Category Archives: Other Writing

Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvanian trilogy to be published in new edition by Everyman’s Library

Count Miklós Bánffy

Count Miklós Bánffy

Many of the longer term readers will know that I am a true fan of the work of the great Hungarian-Transylvanian writer and statesman Miklós Bánffy. His Transylvanian trilogy is a masterpiece, and the autobiography, The Phoenix Land, re-published last year offers an insight to the character and soul of this intelligent, hardworking, and resourceful man.

Read more about Miklós Bánffy in the articles on the blog which you can find at this link.

I was recently contacted by blog reader Scott Walters from San Francisco who informed me about a new version coming out in 2013.

As you seem to be the go-to resource for all things Patrick Leigh Fermor, I thought you might be interested to know – assuming you haven’t heard already – that the English translation of Miklós Bánffy’s Transylvania trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided), for which Paddy wrote an introduction and which you’ve blogged about on occasion – is going to be reissued this summer in hardcover by Everyman’s Library. Publication date is in July.

I’m thrilled about this – I’m a great fan of the trilogy and have long bemoaned the price of the existing paperback editions, which despite being reissued in 2010 still seem difficult to obtain at a reasonable price (though a Kindle edition is now available). That Everyman’s Library has opted for the work suggests that it’s finally attained the recognition it deserves. I posted an announcement on my blog, but should you put one on your Fermor blog I expect word will get out to more people who may be interested. All best, and a very happy new year.

I am grateful to Scott for getting in touch. Not so sure about the price issue as it affects UK readers. You can buy good copies of his work on eBay for around £8-£10. The Everyman versions appear to be coming out in July 2013 with a website price tag of $26 for a hardback edition.

All I can say is it is great that more people will read Bánffy, and that prices of books vary enormously depending upon where you are. Moral of the story is look around for bargains and read some Bánffy now!

Re-opening of Bánffy exhibition at Budapest Opera House

Zsuzsanna Szebeni, who is the curator of the Count Bánffy exhibition at the Budapest Opera House, contacted me to say that the exhibition has re-opened at the opera house from 3 April 2012. If my Magyar is up to scratch it appears to run until 24 June, but I could be wrong about that! From the 16th of July the exhibition will move to a larger location in the city of Sepsizsentgyörgy or Sfântu Gheorghe (in Romanian), a city which is predominantly Székely Hungarian, and lies to the north-east of Brasov in Transylvania.

Miklos Bánffy was a Transylvanian Count and director of the Budapest Opera House at the end of the Great War. At the same time he planned the very last coronation of a King of Hungary, the last Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Charles I. This is all wonderfully described in the English Translation of Bánffy’s memoirs, The Phoenix Land, published by Arcadia Books.

As you will know by now, Paddy wrote the introduction to the English translation of Bánffy’s fictional Transylvanian Trilogy which is wonderful and an absolute must read. Cluj gets many a mention. You can read more about Count Bánffy here on the blog.

You can contact Zsuzsanna as follows: Mobil: +36 20 3304070 and Office: +36 1 3751184/128.

For those of you who speak Magyar you will find this video of interest. For those who don’t I hope that you will enjoy the colourful images!

Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor and The Folio Society

Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

From the Folio Society website.

Ten years ago, The Folio Society decided to publish a book by William Stanley Moss, entitled Ill Met by Moonlight. It told the story of a daring war-time adventure in Crete, in which Moss and Patrick Leigh Fermor, two young SOE officers, kidnapped a German general, spirited him away across the mountains and into captivity. The book was based on the detailed diary kept (entirely against the rules) by Moss, and its undeniably romantic aspects were highlighted when, in 1957, a film was made starring Dirk Bogarde as the dashing Leigh Fermor.

When we planned the book, it occurred to us that Patrick Leigh Fermor, known to his friends as Paddy, had never contributed any kind of comment on it in writing. We assumed there was a good reason for this – a certain delicacy perhaps, since, at the time of the operation, he was already embedded in Crete in a cave under Mount Ida, with the role of facilitating Commando raids on the island, and was dependent on the friendship and loyalty of the local partisans. But we wrote to him anyway and asked if he would contribute an introduction.

He rang up from his home in Greece. It was indeed, he said charmingly, ‘delicate’ and for various reasons he’d always felt the less said the better. We parted genially, my suggesting that we might ask Michael Foot, historian of the Special Operations Executive and an old friend of his, to do it instead. This we did. A week later, Paddy telephoned again. He’d been thinking about it, and he felt that there were things he would like to say: the coup had, in his view, been diminished by being reduced to the level of a ‘tremendous jape’ and he hoped to restore the balance by providing something of the context for the enterprise. He did not wish to interfere with Michael’s introduction, but would contribute a short Afterword, describing his own experience. It would be 500 to 1,000 words. It eventually emerged at 6,500 words, all of which had to be wrested from him in hand to hand combat, so anxious was he that nothing could be misinterpreted. Michael Foot, in the meantime, was triumphant to be able to tell Paddy that General Kreipe (who was not the intended victim of the kidnap, as that gentleman had been moved on) was so unpopular that, when they heard he had been snatched, his officers broke open the champagne.

Most Folio books have their unexpected rewards, but this one had more than most. Through it we met Billy Moss’s daughters who showed us photograph albums and the original diary; Sophie, their Polish mother, a formidably attractive SOE operative who had been based, with Moss and Leigh Fermor, at Tara, the Cairo House; Michael (M R D) Foot, whose own experiences as prisoner of war were at least as hair-raising as the exploits he went on to chronicle; and of course Paddy himself – courageous, witty, modest, famously attractive and – both with this book and The Cretan Runner – a good friend to The Folio Society. We will miss him.

Related article:

A Meeting between Paddy and George Psychoundakis the “Cretan Runner”

Christmas reading as recommended by Paddy – James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron

In 2003 Paddy recommended James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron in the Spectator’s Christmas book selection. It is still available from Amazon. Maybe some of you will add it to your letter to Santa for this year.

by Patrick Leigh Fermor

James Knox’s biography of Robert Byron (John Murray) is a book we have been waiting years for, and it surpasses all expectations.

Outside strictly academic circles, in the early 20th century Byzantium was little known in England, but after the Great War things began to change. In the 1920s and ’30s, there was Steven Runciman at Cambridge and, at Oxford, Robert Byron. His was the Brideshead generation. How they managed between corks popping all day and parties all night to do more than hunt for Victorian china fruit in the afternoon remains a mystery.

In the heart of this chaos, fervent extra-curricular study was at work. Abstruse historical byways were trailed and notebooks were filled up. Byzantium was the goal, and soon, in his early twenties, Robert Byron, with several of his friends, set out on corroborative journeys, and on return published his findings. Europe in the Looking Glass — a sort of pan-European Three Men in a Boat — was soon to be followed by the brilliant Byzantine Achievement. The magic of Byron’s name opened every door in the Greek world, and The Station, a monumental and marvellous description of Mount Athos, remains unsurpassed. The Birth of Western Painting — an analysis and history of the earliest Byzantine inklings to the last of El Greco — is a defence and an assault. Classical Greece and the Renaissance both get it in the neck; so do Western Christianity and the Crusades, especially the Fourth. Some of his Quixotic giants turned out to be windmills, but much good was done and Byzantium emerged in glory. Youthful flair and high sophistication marked all his writings, and recondite knowledge was leavened by the surprising bonus of a hilarious narrative gift.

There’s a connecting chain running through all his travels: India, Afghanistan, Persia, Tibet, Russia; then he would bury himself in Savernake Forest for a winter of writing and hunting, setting out eastward again in spring. We are lucky to have James Knox to set down the details of this dynamic and many-sided figure, with his energies and angers and his unorthodox passions and his laughter.

In 1941 Byron was heading east again by the northern detour when a U-boat torpedoed his ship. He was 36. We can never know how many brilliant sequels to The Road to Oxiana were sunk off Stornoway.

The magnetic John Pendlebury

Archaeology’s first modern hero was dazzling in life and heroically defiant in death. Paddy wrote the foreward to the 2007 book – The Rash Adventurer: A Life of John Pendlebury by Imogen Grundon.

J. D. S. Pendlebury, excavator of Amarna, Curator at Knossos, he of the glass eye and the swordstick, who died defending Crete from German invasion in 1941, is archaeology’s first modern hero: brilliant, magnetic and self-aware. In The Rash Adventurer, Imogen Grundon gives us the substance behind his dazzling brief career. John Pendlebury evidently possessed an extraordinary determination to overcome obstacles, demonstrated after he had lost an eye as the result of a childhood accident. In spite of this handicap, his Cambridge years included a blue in athletics and a first class in the tripos. Grundon reveals his early interests in archaeology, and the enormous workload he undertook soon after leaving university. His career included excavation both at Akhenaten’s capital of Amarna and at Sir Arthur Evans’s site at Knossos, as Pendlebury moved from one to the other with the seasons of work. By the age of twenty-five he occupied a unique position in Mediterranean archaeology, holding simultaneously the posts of Curator at Knossos and Director of Excavations at Tell el-Amarna.

by Jane Jakeman

First published in the Times Literary Supplement, 17 October 2007.

The relationship between Egypt and Crete was of particular interest to him, and his Aegyptiaca: A catalogue of Egyptian objects in the Aegean area is still an important resource. At Amarna, the historical background was still very unclear when Pendlebury became Director in 1930, and he was able to extract a possible chronology and a history of that remarkable city. There was a wide gulf between Bronze Age archaeologists and Egyptologists, and Pendlebury had to endure much criticism in Egyptological circles, particularly over his theories concerning the invasion of Egypt by the “sea peoples”, whose leadership he ascribed to Agamemnon. It was not uncommon at the time to look for relationships between mythology and archaeology, but this approach evidently appealed to Pendlebury’s love of Homeric story. It was also a romantic perspective, and from it he viewed his beloved modern Cretans, sometimes presiding over dinner wearing a Cretan cloak and striding through the mountains to meet kapetanoi, the old brigand leaders.

He clearly relished his swashbuckling self-image, but Grundon shows him capable too of subtle and complex achievements. At Knossos, he skilfully negotiated a difficult relationship with Evans, whose colourful reconstructions Pendlebury sometimes disagreed with, in spite of his own imaginative streak. He was in fact working in a new archaeological era: the age of the great individual “dig” patrons was passing, in favour of a more modern system where the locals were no longer regarded as mere workmen, and foreign governments were recognized as significant entities. Pendlebury showed himself well able to manage this transition and he was realistic in matters of archaeological politics and finance, very aware of the importance of finding subscribers to the Egypt Exploration Society, and new sources of funding. Grundon is good on the complications of organizational funding and personalities, academic intrigues and quarrels.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Pendlebury returned to Britain, enlisted in Military Intelligence and was drafted into Military Intelligence (Research). He went back to Crete in 1940 as a British Army captain, in order to organize resistance to invasion in the mountain regions. He was “adopted”, to use Grundon’s appropriate word, by the highly secretive “D” section of MI6, whose task was to train agents, conceal supplies for sabotage, and handle anti-German propaganda. There is no doubt that he loved the atmosphere of mystery and intrigue, as also the adventure of rallying his kapetanoi.

Pendlebury’s part in the Battle for Crete was, however, tragically short-lived: in 1941, he was wounded, then captured, propped up against a wall and shot. Again, Grundon has followed these events very carefully, presenting as much evidence as can now be garnered – although her wider picture of the background to the invasion of Crete is too kind to General Bernard Freyberg, the New Zealander in command of Allied forces on Crete. Antony Beevor’s Crete: The Battle and the Resistance brings out clearly the later Lord Freyberg’s disastrous support for seaborne invasion, and the obstinate misinterpretation of “Ultra” intelligence, which contributed to the loss of the island to the Germans. The downfall of Crete was horribly unnecessary. So was Pendlebury’s death, a tragic waste, except perhaps that his premature decease itself took on an iconic quality. His image has remained unencumbered by the aura of his snobbish wife and untarnished by entanglement in post-war politics.

The Rash Adventurer is a thorough and authoritative biography, based on detailed research, which gives us at every point the facts underpinning the myth of the man. As well as reaching deep in archives and libraries, Imogen Grundon seems to have interviewed almost every survivor in the field. There is one story she omits, however, perhaps because none of her elderly interlocutors cared to repeat it – the story passed down among Egyptologists, that, as he faced the firing squad, John Pendlebury’s last words were “Fuck you!”.

Rare video of Pendlebury excavating in Egypt as well as showing off his athletic prowess.

Audible

A review by Paddy of Artemis Cooper’s book Cairo in the War

Artemis Cooper’s introductions and accompanying text to Duff and Diana Cooper’s published letters, A Durable Fire (1983), and to Lady Diana’s Scrapbook (1987), had a strong dash of her grandmother’s humour and lightness of touch; but only a most clairvoyant critic could have predicted Cairo in the War, 1939–1945. Her account, though it sticks punctiliously to fact, is as hard to put down as good fiction . The research is wide, detailed and scrupulous. She lays hold of the military background – the dramas unfolding just off-stage, but threatening to break out of the wings at any moment – with a soldierly grasp; and she seems to have talked at length with all the surviving dramatis personae.

By Patrick Leigh Fermor

First published in The Times Literary Supplement 1 September 1989 (republished online 15 June 2011)

Unleavened by personalities, military history can be heavy on the hand, and politics too, once the urgency has gone. The author’s skill redeems them both. As for the complex country and people on whom the war had impinged, she has segregated the strands with great discernment – the Copts, the Arabs, the Mamelukes, the Ottomans, all the sects and enclaves of the Mediterranean and the Levant, the Helleno-Judaeo-Ptolemaic nexus of Alexandria, the fellahin and the effendis and the nationalists, the rivalries of the Western European powers, with their local allegiances and clients and phobias, and, above all, the reigning Albanian dynasty and the predominating British presence and tutelage.

The author is particularly helpful and fair about the tensions between the last (in the persons of the young King Farouk and the proconsular Ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson), which culminated with British tanks all round the Palace, near-abdication and an enforced change of government: the German advance in the desert was the raison d’état. The enemy was held and driven back; certain froideurs remained at the top; but, astonishingly, the surface of the luxurious, dazzling and hospitable social life was hardly ruffled. At times this resembled the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before Waterloo, at others the Congress of Vienna: “The Kings sit down to dinner and the Queens stand up to dance . . .”. The pool at the Gezira Sporting Club sluiced hangovers away, the willow smacked the leather, polo-balls whizzed there all afternoon, and roulette-balls plopped at the Mohammed Ali after dark. There were enticing restaurants and enterprising night-clubs, party followed party and bedtime often coincided with the first muezzin’s call from the minaret of Ibn Tulun. Guilt about rationed London bit sharp now and then, but for those on short leave from the Desert, not deep.

Among the missions and staffs and the permanent officials, intrigue and gossip were as intense as in Mrs Hauksbee’s Simla. The author is eerily well informed about Groppi’s Horse and the Short-Range Shepherd’s Group and, a fortiori, about GHQ at Grey Pillars and SOE at Rustam Buildings (particularly the latter) and all the cross-currents, promotion-mania and the clashes – eg, “Bolo” Keble and Fitzroy Maclean – the political schisms of Southern Europe and their repercussions in Egypt. The pages on spies and counterespionage and raiding forces are one of the most impressive parts of the book.

The author is perceptive about the frustrations and amusements of all ranks of the assorted armies. There were shaming moments, but on balance it seems that arrogant behaviour towards the Egyptians may have been more frequent among the commissioned than the other ranks. In the case of a pasha who was insulted beyond endurance by a very drunk officer, nemesis was brisk and condign. The oblivious offender was inveigled to the pasha’s house. Most would have kept quiet, Artemis Cooper observes, but he was soon telling everyone, “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night — dashed unpleasant. I got buggered by six Nubians.”

In spite of the strains on high, the diplomatic world, the military, the cosmopolitan, the purely decorative and the intellectual interwove to a surprising degree, and lasting friendships were formed. The contribution of Greeks such as Seferis, and transplanted Greece-addicts like Lawrence Durrell and Robin Fedden, were important here. Poets and writers teemed, and Personal Landscape, the Nilotic equivalent of Horizon, was impressive. The author unfolds the catalogue of personalities with humour and understanding, though she is unduly dismissive of Sir Charles Johnston: cf his sonnet “The Lock”, and his Pushkin translations. The only omissions I can spot are Elizabeth David, the painter Adrian Daintrey and the writer-painter Richard Wyndham. Perhaps she should have included an eccentric cavalryman called Colonel Wintle, who got into hot water for taking a surrendered Italian general to luncheon, in full uniform, at the Turf Club.

The book ends with the calamitous post-war aftermath. Like the abstruse anecdotes, the range and choice of the photographs will promote sighs of delighted recognition and occasional ground teeth, and it is hard to think, on finishing, how this demanding book could have been handled better, more lucidly or more entertainingly.

Related articles:

Sophie Moss Obituary from Daily Telegraph

One Man’s Great Game: Lieutenant Colonel “Billy” McLean

Lawrence Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor by Thos Henley

The Phoenix Land: The Memoirs of Count Miklós Bánffy

A reminder that Arcadia Books will be republishing Count Miklós Bánffy’s memoirs “The Phoenix Land” in June 2011. The book is already available for pre-order in bookshops such as Waterstones in the UK. and of course on Amazon. Arcadia first published this in 2004 and you can read a Spectator review here.

Bánffy’s memoirs were translated from the Hungarian by his daughter Katalin Bánffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield,winners of the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. Paddy once more offers a foreward. The blurb describes the book as follows:

“The thousand year-old year-old kingdom of Hungary, which formed the major part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the last Habsburg fled in 1918, was finally dismembered by the Western Allies by the terms of the peace treaties which followed the First World War. Phoenix-like the Hungarian people survived the horrors of war, the disappointment of the first socialist republic, the disillusion of the brief but terrifying communist rule of Béla Kun, and the bitterness of seeing their beloved country dismembered by the Treaty of Trianon. This is the world that Miklós Bánffy describes in The Phoenix Land.”

I contacted Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia for some further background and to ask him to explain more about why Bánffy is one of their authors. He sent me this, including a little vignette about Paddy and the writing of his introduction:

Tom, two reasons, one general, one specific. The first is that Arcadia specialises in translated fiction. The second is the story and this is it:

When I worked at Peter Owen Publishers I was invited to Tangier by the Hon David Herbert, one of Peter’s authors. He took my partner and me to lunch with his neighbour Patrick Thursfield, who as you know is the Bánffy co-translator. After lunch Patrick gave me the manuscript of THEY WERE COUNTED, which I read while I was on holiday, and was hooked. I tried to persuade Peter Owen to publish the trilogy, but no go, so when I started Arcadia in 1996 volume one was one of our early titles. I became quite close to Patrick, stayed with him in Tangier and saw a lot of him in London and he even once came along to the Frankfurt book fair. He was overjoyed when THEY WERE DIVIDED won the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (this happened at an awards ceremony in Oxford, when Umberto Eco presented the prize).

A funny aside is that Paddy’s forward was written in longhand and he came into our tiny offices to have Daniela de Groote, now our associate publisher, word-process it. Daniela, who is Chilean, hadn’t been in the UK all that long – she had been studying for a PhD here prior to working at Arcadia – and she had some difficulties in understanding Paddy’s upper crust accent as he dictated the foreword. Daniela was also catching a plane to Santiago that afternoon and the whole thing was a little much for her. So much so that I had to leave the office until they were finished . . .