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Literature / The Way to the Lantern

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An actor has a thousand souls, not one to call his own.
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The Way to the Lantern is a 1961 historical adventure novel by Audrey Erskine Lindop set before and during The French Revolution.

Paris, 1793. Philippe Vicomte de Lambrière is brought before the Committee of General Security on accusation of counterrevolutionary intentions, a crime punishable by death. At the same time, the Committee of Public Safety seeks to execute an English spy named Anthony Buckland.

The problem: they are the same man, a man who desperately insists on being an English actor named Roberts and who claims both de Lambrière and Buckland to be fake identities he made up out of necessity. Neither committee is inclined to believe him, especially given that the actor Roberts has reportedly drowned in a river in England four years ago. The two committees’ rivalry over his true identity is the only thing that keeps Roberts from being sent to the guillotine. For now.

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The novel chronicles Roberts’ adventures and misadventures that led to him being arrested under two different fake names. It starts with his early days in a third-rate theatre group and his first meeting with Manager Smith ("M.S."), who becomes a friend and mentor to him and tries his best to help Roberts make a name for himself at a renowned theatre. The two are constantly broke, however. On their never-ending quest for money, they cross paths with the rich Lizzie Weldon, who has an unusual request – she wants Roberts to play her aristocratic suitor in order to make her chosen one jealous enough to finally propose to her. What initially sounds like easy money ends up causing so much trouble that they are forced to fake their own deaths and flee to Paris where they become entangled in the unfolding Revolution.

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The Way to the Lantern is meticulously researched and tells a complex adventure story while providing a vivid impression of the French Revolution through the eyes of the lower class. It has unfortunately been out of print for years.

The Way to the Lantern provides examples of:

  • Angry Mob Song: Ah! Ça ira
  • Brutal Honesty: One of Lizzie Weldon's defining characteristics.
  • The Chessmaster: Lizzie Weldon.
  • The City Narrows: The Étuve.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Lizzie Weldon, once she realizes she actually cares about Roberts.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: People are sent to the guillotine for having aristocratic friends.
  • Eccentric Mentor: M.S. to Roberts, who is initially a bit scared of him.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Roberts calls the orphan Suzon who they befriend "Puce", which is French for flea.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Marie-Clarice, when being sent to the guillotine. Roberts also attempts this.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Roberts' adventures are going to lead to his arrest.
  • Framing Device: Roberts tells his story from within the Mousetrap, the conciergerie's overcrowded prison.
  • Friendly Enemy: The Lieutenant of Police has nothing against Roberts personally and remains polite and amiable, it's just that Roberts causes him so much trouble that he'd rather have him executed.
  • Grumpy Old Man: M.S., most of the time.
  • Handsome Lech: Roberts is described as being quite attractive and he takes advantage of that whenever he can.
  • Historical Domain Character: Quite a few make an appearance, such as Robespierre, Danton or Marat.
  • How We Got Here: The story opens with Roberts already incarcerated and is then told in flashback.
  • Ice Queen: Lizzie Weldon, before she falls in love with Roberts.
  • Invented Individual: Both Anthony Buckland and the Vicomte de Lambrière.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Roberts behaves like a real bastard several times, but it's clear he loves his friends and does everything in his power to save them when they're in danger. He even confesses to being de Lambrière, meaning he will be executed, in exchange for Puce's and M.S.'s safety.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Roberts.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Roberts, definitely. His womanizing gets him and his friends in very serious trouble on several occassions.
  • Off with His Head!!: The preferred method of execution during the revolution.
  • Parental Substitute: M.S. becomes this for Puce.
  • Public Execution
  • Punchclock Villain: The Lieutenant of Police is just doing his job. If he didn't, he would end up on the scaffold himself.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Puce
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Most aristocrats have no idea what's going on with the lower classes or why they should be worried.
  • Snowball Lie: A rare case in which the net of lies does not come crashing down on the protagonist, but is rather so tightly woven that it threatens to strangle him. Roberts gets so tangled up in maintaining his fake identities that by the time of his arrest, all the evidence points to him being either Buckland or de Lambrière.
  • Tempting Fate: Roberts is fond of making exceedingly optimistic predictions about the future, most of which turn out to be the opposite.
  • This Is My Story
  • Reign of Terror: The real life version is the Trope Namer.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: With the Reign of Terror, what do you expect?
  • Torches and Pitchforks: When the fury of the mob is unleashed, nobody is safe, aristocrat or not.
  • Upper-Class Twit: A noblewoman who hits on Roberts and whom he promptly nicknames Lecherina, Marquise du Lit.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: The friendly next-door undertaker Pêche and Roberts' aristocratic love-interest Marie-Clarice. Both suffer the consequences of their naiveté.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Roberts consistently makes false predictions. He also mistrusts people who genuinely try to help him.
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