Places: Under Two Flags

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1867

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Sentimental

Time of work: Mid-nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedHousehold

Household. Under Two FlagsLondon barracks of the 1st Life Guards, a British military unit that serves the government in a largely decorative capacity. Although the Life Guards are a military brigade, its members are mostly the pampered sons of royalty. Great camaraderie and fellowship exists within the ranks, but discipline is lax. The men spend most of their time indulging the vices of the privileged class: drinking, smoking, gambling, racing horses, and attending balls and parties. Life in the Household is characterized by dissipation and ennui.

Royallieu

Royallieu. Country estate of the Viscount Royallieu, and home of the Cecil family, to which the protagonist, Bertie Cecil, belongs. The estate is located in the Melton countryside of central England. The estate’s expansive grounds are well stocked with game for hunting, and its manor house is magnificently outfitted with servants, cooks, and grooms who cater to its distinguished visitors. Though its banquet halls, decorative paintings, and costly furnishings bespeak the luxury of wealth, in truth its luxury has been purchased at the cost of the future. Members of the Cecil family no longer have enough money to sustain the magnificence of their estate. Nevertheless the proud viscount refuses to change his spendthrift ways or sell part of the estate to subsidize his profligate sons. Royallieu embodies the unrealistic expectations of its idle-rich owner and represents the prodigality of the wealthy society the Cecil family keeps.

*Algeria

*Algeria. Country in North Africa whose native people are at war with the occupying French forces. Algeria is an exotic locale, bustling with commerce brought to it by visitors from many nations. Although different cultures mix in its streets, they do not assimilate, with the result that its markets and cafés are full of sound and color, at the very least energetic but often cacophonous.

There is great romance to the Algerian setting. The customs of the local people, alien to the European legionnaires, enhance the country’s mystique. There is also a rough natural beauty to the desert landscape, as well as an omnipresent sense of danger. Outsiders in a hostile country, the legionnaires know that each day may be their last. Even as this binds the legionnaires into a close fraternity, it fosters an almost hedonistic live-for-today attitude, which the soldiers express through debauchery and stealing from the local people.

The glorious past of Algeria intensifies the brooding sense of mortality that hangs over the present. The country was once part of the vast North African lands of Solomon, Hannibal, and Cleopatra. Now, hostelries, dry goods stores, and gambling dens profane sites where holy mosques and monuments to gods once stood. Against the backdrop of Algeria’s past, the decadent present seems but an inconsequential moment. It is only part of the passing show of history that inevitably consigns civilizations, no matter how magnificent, to the tomb.

The varying circumstances of the Algerian setting dictate a type of military life different from that in England. As Bertie’s groom observes, the foreign legion is not preoccupied with fashion, protocol, and the small details of military etiquette that have driven true soldiers out of the service in England. It cares only that its recruits are able to rise to the occasion swiftly and efficiently in a combat situation, when lives hang in the balance.

The complexity and paradoxes of Algeria are an appropriate backdrop for Bertie’s adventures. The country’s chaos and heterogeneity resonate with the paradoxes of his character: He is a man of honor wrongly disgraced for secretly upholding the honor of another. As an expatriate soldier whose unwavering principles have earned respect from both the Europeans in the legion and the native Moors, he is proof that there are common denominators that join the East and West, even if assimilation of the cultures is not possible.

BibliographyBeerbohm, Max. “Ouida.” In More. London: John Lane, 1899. The finest essay ever written on Ouida. Praises her energy, the fascination of her discursive plots, her characters, and her scenic range and store of information. Admires her love of beauty in nature and art.Bigland, Eileen. Ouida: The Passionate Victorian. London: Jarrolds, 1950. Praises Under Two Flags as Ouida’s deservedly most famous romantic extravaganza. Sees Cigarette as hauntingly vital and lovable, especially when compared to Guinevere and Corona. Admires Ouida’s description of desert action.Porch, Douglas. The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Discusses the maneuvers of the Emir Abd el-Kader, Arab resistance leader, against the French near Oran. In criticizing novels and movies about the Foreign Legion, approvingly quotes one commentator who calls Under Two Flags “giddy [and] romantic.”Smith, R. Dixon. Ronald Colman, Gentleman of the Cinema: A Biography and Filmography. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1991. Discusses the 1915, 1917, 1921, and 1936 film adaptations of Under Two Flags. Summarizes the considerably altered plot of the 1921 version.Stirling, Monica. The Fine and the Wicked: The Life and Times of Ouida. New York: Coward-McCann, 1958. Includes high praise of Under Two Flags. Relates several elements in it to contemporary society, art, and literature, and to Ouida’s personal life.
Categories: Places