The Queen Who Flew is a fairy tale by Ford Madox Ford, first published in 1894 back when Ford Madox Ford was Ford Madox Hueffer (he changed his name in 1919; it's suggested "Hueffer" sounded too Germanic). He is perhaps best known for his Parade's End (1924-28) and The Good Soldier (1915; I'm planning on read this very soon), but Ford was also the author of several fairy tales: The Brown Owl and The Feather (both 1892), and this, The Queen Who Flew.
The story begins,
Once upon a time a Queen sat in her garden. She was quite a young, young Queen; but that was a long while ago, so she would be older now. But, for all she was Queen over a great and powerful country, she led a very quiet life, and sat a great deal alone in her garden watching the roses grow, and talking to a bat that hung, head downwards, with its wings folded, for all the world like an umbrella, beneath the shade of a rose tree overhanging her favourite marble seat. She did not know much about the bat, not even that it could fly, for her servants and nurses would never allow her to be out at dusk, and the bat was a great deal too weak-eyed to fly about in the broad daylight.
|The cover of The Queen Who Flew|
illustrated by Edward Burne Jones.
Apologies for the low resolution.
Ford goes on to describe how "there was a revolution in the land", writing further -
But you must understand that in those days a revolution was a thing very different from what it would be to-day.
Instead of trying to get rid of the Queen altogether, the great nobles of the kingdom merely fought violently with each other for possession of the Queen's person. Then they would proclaim themselves Regents of the kingdom and would issue bills of attainder against all their rivals, saying they were traitors against the Queen's Government.
In fact, a revolution in those days was like what is called a change of Ministry now, save for the fact that they were rather fond of indulging themselves by decapitating their rivals when they had the chance, which of course one would never think of doing nowadays.
|Above: Salisbury by "Ape" for|
Vanity Fair (1869).
Below: Gladstone by "Spy" for
Vanity Fair (1887).
Now, I can't help but think of General Elections here and would note that during the period Ford was writing there seems to have been a disproportionately high number of Prime Ministers: there was an election in 1885, and, on the whole, one would expect a Prime Minister in 1885, then perhaps another one in 1890, and a third in 1895, but this was not the case: in 1885, William Ewart Gladstone won the most seats for the Liberals but did not win a majority. Gladstone was thus defeated on the Ireland Bill, which was seen on as a vote of no confidence, and parliament was dissolved in June that year. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury took over, and was then voted in in another General Election in 1886. He lead the country until 1892, whereupon another General Election was held (this one was due): Salisbury won again, but, like Gladstone, did not have enough seats for a majority. He resigned a few months later following a defeat, and William Ewart Gladstone takes over and wishes Henry Labouchère to be in his cabinet. Labouchère, however, insulted the royal family at some point so Queen Victoria vetoes it (the last time the monarch ever vetoed a potential member of the cabinet). In 1894, the year The Queen Who Flew was published, Gladstone resigned and Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery took over (by all accounts it sounds like it wasn't too successful) and Salisbury would take over in 1895 until another General Election in the same year, which Salisbury would win.
In short, here was a period of a great amount of political wrangling (which, I would say, is well-matched by the sheer volume of elections and referendums the Conservatives have brought us since 2010, thus making their "strong and stable" slogan sadly ironic) and I really do believe Ford had all of this in mind when he wrote the above paragraph!
But, back to The Queen Who Flew: the queen, the very young Queen Eldrida, spends her days in the garden talking to her friend the bat - here comes what is perhaps my most favourite sentence in literature - "The Queen and the bat had been talking a good deal that afternoon—about the weather and about the revolution and the colour of cats and the like." She then learns that the bat can fly and wishes she could do so herself, if only to escape her suitors including the awful Lord Blackjowl. The bat, a rather cantankerous sort, asks why she thinks she can't, getting rather irritable with her in the process. He then agrees he will tell her the secret, and, eventually, she flies: flying off from the palace and into the realm. Ford describes some wonderful adventures, including one Goethe-esque encounter with the devil, and she learns much about her people and, indeed, herself.
It's a wonderful story, a great fairy tale as good as the likes of Hans Christian Andersen's or The Brothers Grimm. I can't help but feel adults may enjoy it even more than children. The Queen is a great character, but the bat: the bat is one of the best animal creations in literature, certainly up there with Badger (my favourite) from The Wind in the Willows (1908).
And that was my 22nd title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week: The Curate in a Populus Parish by Anthony Trollope.