Beau Geste

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For other uses, see Beau Geste (disambiguation).
Beau Geste
Beau Geste novel.jpg
Author P. C. Wren
Genre Novel
Publication date
1924
Media type Print

Beau Geste is an adventure novel by P. C. Wren, which details the adventures of three English brothers who enlist separately in the French Foreign Legion following the theft of a valuable jewel from the country house of a relative. While written in 1924 the novel is set in the period before World War I. It has been adapted for the screen several times.

Plot summary[edit]

Michael "Beau" Geste is the protagonist. The main narrator is his younger brother John. The three Geste brothers are portrayed as behaving according to the British upper class values of a time gone by, and "the decent thing to do" is, in fact, the leitmotif of the novel. The Geste brothers are orphans and have been brought up by their aloof aunt Lady Patricia at Brandon Abbas. The rest of Beau's band are mainly Isobel and Claudia (apparently illegitimate daughter of Lady Patricia) and Lady Patricia's relative Augustus (caddish nephew of the absent Sir Hector Brandon). John and Isobel are devoted to each other and it is in part to spare her any suspicion of being a thief that he takes the extreme step of joining the Foreign Legion.

When a precious jewel known as the "Blue Water" goes missing, suspicion falls on the young people, and Beau leaves Britain to join the French Foreign Legion in Algeria, followed by his brothers, Digby (his twin) and John. After recruit training in Sidi Bel Abbes and some active service skirmishing with tribesmen in the south, John and Beau are posted to the little garrison of the desert outpost of Fort Zinderneuf in the French Soudan. Their commander there is the sadistic Sergeant Major Lejaune who drives his abused subordinates to the verge of mutiny. Only an attack by Tuaregs prevents mass desertion (only the Geste brothers and a few loyals are against the plot). Throughout the book and adventures, Beau's behaviour is true to France and the Legion, and he dies at his post. Digby, detached for service with mule−mounted infantry and part of the relief column that reaches Fort Zindeneuf, is subsequently killed in a skirmish.

At Brandon Abbas, the last survivor of the three brothers, John, is welcomed by their aunt and his fiancée Isobel, and the reason for the jewel theft is revealed to have been a matter of honour, and to have been the only "decent thing" possible.

Title[edit]

The phrase "beau geste" (pronounced: [bo ʒɛst]) is from the French, meaning "a gracious (or fine) gesture".[1]

In French, the phrase includes the suggestion of a fine gesture with unwelcome or futile consequences,[1] and an allusion to the chanson de geste, a literary poem celebrating the legendary deeds of a hero.[2]

Sequels[edit]

P.C. Wren wrote the sequels Beau Sabreur (in which the narrator is a French officer of Spahis who plays a secondary role in "Beau Geste") and Beau Ideal. He also wrote Good Gestes, a collection of short tales (about half of them about the Geste brothers and their American friends Hank and Buddy, who also feature prominently in Beau Sabreur and Beau Ideal) and Spanish Maine (UK) or The Desert Heritage (USA), where loose ends are tied up and the successive tales of John Geste's adventures come to an end. Life in the Foreign Legion is represented in five different volumes.[3][4][5][6]

Analysis[edit]

The original novel, on which the various films are more or less loosely based, provides a detailed and fairly authentic description of life in the pre-1914 Foreign Legion, which has led to (unproven) suggestions that P. C. Wren himself served with the Legion. Before he became a successful writer Wren's recorded career was that of a school teacher in India.[7]

Adaptations[edit]

Beau Geste was also adapted for the stage in 1929 by British theatrical producer Basil Dean. The production featured Laurence Olivier in the lead role. The play ran for just five weeks.[8]

Parodies[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Definition at Dictionary.com
  2. ^ Definition at Dictionary.com
  3. ^ Wren, P.C. Beau Sabreur, Grosset & Dunlap, 1928
  4. ^ Wren, P.C. Beau Ideal, Frederick A Stokes Company, 1928
  5. ^ Wren, P.C. Good Gestes, Frederick A Stokes Company, 1929
  6. ^ Wren, P.C. The Desert Heritage, Houghton-Mifflin, 1935
  7. ^ Martin Windrow, pages 622-627 Our Friends Beneath the Sands - The Foreign Legion in France's Colonial Conquests 1870-1935, ISBN 978-0-297-85213-1
  8. ^ Coleman, Terry (2005). Olivier. Macmillan (ISBN 0-8050-7536-4), pp 31–32.
  9. ^ King Features Syndicate

Bibliography[edit]