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The Countess by Rebecca Johns

The Countess (2010)

by Rebecca Johns

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I gave the novel four stars because while it could have spun into darker fantasy fueled by the legends about Erzsebet Bathory, Johns took a more serious approach and allowed the Countess a more complex, realistic role as a noblewoman constricted by her class, her gender, and later in life, her loss of status after the death of her husband. In this respect, "The Countess" follows a similar story line as the charming 2008 film, "Bathory".

History suggests that Erzsebet probably did engage in harsh discipline of her servants, not unusual in the seventeenth century, and that she likely tortured and caused the deaths of perhaps 30 girls, suggesting that she had a tempermental, sadistic, or sociopathic streak, but it is unlikely that she murdered over 600 or ever bathed in their blood. She was known to extend charity and kindness to others less fortunate, yet at the same time was probably reviled by many as the decadent "1%" of her era. What little is known about her suggests that she was also a loving mother and a shrewd, busy manager of her husband's holdings as well.

The novel's first person point of view allows the reader an intimacy with Erzsebet's journal-style narrative, though of course, one suspects at times that she is an unreliable narrator who sanitizes and rationalizes her actions. Johns rose to the challenge of padding facts with speculative fiction and overall, found the proper balance and tension in this portrayal of Bathory's fascinating life. After all, even serial killers have a bit of humanity mixed with their monstrous flaws. I'm just sorry that we'll never know the facts that fueled centuries of legend about the Blood Countess. ( )
  KateRobinson | Oct 4, 2014 |
  golden_lily | Mar 29, 2013 |
Un buon romanzo storico, forse troppo mediaticamente spinto verso i vampiri (che no c'entrano nulla qui) ma per aumentare le vendite ho visto far di peggio... La narrazione è fluida, la storia ben appoggiata alla ricerca storica (sarà che ho letto proprio gli autori dei saggi che cita...), lo spazio per il romanzato è ben gestito, senza troppi ricami o voli di fantasia. ( )
  vanlilith | Jul 25, 2012 |
This is a Reading Good Books review.

I am pretty familiar with Elizabeth Bathory. The Hungarian noble is notoriously remembered as "The Blood Countess". History and true crime books call her the "most prolific female serial killer in history". Also, some books mention that she is the female Dracula, saying she used to bathe in the blood of virgins to preserve her youth. Whatever else she's known for, her reputation can be described in one word: gruesome.

I did not plan to read this book originally. I had other things lined up to kick off 2012 including two that were given to me for review purposes (and their release dates are darn close but whatever). I saw this on the shelves at Target and I was instantly intrigued. Immediately, I thought of another Dracula-related book, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I loved. The cover is rather minimal but there's something about it that grabbed me. And I haven't read anything about Elizabeth Bathory yet.

(Elizabeth Bathory is one of my favorite serial killers. Really. I just said that.)

The book serves as a fictionalized memoir of the Countess told in first person through her letters to her youngest child, Pal. She writes the letters while imprisoned in her room on orders of the palatine. The book starts and ends in that room:

"Was I wrong to treat them thus? Was it not my right, as the mistress of the house, to punish them as I saw fit?" - Part Two, Chapter Twenty-five.

The author captured the unapologetic and vulnerable tone of Bathory. Elizabeth Bathory had a lot of power but at the same time, she was very flawed and alone. In her narration, she never once felt remorse. She justified her actions as she saw fit. Her jealously, her grief, greed... all became denial. All these made her more terrifying. She was capable of doing horrific acts of depraved cruelty with no emotion; sometimes blacking out the whole episode because of anger. It was so well-researched. The voice was consistent all throughout the book. It made Bathory seem more human than an exaggerated, almost fictional version of herself. (Honestly, if you've read up on her, you have to stop and wonder could one person be really capable of the things she allegedly did.)

The author used the original Hungarian spelling (and what I would guess, pronunciation). It didn't bother me much but I would've wanted to be able to say the names in my head as I read on. There is a pronunciation guide in the beginning but I didn't see the point of flipping back and forth. Also, the overall pace of the book is rather on the slow side. There was a lot of explanations, detailing this and that. Some paragraphs were very long. I found myself just skimming through the location descriptions because they weren't really helpful in the bigger scheme of things.

Also, it did not dwell so much on her "crimes". Or at least, they weren't explained in depth. It seemed as though Bathory was narrating them as if they were nothing. I guess what I am trying to say is the author did a darn good job of establishing Elizabeth Bathory's voice; definitely my favorite aspect of this book.

Rating: 4/5.

Recommendation: A worthy addition to historical fiction lover's shelf. It also speaks to fans of vampire myth (more on the Anne Rice genre than Stephenie Meyer) and fans of dark and gothic POV storytelling. ( )
  chaostheory08 | Jan 8, 2012 |
The Countess is a very good book. It’s about this girl who is betrothed to a Count when she is younger. When she is finally old enough to go get married she is sent to her mother-in laws home. She meets her future husband but he does not even acknowledge her. After their marriage they have many years of pretending they love each other, but deep down don’t. As the years go on, her husband finally realizes he loves her and they have a very good marriage up until he dies. I really enjoyed this book because it helped me see what life was like back in 1600 for women. They had to get married, have kids, and stay home and run the house. It also helped me realize that the servants back then were treated awful and were torched every time they did something wrong or displeasing to their master or mistress. Also how much pressure the women had to go threw to have a successful home. When Erzsebet’s husband Ferenc, had to go off to war before he died, Erzsbet had to stay home and run the house to make sure everything went well, so that when Ferenc returned, everything was still running smoothly. In Erzsebet’s home, her servants are un-obedient and lie to her. A dark side of her surfaces and her life turns upside down.
  ej15 | Nov 24, 2011 |
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1611 Hungary. Countess Erzsébet Báthory (aka the Blood Countess), being walled into a castle tower as punishment for the murder of dozens of women and girls, begins writing her life story as an exposé of the many betrayals that have brought about this--as she sees it--outrageous and unjust imprisonment.… (more)

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