Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, March 2, 2014

They Were Found Wanting by Miklos Banffy (1937, translated by Patrick Thrusfield and Katalin Banffy) Part Two of The Transylvania Trilogy

The Transylvania Trilogy by Count Miklos Banffy (1873 to 1950, Hungary) should be counted among the greatest literary works of the European tradition.  I find it hard to do an adequate blog post on it that will not seem like hyperbole.   At the start of the book the publisher includes quotations from reviews in major publications which compare the scope and power of Banffy's work to that of Tolstoy. My first reaction was, as yours should be also, skepticism but having completed part one of the trilogy, I see this as a very apt comparison.  It is as least as good as the works in the post Austro-Hungarian Empire tradition of great writers like Joseph Roth, Gregor Von Rozzi, and Stephan Zweig.  The scope of Banffy's work is greater than these writers and the cultural depth is on a par with Proust.  It is a brilliant portrayal of the declining years of The Austro-Hungarian Empire, some have suggested new to Bannffy   readers can visualize him as a Hungarian Trollope. 

The story of how The Transylvania Trilogy came to be written and then finally translated into English by the great scholar Patrick Thrusfield in collaboration with Bannfy's granddaughter, Katalin Banffy-Jolen is itself fascinating and is explained beautifully in the introduction and preface. The work fully deserves to be called "among the greatest rediscovered European masterworks of the twentieth century".  It was a best seller in Hungary in the 1930s but lost all readership, and many of its potential readers, in WW Two.   It was reissued in Hungarian (the communist regime banned it for years) in 1982 and became a best seller and now we have Arcadia Press to thank for the English translation of this trilogy.

I have previously posted on the first novel in the trilogy, They Were Counted.

The Writing on the Wall is very much a continuation of the family and romance stories begun in  They Were Counted.  There are numerous intrigues, scandals, and political happenings described at length. Banffy loved his home land of Transylvania and he brings its natural beauty and rich cultural traditions to the fore for us.  The descriptions of the meals made be wish I was a guest at one of the feasts.  This is a story of the gentry and their world.  The sex was surprisingly graphic.  

There is a lot of political history of Hungary from 1909 or so in this book, OK a really lot, but I found it edifying and Banffy was in a position to get his facts right.  

This trilogy belongs, in my opinion, in the second tier of great European novels and should be must reading for anyone seriously into Austro- Hungarian literature and history.

I will soon read the final work in the trilogy and will try to post in more detail then.

If you have read any of Banffy's work, please share your thoughts with us.

Mel u

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