I’ve been putting together a book discussion guide for the Castle Shade book club kit (like the ones we did for Riviera Gold and Island of the Mad) and wanted to include a question about the idea of noblesse oblige. So I did…but I have to wonder what kind of conversations that one will prompt.
The phrase refers, of course, to the obligations inherent in being a noble. Those born into the “upper” classes, whether aristocrats or royals, hold the power, but they also (speaking ideally, of course) hold the responsibility.
Without giving any spoilers, I can tell you that the idea permeates Castle Shade, for good and for bad. In 1925, Romania was still a land of peasants and monarchy. Its Queen (in many ways more ruler than the king) was a granddaughter of Victoria, raised to the idea of service. She lived in mind-boggling luxury, yes, with palaces and jewels and servants for every need; she expected her people to literally bow and press her hand to their foreheads when she approached; she never doubted that even the nations’ rulers meeting to divide up Europe after the War would receive her and do as she commanded —and yet this same woman spent her War years nursing the sick and wounded, and did not retreat to England even when her young son died of typhoid as enemy troops approached.
In feudal times, the survival of a region depended on noblesse oblige. If a duke or king felt no responsibility for his people, they wouldn’t make it when the next kingdom over invaded. Over the centuries and millennia, boundaries have expanded, until now entire countries are looking at their neighbors and realizing that responsibilities reach beyond national identity.
If you’re reading this, you are almost certainly one of the world’s aristocracy, born into a degree of power and luxury that vast swaths of the world’s population can only begin to imagine. If bombs are not falling on your head; if your children and neighbors are not wasting from malnutrition; if you need only flip a switch to push away the night; if your brother disappears into a prison you still feel he has rights—then you, like me, are one of our globe’s aristocrats.