This time, we head back into Gothic territory with a tale of cruelty and revenge set during the Franco-Prussian war, ‘The Lord of Chateau Noir’ from 1894.
You can read the short story here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Lord_of_Ch%C3%A2teau_Noir
Or listen to
Greg Wagland’s audiobook version here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4S8hubCSDeU
The episode can be heard here: http://doingsofdoyle.podbean.com/.
In late 1870, the Franco-Prussian War entered its second phase. The Empire of Napoleon III has been defeated and the French have declared a Third Republic and refused to capitulate to the Prussians. Paris is besieged and Northern France remains a battleground.
In the occupied
Norman town of Les Andelys, Prussian sentries are regularly found dead, while foraging
parties and patrols have disappeared. The nearby Chateau Noir seems to be
central to these events and Captain Baumgarten is sent to investigate…
Writing and publication history
|Stonyhurst College today
The story was written
in Spring 1894 (completed in May), as one of many occasional pieces for the
Strand after the demise of Sherlock Holmes.
in the UK in the Strand Magazine, July 1894, with illustrations by William B. Wollen,
the great Gerard illustrator. Printed alongside was ‘An Alpine Pass on Ski,’
Conan Doyle’s remembrance of a recent trip to Switzerland.
in the US in newspapers during July 1894.
Collected in The
Green Flag and Other Stories of War and Sport (1900), alongside ‘A Shadow
Before’ (1898) which also concerns the Franco-Prussian War.
Franco-Prussian War (1870-71)
|From Cassell's Illustrated History of the War
The record of a
meeting between the French ambassador and Kaiser (the Ems Telegram) was
doctored to enrage French popular opinion, leading the Empire of Napoleon III
to declare war on Prussia in July 1870. What was seen as French aggression led
to the southern German states allying with Prussia.
military moved swiftly and secured early victories. In August, the Battle of
Wiessemburg took place, at which General Douay was killed, damaging national hopes.
This is the battle at which Count Eustace’s son was captured in ‘The Lord of
Chateau Noir.’ This was followed by the Battle of Sedan in early September at which
Napoleon III and much of the French army was captured.
In Paris, a new
Republic was formed and vowed to fight on. This second phase of the war saw the
use of the levee en masse and francs tireurs (irregular forces)
which feature in ‘The Lord of Chateau Noir.’
In the waning days
of the war, with German victory all but assured, the German states proclaimed
their union as the German Empire under the Prussian king Wilhelm I and
While there were
atrocities on both sides, the ‘slaughter narratives’ are increasingly questioned,
with many historians noting that the irregular troops were perhaps less
effective than often portrayed and the Prussian troops behaving consistently
with the norms of 19thC warfare.
|Les Andelys c. 1900. The grey house below indicates Mme Ricard's house
In Autumn 1870,
Conan Doyle’s sister Annette was educated at St Clotilde, a boarding school for
girls in Les Andelys, during the early stages of the war. Lottie attended the same
school from 1881.
Conan Doyle visited
the town several times, being hosted by Madame Ricard. See the link above for an
interview with Madame Ricard from 1959.
Conan Doyle knew the area, there’s the intriguing possibility that Chateau Noir
could be based on a real place. One candidate in Chateau de Pont-Saint-Pierre, a
few miles north west of Les Andelys, which has been abandoned for much of the
last fifty years. With its overhanging turrets and low arched door, it could be
a proxy for Chateau Noir.
Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)
|Guy de Maupassant (1850-93)
of Prussian forces is almost entirely negative. They are shown to be dull and
slow-witted, arrogant and, in the case of Boule de Suif, sexual
predators. Other notable tales include Mademoiselle Fifi, about an effeminate
German officer who abuses and is killed by a Jewish prostitute, and Deux Amis in
which two friends debate the war before being captured and executed by the
Conan Doyle read
Maupassant and had a troubled relationship with his work. He poured praise on
his essay ‘Le Roman’ in 1888 and said ‘Le Horla’ (1887) was the fourth greatest
short story of all time (the first being Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Pavillion
on the Links’). However, he found Maupassant’s subject matter deeply uncomfortable,
and in May 1894, at the time of writing ‘The Lord of Chateau Noir,’ wrote to
his mother that ‘Zola and Maupassant and Gautier get beyond me.’
Through the Magic Door (1907), he claimed Maupassant was one of the greatest
short story writers of all time, and second only to Edgar Allan Poe. High praise
indeed from Conan Doyle.
suffered from personal demons and developed an acute paranoia and fear of death
which overtook him. He attempted suicide in 1892, was committed to an asylum
and died of syphilis in 1893 (the same year as Conan Doyle’s father).
The Gothic and the Conte Cruel
The story appears to take inspiration and tone from the French conte cruel, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. The movement takes its name from his Contes Cruels (1883, translated into English as Sardonic Tales by Hamish Miles in 1927).
There is more discussion of the Conte Cruel in
Episode 6 – The Case of Lady Sannox.
A Shadow Before (December 1898)
Before’ is a vignette, first published in 1898, in which a trader, John
Worlington Dodds, deduces from the exorbitant prices paid for horses at an
Irish auction that war between France and Germany is imminent. The story can be
read here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=A_Shadow_Before
appeared in Windsor Magazine in December 1898 and was collected alongside ‘The
Lord of Chateau Noir’ in The Green Flag and Other Stories of War and Sport
There is a touch of foreshadowing of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) when Captain Baumgarten observes the similarities between generations of seigneurs of Chateau Noir ‘all men with hawk noses and bold, high features, so like each other that only the dress could distinguish the Crusader from the Cavalier of the Fronde.’
Related Conan Doyle works referenced
|Illustration by Wollen for the story
The Hound of
the Baskervilles (1902)
of the Abbey Grange (1904)
The Adventure of
the Speckled Band (1892)
of the Blanched Soldier (1926)
The Case of
Lady Sannox (1893)
of Signor Lambert (1898)
Keinplatz Experiment (1885)
A Scandal in
Next time on the Doings of Doyle…
A complete change of tone and pace with the light-hearted body-swap story, The Great Keinplatz Experiment (1885) which can be read here: https://www.arthur-conan-doyle.com/index.php?title=The_Great_Keinplatz_Experiment
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Image credits: Thanks to Alexis Barquin at The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopaedia for permission to reproduce these images. Please support the encyclopaedia at www.arthur-conan-doyle.com.
Music credit: Sneaky Snitch Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/