Writers make up imaginary countries all the time, and for a variety of reasons. It’s relatively straightforward to slip in a familiar-sounding name into a part of the world your reader or viewer may not be too familiar with.
Livonia, Wallaria, Tazbekistan…
They could be countries, right? But there’s one name in particular which stands out. It is the imaginary country, and the inspiration for an entire subgenre. This is the country of Ruritania.
The Ruritanian Romance
Ruritania was the setting for Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel The Prisoner of Zenda. The novel itself was a huge bestseller and it immediately spawned theatrical versions and later film adaptations. It was the basis for hundreds of imitations, reworkings, and parodies. So much so, that the Ruritanian romance became a subgenre unto itself.
In this episode I talk to Prof Nick Daly of Univesity College Dublin about Ruritania and imaginary countries more generally. What was it about The Prisoner of Zenda that made it so influential? How is the Ruritanian romance different from a lost world tale, a utopia, or a fantasy tale? And why do we like inventing imaginary countries anyway? What purpose do they serve and what do they tell us about ourselves?
Professor Nicholas Daly
Professor Daly is the Professor of Modern English and American Literature at University College Dublin, Ireland. His publications and full profile can be found here. He is the author of a number of studies on Victorian and early twentieth-century fiction and is currently working on a project examining representations of imaginary European territories from The Prisoner of Zenda to The Princess Diaries.
You can read more about The Prisoner of Zenda in this article by Prof Daly at The Branch Collective, a great online resource for Victorian studies.
Tracks, in the order played:
Big River Man
Telekinetic Forest Guard
Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda
The Ambassadors (BBC)
The West Wing
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There’s an art to naming a great imaginary country. What’s your favourite? Let me know in the comments below or check out the Words To That Effect Facebook Page