International Spies and French Royalty: 'The Mystique of the Orient Express'

03 October 2019

Cultural Studies | History

Copyright of this material is retained by the content creators. John W. Hartman Center, Duke University does not claim to hold any copyrights to these materials

 

On the 4th October 1883, the Orient Express embarked on its inaugural journey from Paris to Constantinople. The routes have since changed and expanded, but the Orient Express will always remain well-known for the luxury it offers, as well as its famous and intriguing passengers that have influenced novels and films ever since its first journey on this day 136 years ago. I have taken this opportunity to delve into Leisure, Travel & Mass Culture to explore the fascinating stories and experiences that surround this train.

A brochure from the 1980s that includes a poster advertising the first winter timetable of 1888-1889 shows that the Orient Express offered a fast travelling service between Paris, Munich, Vienne, Budapest, Belgrade and Constantinople – all without the change of carriage and without a passport between destinations. Celebrating the 100th year of the Orient Express, the brochure goes on to say:

“The date marks a century of operation for a legend – an 1800-mile journey from Paris to Istanbul on a train inextricably linked with mystery, intrigue and romance … spies, smugglers and star-crossed lovers – have made the train an elegant retreat. Add to that the mood of mystery set by the novels of Agatha Christie, Graham Greene and Ian Flemming, an exotic ambience surrounds the train – the mystique of the ORIENT EXPRESS.”

The Orient Express has had many famous passengers, many of whom were mentioned to advertise the service. The brochure from the 1980s lists previous guests through the ages, which included “Royalty, Plutocrats, and other Notabilities”. A small anecdote includes a rather funny story about the French President of France, Paul Deschanel in 1920.

Copyright of this material is retained by the content creators. John W. Hartman Center, Duke University does not claim to hold any copyrights to these materials

 

It seems that Paul Deschanel literally stepped out of the door of the moving train whilst half asleep in the middle of the night. The details of the President of France walking out of the wrong door of his sleeping car whilst wearing his pyjamas and slippers makes for a personal account of a high profile figure – the train must have been travelling at its slow and smooth overnight speed as it seems he was not hurt and the conversation with the signalman ended in humour.

Copyright of this material is retained by the content creators. John W. Hartman Center, Duke University does not claim to hold any copyrights to these materials

Other notabilities include international spies, adding to the glamour that surrounds the Orient Express. Travelling through cities like Venice amongst spies and royalty sounds like the premise of an action-packed movie, and it is no surprise that the likes of Agatha Christie found inspiration from this train.

While the original Oriental Express ceased business, the Venice Simplon-Orient Express travels the same route in its place, tracing the late-night antics of Presidents, to the secrets of international spies, all the while still offering the same luxury service that it did when it began 136 years ago.

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About the Author

Emily Stallworthy

Emily Stallworthy

I joined Adam Matthew as a Development Assistant in September 2018. Since then I have worked on developing a number of new and exciting projects. My academic backround lies in the Italian Renaissance, art history and material culture. 

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