Places: The Prisoner of Zenda

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1894

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: 1880’s

Places DiscussedRuritania

Ruritania. Prisoner of Zenda, TheImagnary country in central Europe whose name suggests isolation, as in the word “rural.” The country is presented as a real place because the novel’s protagonist, Rudolph Rassendyl, reaches it via the Dresden train. Dresden would represent, to Hope’s European audience, the eastern border of Germany, the territory of the Austro-Hungarian Empire where Germanic and Slavic cultures intermingle. It is the region of Germany once known as Bohemia, which would connote to the late Victorian reader a wild, artistic sense of life. The Dresden train is the last vestige of the civilized nineteenth century; once the hero leaves it, he is plunged into the feudal world of Ruritania. Outside the capital city of Strelsau, Ruritania is a mass of forests and villages. The protagonist Rassendyl speaks of being enchanted by the beauty of the forest outside Zenda, and that elvish word invokes the same fairy-tale sentiment as does the name of the Ruritanian king’s family, the House of Elphberg. References to religious ceremonies during the coronation of the Ruritanian king indicate that Ruritania is a Catholic country, though there is no discernible religious significance to the Catholic references. They are merely a part of the overall sense of medievalism in Ruritania.


Zenda. Small town located fifty miles from the Ruritanian capital of Strelsau. Zenda boasts scenic hills, beautiful forests, and an ancient castle which served as the country residence of the Duke of Strelsau, the king’s half brother. The castle itself serves as an emblem of the odd marriage of realism and romance in Hope’s novel: It is a medieval stone edifice attached to a modern-style villa added by the duke. However, the villa is the only modern thing in Zenda and is associated with the evil duke. There are modern hotels in Strelsau, but in Zenda all the narrator can find is a homey inn as described in medieval romances. A train brings him to Zenda, but once there, all his travel is by foot or by horse. After the castle of Zenda is turned into a prison for Prince Rudolph, to keep him from accepting the crown that the duke covets, the modern villa is not mentioned again, and the gothic gloom of the ancient castle pervades the story.


Strelsau. Capital city of Ruritania represents the home of the would-be king Rudolph, who enjoys the high life of the city and avoids the Ruritanian heartland. Strelsau appears only in the background of the novel, as the only inroad of the modern world in Ruritania. None of the action occurs in the city, though it is frequently mentioned.

BibliographyMallet, Sir Charles Edward. Anthony Hope and His Books: Being the Authorized Life of Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1968. Examines the influence of Anthony Hope’s life on The Prisoner of Zenda. Chronicles the instantaneous success of the book and its warm reception by authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, and Andrew Lang. Examines the book’s sequel, Rupert of Hentzau (1898), and the adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda for stage. Examines Anthony Hope’s style of writing.Putt, S. Gorley. “The Prisoner of Zenda: Anthony Hope and the Novel of Society.” Essays in Criticism 6 (January, 1956): 38-59. Places The Prisoner of Zenda in its proper late Victorian milieu. Unlike the aesthetic writers of the 1890’s, Anthony Hope celebrates traditional values such as honor, virtue, and sacrifice.Wallace, Raymond P. “Cardboard Kingdoms.” San Jose Studies 13, no. 2 (Spring, 1987): 23-34. Compares The Prisoner of Zenda to George Barr McCutcheon’s Graustark series and George Meredith’s Adventures of Harry Richmond (1871). Considers the appeal of imaginary kingdoms and royalty to late Victorian readers, and finds the attractions of imaginary realms more appealing than realistic elements of the 1890’s.
Categories: Places