Tuesday, February 15, 2011

They Were Found Wanting 
(The Transylvanian Trilogy, Book 2)

by Miklós Bánffy

"Beneath their feet the dust of the forest floor rose as they walked, and to Adrienne it was as if they floated weightless over clouds of heavenly vapour, returning unharmed from the gates of Hell, ready no to defy the whole wide world." (p 76)

This second volume of The Transylvanian Trilogy is an historical novel with romance at its core.  As Patrick Leigh Fermor, the famous travel writer, said: "Banffy is a born story-teller." But the story is merely the starting point for Banffy's extended romance of family, class and political relationships which mirrors the on-going upheaval in Hungarian society as it existed before the Great War.  Banffy's novel compares favorably with epics like War and Peace and great family tales like The Forsyte Saga. I appreciated the breadth of his literary and cultural references, for this is a story about a class that is as familiar with Chopin, Goethe and Schopenhauer as they are with the boudoir and the bazaar. The contrast of the power and beauty of nature, descriptions of the lands and forests surrounding the magnificent castles, punctuated with scenes of hunting and brilliant bazaars, thrilled me as a reader.  There is also the melancholic momentum of the inevitable decline that seems at times a  veritable attribute of the Hungarian psyche.  The trilogy is one of the least well-known novels of Eastern Europe at the end of an era limned by Barbara Tuchman with the title of her history, "The Proud Tower".

They Were Found Wanting by Miklos Banffy. Patrick Thursfield & Katalin Banffy-Jelen, trans. Arcadia Books, London. 2009 (1937)

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