and humour and Enid Blyton’. Not very tempting. There is, however, a Jeffery Farnol Appreciation Society and his wikipedia entry credits him, with Georgette Heyer, with establishing the genre of Regency romantic novels.

The Geste of Duke Jocelyn: a Romance in Prose and Verse (1919) was an unusual flight of  medieval whimsy for Farnol. Here is a review by Helen N:

The story takes place in an unidentified country and period though from language and internal clues this is a sort of generalised “medieval” period. It is very light- hearted, there is no attempt at any kind of historical accuracy and indeed the author begins “Upon a day, but when it matters not, Nor where…….”. The story is a very predictable tale of a hero, Duke Jocelyn, who is ugly but otherwise heroic and his love for Yolande. His friend Pertinax is similarly in love with Benedicta, but not ugly. Both the ladies are impossibly beautiful. The plot deals with their adventures including fights , imprisonment and meeting with an old crone called Mopsa and a dwarf, Lobkyn.

It is told partly in verse and partly in prose, as the story progresses the poetry becomes limited to a plentiful supply of songs sung by various characters. In that way it is very faintly (VERY) related to Tolkein in format, though not in any other way, for the world is painted cardboard and the characters two-dimensional. I found it impossible to care about them in any way. The whole thing is rather like a pantomime without the jokes – because although there are humourous passages and the author introduces passages of word-play which are based on Elizabethen drama, they are not very funny. The use of an archaic language with “Thee”s and “thou”s – and of course, “ye” gets in the way of the narrative. (I do find it interesting that there is no kind of glossary or foot-notes, I doubt if anyone not brought up on classical English Literature would understand some of it nowadays.)

The most interesting part is the dialogue purporting to be between the author and his daughter Gillian which frames and interrupts the story. All of this is in verse, but Gillian is a lively girl, who chivies her father along when the plot sags and infuriates him by speaking slang. “Swish, piffle, corking etc” which gives us a nice idea of a father and daughter relationship in 1919.

It has been reprinted several times in the last few years and is on Kindle – so somebody out there likes it!

I would be very interested to know what readers this book was aimed at?

3 thoughts on “The Geste of Duke Jocelyn: a Romance in Prose and Verse by Jeffrey Farnol (1919)

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