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They Were Divided (1940)

by Miklós Bánffy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Transylvanian Trilogy (Book 3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1714126,351 (4)46
In the foreground the lives of Balint, with his ultimately unhappy love for Adrienne, and his fatally flawed cousin, Laszlo Gyeroffy, who dies in poverty and neglect, are told with humour and a bitter-sweet nostalgia for a paradise lost through folly. The sinister and fast moving events in Montenegro, the Balkan wars, the apparent encirclement of Germany and Austria-Hungary by Britain, France and Russia, and finally the assassination of Franz Ferdinand all lead inexorably to the youth of Hungary marching off to their death and the dismemberment of their country.… (more)
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English (2)  Spanish (2)  All languages (4)
Showing 2 of 2
This is review of the Transylvania Trilogy, also known as The Writing of the Wall, and I am posting this in each volume. The trilogy is composed of:

They Were Counted
They Were Found Wanting
They Were Divided
.

These titles are taken from the Book of Daniel, from the Belshazzar’s Feast, when a hand appeared and wrote on the wall:

God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; your kingdom is divided and given to your enemies.

This is how Rembrandt saw this episode:




What Banffy sees in this Writing is the Advent of WWI and the end of Hungary’s Dreams.

I would like to read a good biography of Miklos Banffy. He must have been a fascinating person. From what I could learn from the web, he was originally from Transylvania and part of the nobility (a Count). He was an independent Member of the Hungarian Parliament before WWI, becoming Minister of Foreign Affairs during the first period of the Horthy Regency, when István Behtlen was Prime Minister (a relative, and also a Count). It was Banffy who signed the Peace Treaty with the US after The Great War. During his time in the Ministry his main interest was to try and renegotiate the Trianon Treaty and recover for Hungary many of the land tracts lost to its neighbors.

If a great part of his mind and ideals were in politics, his heart lived with the arts. He was a man of the theater, of music and of opera. He was Superintendent of the Budapest Opera around 1906. Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1898), still a very modern work, features in these novels. He was a friend of Kodaly and Bartok, sponsoring the production of Bartok’s then avant-gardish opera Blubeard’s Castle (1911).

These books--which should be read all three (total of about 1400 pages)--, were written between 1934 and 1940, although the setting is the years before the First War, namely from 1905 to the Fall of 1914. The general impression upon reading is somewhat disconcerting, it feels like a nineteenth century novel, but some more modern elements sometimes creep in, contributing to the general nostalgia for a foregone age.

For me there were two threads of interest in the book. There is a plot embedded in the portrait of a society in the “realist” model tradition, but there is also a highly crafted account of the political inter relations of Hungary, Austria, Transylvania and Romania during those times.

The first thread, or the plot, develops as a family saga with elements of a Bildungsroman, with plenty of entertaining scenes of balls, dinners, shooting-parties, horses and hunts, romances, adulteries, gambling, drinking, dueling, etc. And although it is a society of rentiers, for whom money is present but should rarely be seen, there are also plenty of money issues with debts from gambling, squandering, traumatic inheritances, and situations in which exotic and magnificent pearls are being pawned to save someone’s honor. All this makes for a rich story.

The second thread is the political account. These sections almost read as a chronicle of what was going on in the Budapest parliament from 1905 until 1914. The issues at stake were: a separate Army from Austria’s; the drawing of a new Constitution based on a wider system of universal suffrage with repercussions on the representation of the minorities and consequently on the Parliamentary balance; the conspiracies of the Heir of the Crown, the much hated Archiduke Franz-Ferdinand (István Szabo’s films Colonel Redl and Sunshine come to mind); the possibility of a separate banking System from the Austrian; and the always difficult relationship with the Romanians and the Croatians, etc..

I found this second thread absolutely fascinating and unique. It has a similar value to a document, given that Banffy had been there.

It may have been this part that invited significant criticism amongst the contemporary Hungarians. For although Banffy adored his country (but was it Transylvania or Hungary?), he is bitterly critical of the Politics of Obstruction that set the pace or dynamics within that spectacular Parliament during those crucial years. Inevitably, Edward Crankshaw’ acerbic criticism of the Hungarians in his [b:The Fall of the House of Habsburg|479667|The Fall of the House of Habsburg|Edward Crankshaw|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348219557s/479667.jpg|468073] comes to mind. Banffy sadly sees his country men as hopelessly parochial, concerned only about their petty internal issues, and dangerously unaware of what was going on outside their borders (soon to be lost).

They were not seeing the Writing on the Wall.

I am surprised this work is not better known. And although in translation, it has been a pleasure to read. The English edition is the fruit of the collaboration between Banffy’s daughter Katalin Banffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield.

------

The other two volumes:

[b:They Were Counted|6518523|They Were Counted (The Transylvanian Trilogy, Book 1)|Miklós Bánffy|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328694597s/6518523.jpg|696097]

[b:They Were Found Wanting|6478712|They Were Found Wanting (The Transylvanian Trilogy, Book 2)|Miklós Bánffy|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328694598s/6478712.jpg|456985] ( )
  KalliopeMuse | Apr 2, 2013 |
This novel completes the trilogy begun with Bánffy's They Were Counted and everything I said in my review of that book holds true for this one as well. This final slimmer volume covers the period up until the first world war. In it, the personal stories continue, as do the political maneuverings and the portraits of nature, but there is also an overwhelming sense of loss and of a period ending, both for individuals and for the country. Bánffy completed the novel in 1940 as a second world war, which would destroy what the first one hadn't, is starting to ravage Europe. One of Bánffy''s main points in these novels is the impotence of the Hungarian legislature, tied up in partisan politics and obstructionist policies. A reader in the US today can't help but see parallels to our own Congress.
  rebeccanyc | Sep 4, 2011 |
Showing 2 of 2
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Miklós Bánffyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bánffy-Jelen, KatalinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cserháti, ÉvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fuentes Gaviño, Antonio ManuelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leigh Fermor, PatrickIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moreau, Jean-LucTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Oplatka, AndreasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thursfield, PatrickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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... Y los dedos de la mano del hombre continuaron escribiendo delante del candelero, y la tercera palabra que esculpieron sobre el encalado de la pared del palacio real fue: "PERES: tu reino será dividido".
Pero nadie la ció entre los príncipes del banquete porque estaban embriagados, y dejaron perder los vasos de plata y de oro que habían traído sus antepasados y pelearon por sus falsos dioses de metal, de madera, de piedra y de barro, hasta que quedaron exhaustos. Sin embargo el ejército de los persas ya estaba delante de las puertas de la ciudad y todos ellos fueron muertos aquella misma noche..
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Balint Abady stepped quietly into the family box at the theatre at Kolozsvar.
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In the foreground the lives of Balint, with his ultimately unhappy love for Adrienne, and his fatally flawed cousin, Laszlo Gyeroffy, who dies in poverty and neglect, are told with humour and a bitter-sweet nostalgia for a paradise lost through folly. The sinister and fast moving events in Montenegro, the Balkan wars, the apparent encirclement of Germany and Austria-Hungary by Britain, France and Russia, and finally the assassination of Franz Ferdinand all lead inexorably to the youth of Hungary marching off to their death and the dismemberment of their country.

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"A wonderful swash-buckling novel, full of duels, summer balls and winter hunting trips" - Martha Kearney (Harper's Bazaar)
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