Tag Archives: Transylvanian Trilogy

Summer reading – The Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklós Bánffy

New BanffyMore Miklós Bánffy propaganda to make you go out and buy these fantastic books! They have recently been republished by Everyman’s Library.

You can buy them here. They were counted.The Transylvania Trilogy. Vol 1.

And of course, Elisabeth Jelen Salnikoff,  the elder granddaughter of Miklós Banffy will be speaking about her grandfather, his life and work at the exciting Transylvanian Book Festival 5-9 September; see you there!

by Julian Glover

First published in The Guardian , 5 August 2011

A few years ago a friend sent me three very large paperback novels – a trilogy about Hungary before the first world war – which he said I should read.

The Writing on the Wall, as the books are known (better than “the Transylvanian Trilogy”, the inadequate English alternative), did not look promising. Their covers were relatively austere and their author was a dead Hungarian aristocrat of whom I then knew nothing. They sat ignored until, by chance, I took the first of them to Spain one summer and, having nothing else to read, opened it.

Since then their author, Miklós Bánffy, has never been far from my mind. The elegiac wisdom of his writing makes him one of those people whose life you wish could have ended in something other than calamity. His three great novels, which are really one and should be read as such, are significant and addictive works. Word of their excellence is spread largely by private recommendation. I know no one who, having begun them, has not charged through to the end.

The three books – They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided – are at one level a sort of Austro-Hungarian Trollope, with sleigh rides in place of fox hunts and the Budapest parliament instead of the House of Commons. So far, so dull, you might think – except that Bánffy was a great storyteller (his factual account, in his book The Phoenix Land, of the 1916 coronation of the last Hungarian monarch is spellbinding), and wrote as a member of a class and the citizen of a country that had both been brought to ruin.

Bánffy published his books in Hungarian between 1934 and 1940. By then, the pre-first world war aristocratic tradition he describes was dead; or at least the political part of it, for the trappings lingered on – not least at Bánffy’s own great family castle of Bonchida, by then in Romania and destined to be partly destroyed by the Germans in 1944.

Bánffy died in 1950, his papers burned, his books out of print. One of the connected delights of this trilogy is that his daughter was one of the joint translators, and Bonchida (thinly disguised as Denestornya in the novels) is being brought back from a roofless ruin.

That will not return to us the Hungary of which it was once a part, and only a third of which remained in Hungarian hands after the 1920 Treaty of Trianon (an ill-deserved robbery). As Bánffy describes, some of this disaster was his fellow citizens’ fault – the product of their incestuous politics, their semi-subservience to the emperor in Vienna, and above all the closed nature of Hungarian society, which did not know how to deal with the continent beyond its borders. That remains true today: there is something mysterious about Hungary, and not only because of its isolated language.

If I have made these sound sour books, or purely political ones, then I have misled you. More than anything, they are human, and beautiful, and descriptive, and rooted in a land and its natural environment that are both gone forever and less far away than we might think. “The radiant afternoon sunlight of early September was so brilliant that it still seemed like summer,” the trilogy begins. This summer I urge you to read on …

Related articles:

Read more about Miklós Bánffy on the blog by clicking this link.


A Journey to the Heart of Transylvania

Count Miklós Bánffy

To complete my very own trilogy on Banffy, here is an article, not just a review, by the always readable Charles Moore from the Daily Telegraph. I am so very much looking forward to the arrival of the first volume so that I can make a start!

Time to salute the Tolstoy of Transylvania

By Charles Moore. First published in The Telegraph 11 Jan 2010

This sequence of books began publication in 1934, so I have been rather slow to get round to it. The trilogy was first published in English between 1999 and 2001, so even in this country it is not new. But perhaps because of the smallness of the publishers, or perhaps because people here know little and care less about Transylvania (unless vampires are involved), these books are not well known. But their reputation has been spreading by word of mouth, so much so that it can be hard to find the volumes because they are often reprinting.

This growing acclaim is deserved. Bánffy’s trilogy is just about as good as any fiction I have ever read. I think of it this week because of snow. If you flick through the book, you will see that the author almost always places events in their weather and season. The hero, Balint, has estates in Transylvania which he is constantly attempting to manage on better and more enlightened lines. He is also in love with Adrienne, who is married to a sinister, possibly sadistic and increasingly insane man.

Balint visits his estates and tries to range as far as possible into their remote forests to stamp out local corruption, usually making an unintentional mess of things as he does so. The author walks with him, as it were, observing nature intently, and relating it to Balint’s private thoughts. In the depth of winter, Balint climbs down to a hidden waterfall which still bursts forth despite the frost: “Even when in the air it was degrees below zero steam would mingle with the spray to form icicles which hung from every bough and every overhanging rock, so that the fall itself was framed with great pillars of ice.” To Balint, “Adrienne’s image was conjured up by the beauty and restless movement of uncontrolled nature”.

Part of the point, the better for not being directly stated, is that Adrienne, at this time, is frigid, loving Balint, but fearful of all physical contact. The waterfall in winter naturally impresses itself on his mind. In late July, Balint climbs a mountainside which is shimmering with forest life, and sees “a little bird, smaller than a quail, with a strange swooping flight. It rose in the air, and then dropped again, and Balint saw that it was a young snipe, barely more than a fledgling and still very awkward. For a moment Balint watched the little bird’s efforts as twice more it flew up and then came to earth again, cowering in the grass as if too tired to try again.” The party passes quickly onward “so as not to frighten, or tire further, the little snipe in its first efforts to fly”. Once again – and once again without clunking overemphasis – the image of fragile new life relates to the couple’s love.

Count Miklós Bánffy, who wrote these novels, was a public man. He was the Hungarian foreign minister just after the First World War. Like Balint, he was a Hungarian who owned vast estates in Transylvania, where, in numerical, though not financial terms, Romanians predominated. His position, therefore, was rather like that of a benevolent Protestant landowner in Ireland before Partition. He loved the wider nation, indeed Empire (Austro-Hungarian), of which he was a part, but also his unusual little bit of it, though many of the inhabitants viewed him with suspicion.

Such an insider/outsider vantage point is a good one from which to view the politics of a great civilisation, especially of a civilisation in crisis. The titles of each book in the trilogy – for example, They Were Found Wanting – are taken from the writing on the wall that appeared, according to the Book of Daniel, at Belshazzar’s feast. The books are set in the years running up to 1914. They are full of love for the way of life destroyed by the First World War, but without illusion about its deficiencies.

One of the best scenes is the duel between László, Balint’s best friend and cousin, a handsome, hopeless, drunken man, and his rival in love. It is as good as Pushkin at describing the fear, the pointlessness, the idea of honour. It is also precise about the rules of duelling and how they were interpreted and disputed. The author fully inhabits the world he describes, without being enslaved by its values.

He has a good comic touch too. He is writing about a culture which worships England without knowing it very well. One young fellow is thrilled because he has managed to buy a pink English hunting coat (of “a marvellous material as hard and stiff as zinc”), but is then mortified that hunting etiquette (also derived from England) means that he cannot wear it at a meet of harriers. So, though everyone else is in black and white evening dress, he wears it to a ball, where his old breeches and boots smell so bad that the ladies will not go near him.

These novels are not well served by a puff on their covers which says they are “swashbuckling”. They aren’t remotely. Although they are very funny, they are deeply serious. They are like Anna Karenina and War and Peace rolled into one. Love, sex, town, country, money, power, beauty, and the pathos of a society which cannot prevent its own destruction – all are here.

Related article:

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

Paddy’s Introduction to the Transylvanian Trilogy by Miklos Banffy

You may be interested in Paddy’s introduction to the trilogy written by Miklos Banffy. I have been able to find it on the web for you to enjoy. Paddy wrote this whilst staying with the Devonshire’s at Chatsworth, Christmas 1998.


Page One

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Related article:

Andrew Nurnberg to handle world rights for Miklos Banffy’s The Transylvanian Trilogy

Andrew Nurnberg to handle world rights for Miklos Banffy’s The Transylvanian Trilogy

I am in the process of purchasing Banffy’s trilogy but still waiting for the first volume. Will I be able to read it all before they make a TV series or movie??

Book Trade Info reports on 5 October 2010

Arcadia Books appoints Andrew Nurnberg and Piers Russell-Cobb of MediaFund to handle world rights and film & TV rights respectively for Miklos Banffy

ON THE EVE OF THE FRANKFURT BOOK FAIR, Arcadia Books has appointed Andrew Nurnberg to handle world rights (ex Hungary) in The Transylvanian Trilogy (They Were Counted, They Were Found Wanting and They Were Divided) and Piers Russell-Cobb of MediaFund to sell film and TV rights on behalf of Arcadia and the Banffy Estate.

Originally published in the 1930s in Hungary, the trilogy was ignored under the communists and republished to acclaim in the 1990s. Following publication of Arcadia’s prize-winning translation by Katalin Banffy-Jelen and Patrick Thursfield a decade ago – Banffy’s writing has been compared to that of Proust, Tolstoy, Milosz, Galsworthy, Roth, Musil, Lampedusa and Dostoevsky among others – the trilogy has been published in France (by Phebus Editions, in C and B format editions), Spain (Libros del Asteroide, instant bestsellers last year), Italy (just out with Einaudi) and the Netherlands (Atlas, 2011).

The Transylvanian Trilogy, winner of the Weidenfeld Translation Prize (presented by Umberto Eco), has attracted praise from, among others, Patrick Leigh Fermor (who penned the Foreword at Chatsworth), Jan Morris, Simon Jenkins, Charles Moore, Martha Kearney, Francis King and Allan Massie, has been the subject of a Guardian editorial and was also chosen as one of ‘1000 Novels You Must Read’ in that newspaper.

Comments Arcadia’s publisher Gary Pulsifer: ‘The combination of Andrew and Piers is explosive and we look forward to taking the trilogy to a new international level, including with our B format reprints now coming out, for which we have ear-marked a high marketing spend and a high-profile marketing campaign. Just after Spain bought the rights Italy immediately followed suit and there is serious interest from various other European countries.’ Adds Andrew Nurnberg: ‘Banffy is potentially very big, quite something . . . this has a rhythm and sense of place that one simply doesn’t find these days.’ Says Piers Russell-Cobb: ‘Andrew will do a brilliant job and I agree with you that we are onto a bestseller.’