THE HOUR OF PARADE
One violent act draws together three very different people in Alan Bray’s haunting debut The Hour of Parade.
The year is 1806, and Russian cavalry officer Alexi Ruzhensky travels to Munich to kill the man responsible for murdering his brother in a duel, French officer Louis Valsin.
Obsessed by the main character in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel Julie, Alexi delays his search and becomes romantically entangled with a beautiful and passionate young Bavarian woman.
When he finally meets Valsin and his mistress Anne-Marie, Alexi hides his true identity and befriends them. As the three grow closer, tensions mount as Alexi and Anne-Marie desperately try to resist their growing attraction.
But in the novel’s explosive conclusion, Alexi will learn that revenge cannot be forgotten so easily.
How It Began
When I was in my early forties, I moved with my family from Chicago to rural New Hampshire. I had recently concluded a twelve-year career as a psychotherapist and my father had just died. It was, in short, a time of transition. I began to think about writing a novel.
I’m not sure when I developed a fascination with the Napoleonic Era. I do remember being interested in it as a child, in the battles, the colorful uniforms, and, as I got older, in stories of bravery and honor. Perhaps historical distance helped me to idealize a time which was also rather brutal and pitiless.
I enjoyed reading fiction about those times—Patrick O’Brien and Bernard Cornwell, as well as Tolstoy and Stendahl—and I decided I wanted to write a novel set in the early 1800s, a novel about ordinary men and women struggling to live their everyday lives while caught up in large, impersonal forces. The Hour of Parade is the result.
The story has gone through many changes. The plot has shifted, particularly the ending. Characters have come and almost gone, some have had their parts wind up on the cutting room floor. Others have endured having their names changed; one had to accept that his death was necessary for the sake of the story. But the three central characters—Alexi Ruzhensky, Anne-Marie Froelich, and Louis Valsin—have been on board since the beginning. Even though they exist elsewhere, they’ve become very close to me, and there have been many times when what has kept me going through the challenges of writing was the idea of being true to them and to their story.
More than one person reading The Hour of Parade has told me they had a little difficulty keeping track of the character’s names and how to pronounce them. I want to present a cast of characters, along with suggested pronunciations.
Alexi Ruzhensky (Roo zhensky) - a Russian cavalry officer recovering from a wound received at the battle of Austerlitz.
Anne-Marie Fröelich (Fray lick) - a Frenchwoman living in Munich.
Louis Valsin (Val sahn) - a French cavalry officer.
Marianne - a Bavarian woman, living with Alexi.
Étienne Dalhousie - (Dal who see) - Valsin’s sergeant.
Natalya Antonov, Natasha - Alexi’s lover, now deceased.
Antoine Merseult (Mur sew) - a French officer in Valsin’s regiment.
Pierre Crèpin (Cre pan) - another French officer.
Mikhail or Mischa - (Mik heil) Alexi’s brother, killed by Valsin.
Yevgeny (Ev geni) - Alexi’s orderly.
Ekaterina Feodorovna - Alexi’s step-mother.
Witkowski (Vit cov ski) - Valsin’s servant.
Montag - a Bavarian banker.
Captain Studt (Stood)- a Bavarian police officer.
"Could a book capture a woman?"
Alexi Ruzhensky is reading Julie throughout The Hour of Parade.. Julie can be considered a character in its own right.
In 1761, Jean-Jacques Rousseau published Julie, or the New Heloise. It enjoyed immediate success and became one of the most popular books of the latter part of the eighteenth century. In the first decade of the nineteenth, it was still being read and discussed in many of the major European languages. An edition in Russian was published during the 1790s.
Julie—told in the form of letters that the characters write one another—is the story of the love affair between Julie, an aristocratic young woman, and her tutor, who is never directly named but is referred to as St. Preux (gallant knight). Their romance must remain a secret because they are from different social classes. After their first kiss in a bower, Julie sends St. Preux away, but neither can bear the separation, and he returns. Julie becomes pregnant but suffers a miscarriage. Her furious father discharges her tutor from his position, and the young man embarks on a round-the-world journey.
Eventually Julie marries a Monsieur de Wolmar, and after many years of traveling, St. Preux visits them at their estate in what is now Switzerland. St. Preux discovers that de Wolmar is an admirable man who accepts all that has occurred between his houseguest and his wife.
At the end, Julie becomes ill after jumping into a lake to save her child from drowning. Before she dies, she writes to St. Preux, requesting that he marry her best friend and care for her children.