A Review: Beau Ideal By P.C. Wren

October 5, 2009

 

A Contribution To The

ERBzine ERB Library Project

The Beau Ideal Trilogy Of

P.C. Wren

Beau Geste~Beau Sabreur~Beau Ideal

Review by R.E. Prindle

Part I.    Introduction

Part II.  Review of Beau Geste

Part III. Review of Beau Sabreur

Part IV. Review of Beau Ideal

      The first novel of the trilogy signifies a good, beautiful or noble deed.  The deed being the Geste brothers taking the odium of the theft of the sapphire on themselves.  The second, Beau Sabreur, meaning the Noble Warrior or Fighter.  The story then centers on its Lancelot like character, De Beaujolais with attention to the noble actions of subsidiary characters.  Hank and Buddy fit in as noble warriors also.  Beau Ideal then centers on the noble ideals that activate the characters and are part of Western Culture as against that the the others.

     I will put the dramatic first chapter second begin with the second section called The History of Otis Van Brugh, perhaps meant to be a Gawaine type.   Beau Ideal is Otis’ book as the first was that of Michael Geste and his brothers and the second that of De Beaujolais.

     Otis, Hank and Mary are brothers and sister with a last sister who remained at home in Texas.  Their father was a brute of a fellow who drove all his children from home except the last sister.  Wren himself must have had a wretched father because all the fathers in the trilogy are failed men, fellows who don’t have a grip on the meaning of really being a man.

     Neal, or Hank Vanbrugh, refused to put up with it taking to a wandering life.  On the road he met Buddy where they became pals ending up in the Legion.

     Otis and mary being younger subsequently left Texas to lead a peripatetic ex-patriot life of the well to do.  The history of Mary, Hank and Buddy has been given in Beau Sabreur.

     When Otis left De Beaujolais he tried to reach the French contingent in the fort.  Along the way he ran into Redon who filled him in.  Otis was to try to reach the fort to request them to assist a detached unit fighting their way to the fort.  He succeeds.

     In the process Redon diverting the attack away from the fort is shot by friendly fire.  Both he and Otis were dressed as Moslems.  Otis attempts to reach Redon but is shot falling unconscious outside the fort.  Thus when the French are massacred he is the sole survivor.

     He returns to England where psychologically shattered he is stopped by a policeman.  While being interviewed he is conveniently rescued by the leading ‘alienist’ of England.  Given refuge  in his asylum Otis discovers Isobel whose mental health is destabilized because her husband John Geste is in the penal battalion of the FFL.  She implores Otis to find John and bring him back alive.  Here’s a beau ideal.  Ever loving Isobel Otis agrees to sacrifice his happiness to go back to Africa to find John.

     What a guy!  Otis joins the Foreign Legion with the intent of being sent to the penal battalion called the Zephyrs.  He joins and succeeds in being sent to the Zephyrs.  Now we return to the opening chapter.

     Anyone who ever fancied joining the Legion, and the notion was discussed a lot down to the sixties of the last century when I was launching my bark upon the waters, should  have read Erwin Rosen’s In The Legion first.  The Legion was unconcionably cruel to its soldiers in everyday life let alone the penal battalion.  As an example, the Legionnaires complained of excessive marching.  They were required to do thirty miles a day carrying 50 lbs. or more with pack and rifle.  One really has to read Rosen’s description to realize the horror.  Those who dropped out were left where they fell.  Arab women found them subjecting them to horrid tortures.

     This became so common that the Legionnaires were given leave to slaughter the Arab women as a lesson.  This they did with a vengeance.  Rosen was shown a purse by a fellow soldier made from the severed breast of a woman.  Rosen said they were common at one time; an example of what  can happen when civilization meets savagery.  Civilization is lowered but savagery isn’t raised.  The Beau Ideal is lost.

     One of the punishments Rosen mention was called the Silo.  As he describes it these were holes dug into the ground with a funnel put where the victim had to stand exposed to the blazing sun during the day and freezing cold at night.

     Wren converts the idea of these silos into an actual underground grain storage unit capable of holding several men.  In his version the funnel was closed off admitting no light.  As the story opens several men are sweltering in the pit.  A Taureg raid was made on the penal colony building a road near the pit that  killed the whole contingent so that no new supplies were lowered.  The men are dying one by one.

     Otis is in the silo the next to last survivor.  He discovers that the other survivor is none other than John Geste.  On the point of expiring a scout from Hank and Otis’ tribe, or headquarters,  discovers the silo and hauls the two out.  Coincidences and miracles just naturally go with the desert.

     The scout take them to a member tribe of the federation.  Both are now wanted men by the FFL with no hope of salvation.  They have no alternative but to get out of Africa hopefully avoiding France.

     I can’t ask you to guess who was in the camp because you wouldn’t.  Remember the Arab dancing girl Otis met in Beau Sabreur?  She’s the one and she’s still in love with Otis.  Wren names her the Death Angel.  Wren was heavily influenced by E.M. Hull’s The Sheik.  Maud in Beau Sabreur was mad about sheiks, overjoyed when she won one in the person of Hank.  Of couse Hank was an American sheik and not an Arab one, much as Hull’s sheik was in reality half English and half Spanish.

     So, perhaps Otis and the Death Angel are revenants of the Sheik and Diana from Hull’s novel.  In this case the woman has power over the man but the sexual roles remain the same as the king trumps the queen every time as Larry Hosford sings.  If you don’t lose track of who you are it’s true too.  Otis doesn’t lose track of who he is.  Revisit the story of Circe and Ulysses.

     The tribe that rescues Otis and Geste is a rival of Hank Sheik’s but a subordinate member of the confederation.  Hank has organized a sort of United Emirates of the Sahara of which he serves as President for life but without any democratic trimmings.  In a parody of the Sheik then the Death Angel demands ‘kiss me’ of Otis.  He’s not so easy to deal with as Diana.  Even with the Death Angel’s knife at his breast he refuses.

     In the meantime the Zephyrs reclaim Geste and he goes back to his old job of building roads.  Rosen’s account of the FFL compares with Burroughs’ account of his army days.  ERB too was put to work building roads, complaining of moving or perhaps breaking huge boulders.  Both his experience and that of the penal colony of the FFL are quite similar to the chain gangs of the old South of the United States.

     Even when not of the Zephyrs the Legionnaires were given detestable tasks unbefitting the dignity of soldiers.  According to Rosen the men were required to clean out sewers in the Arab quarter of Sidi Bel Abbes.  That’s enough to make anybody desert.  And then get sent to the penal battalion. Crazy, crazy world.  Rosen’s In The Legion is well worth reading if you like this sort of thing.  Download it from the inernet.  Only a hundred pages or so.

     Geste then has to be re-rescued.  This forms the central part of the story along with Otis’ struggles with the Death Angel.  Hank and Buddy get windof the two FFL captives coming to investigate.  Otis then discovers his long lost brother.  It is settled then that Hank and Buddy will give up their Sheikdom to return to pappy’s farm, or ranch.

     Even though Hank and Buddy are powerful sheiks they are still deserters from the Legion so getting out of Algeria is a problem.  Rosen tells a story of a deserter who made it back to Austria where he became a rich and  successful manufacturer.  He made the mistake of exhibiting his manufactures  in Paris in person.  There he was recognized by his old officer who arrested him sending him back to Africa.  There he died.  So Hank and Buddy run the risk of being recognized and arested on the way out of Africa as well as Otis and Geste.

     Geste’s rescue is effected.  The quartet successfully exit Africa arriving safely back in Texas.  However the Death Angel’s help was necessary.  To obtain that help Otis promises to marry her.  He doesn’t want to but a Beau Ideal is a Beau Ideal and so he is going to honor his commitment. On the eve of departure the Angel gives Otis a locket she wears as a good luck charm.  Very bad move.  The locket contains pictures of her mother and father.  Otis examines the mother with some interest then turns his attention to the father….

     Should I ruin a perfectly good ERB ending for you?  Sure, why not?  I’ve got a little sadistic streak too.  Everyone was using this one.  No fooling now, the Death Angel was Otis’ sister because dear old Dad was her mother’s wife; he was known as Omar out there on the burning sands.  Well, there’s a revelation, not that keen sighted readers like you and I didn’t see it coming from miles away.  You can see a long way out there in the desert.

     Hank, Buddy and Otis’ excellent African adventure is over.  The whole episode was like watching a movie except real.  But, back in Texas it may as well have been a dream.  The old codger is still living as the troop of Mary and De Beaujolais, Hank and Buddy and Otis assemble at the ranch, John and Isobel are there too.  Sister Janey is still waiting on her father.

     Well, Hank has Maud, De Beaujolais has Mary, Geste has Isobel but Buddy’s staring at the moon alone.  Still there’s Janey and that’s a match made in heaven but Dad won’t let her go and Janey waon’t leave without his consent.  Otis intervenes pushing Janey toward Buddy then turning to face down his Dad for the first time in his life.

     Pop doubles his fist moving to deck Otis.  Otis holds up the locket like a cross before Dracula stopping the old man in his tracks.  Confronted with the truth the old fellow buckles giving his son the triumph.   So the Beau Ideal triumphs.

     That’s all there is, no more verses left.

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