So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Poniard’s Hilt by Eugene Sue

The Poniard’s Hilt; or, Karadeucq and Ronan: A Tale of Bagauders and Vagres by Eugene Sue is the sixth book of Eugene Sue's 21 volume series The Mysteries of the People; or History of a Proletarian Family Across the Age. The series was created to be a European history that depicts the struggle between the ruling and the ruled classes. One family, the descendants of a Gallic chief named Joel, represent the oppressed and the descendants of a Frankish chief Neroweg, typifies the oppressors. Down through the ages the successive struggles between oppressors and oppressed are depicted as each generation of Joel's family writes the story of their lives and adds it to the collective story gathered so far. The Poniard's Hilt takes place in the 6th century CE just after the invasion of Gaul by Clovis and his Frankish tribes. Clovis embraces Christianity, but also uses intrigue and wars to build what we now know as the Merovingian dynasty. This combination of conquest, Christianity, and corruption lays waste to the lands and the people of Gaul. Local priests and lords pillage the land, stealing from the people and each other to amass their wealth and power. As a response to the crushing domination of this combination of church and state, small groups of Gallic peasants, gathering together in the forests in rebellious bands called Bagauders and Vagres, resort to guerrilla counterattacks. Karadeucq and his son Ronan are descendants of Joel, and this tale is told as if it were written down by Ronan, a brave and boastful brigand. Ronan's group of Vagres takes revenge on the local bishop by burning and looting his home and freeing his servants. Bishop Cautin seeks help from the local Frankish lord Count Neroweg and his troops who kill or capture the Vagres. Karadeucq, a Bagauder disguised as a travelling performer, comes to Neroweg's castle to free his son. The tale is written as if told by the youthful Ronan who glorifies the life of the forest rebel and vilifies the court life based on pillage and enslavement of the local Gauls. The modern reader can see Ronan as a French Robin Hood who takes from the rich plunderers and distributes it back to the oppressed. The poniard (also spelled poignard) of the title is a long thin knife used for thrusting that is passed on to Ronan by his brother that contains three words engraved in its hilt. Two are the Gallic words Friendship and Community, but the third was a Saxon word new to him - Ghilde. When Ronan asks the meaning, he is told that a Ghilde is an association of men owing solidarity to each other. It is through the forming of a community of workers that this story ends to be picked up in book seven of the series: The Branding Needle; or, The Monastery of Charolles: A Tale of the First Communal Charter.

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