Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The House of Hapsburg: The Radetzky March, and Beware of Pity


"During the Serbian Campaign, when, after Potiorek's disastrous defeat, exactly forty-nine men out of our whole regiment, the Colonel's pride, retreated safely across the Save, he stayed behind to the last on the opposite bank; then, feeling that the panic-stricken retreat was a slur on the honour of the army, he did something that only a very few commanders and senior officers did after a defeat: he took out his service revolver and put a bullet through his own head, so as not to be obliged to witness his country's downfall, which, with his limited perception, he had prophetically foreseen in that terrible moment when he had watched the retreat of his regiment."





The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a constitutional union of the Empire of Austria and the Apostolic Kingdom of Hungary that existed from 1867 to 1918. Ruled by the House of Hapsburg, it was at one time a great power in Central Europe, and it was the assassination of the prince-heir Archduke Franz Ferdinand that triggered the first world war. By the end of the war, the dual-monarchy was over, the empire having been defeated. Austria and Hungary went their different ways. The Empire was further divided when the West Slavs of the empire formed the country of Czechkoslovakia while the Southern Slavs formed the country of Yougoslavia.

This German Literature Month, I found myself reading two novels that deal with the Hapsburg empire.



Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March begins on the battle-field of Solferino in Northern Italy. The Austrian Kaiser, Franz Joseph comes to the battlefield to lead the charge of his men against French forces led by Napolean III. A young lieutenant, Joseph Trotta saves the young Kaiser's life and for this act of bravery is rewarded handsomely by a grateful monarchy. The novel than follows the trajectory of the Trottas, Joseph; his son who becomes a District officer; and his son Carl Joseph who joins the army. Through this chronicle of the Trottas, the novel captures well the decline and fall of the Empire.


The Radetzky March, a popular march-tune written and composed by Johann Strauss to celebrate the achievements of Field Marshal Josef Graf Radetzky von Radetz.is hauntingly repeated in the novel to emphasise the relentless march of time and the fall of a great power.



The other novel, Stefan Zweig's Beware of Pity is not so ambitious in scope.



 A young lieutenant, Anton Hofmiller, serving in the Austro-Hungarian army is invited to the home of a Hungarian aristocrat Lajos Kekesfalva. Over there, he meets Edith the daughter of the house and finds that she suffers from paralyses. However, compassion for her and the fact that he enjoys her company makes him go back to the house repeatedly. Edith takes his pity for love and starts dreaming of leading her life with him. Hofmiller is shocked when he realises Edith's passion for him. However, instead of extracting himself from such a situation, he finds himself getting further enmeshed in it so much so that he even agrees to be engaged to Edith but then cannot bring himself to accept such a responsibility. How does Edith take his rejection?



This is a deeply moving book and towards the end, I found myself becoming teary-eyed.

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First Line: THE TROTTAS were a young dynasty.
Title: The Radetzky March


Original Title: Radetzkymarsch
Original Language: German
Author: Joseph Roth
Translator: Joachim Neugroschel
Publication Details: London: Everyman's Library, 1996 (Intro by Alan Bance)
First Published: 1932
Pages: xliii + 331
Source: CRL [0113,3M94,RM]
Other books read of the same author: None

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First Line: The whole thing began with a blunder on my part, an entirely innocent piece of clumsiness, a gaffe, as the French call it.

Title: Beware of Pity
Original Title: Ungeduld des Herzens
Original Language: German
Author: Stefan Zweig
Translators: Phyllis and Trevor Blewitt
Publication Details: London: Cassell, 1956
First Published: 1939
Pages: 418
Source: College Library [823 Z9B]
Other books read of the same author: None

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6 comments:

  1. Two very good reviews. I have read the Roth, but not the Zweig but for sure now wish too. The Emperor's Tomb is worth reading as follow up to The Radeyzky March.

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    1. Thank you Mel U. I'll see whether I can get a copy of The Emperor's Tomb. Please do read Beware of Pity. It is very moving in parts. I'll await your views on it.

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  2. Two outstanding books about a haunting period in history. Great reviews.

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    1. Thank you Marina Sofia and welcome to the blog.

      Before reading these books I had no idea about the dual monarchy but now I want to read more of this period.

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  3. Neeru - Thanks for these fine reviews. Such an interesting and haunting period in European - well, world - history, and not as much written about it as about some others.

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    1. Thank you Margot. I had little idea about this period myself but now after reading these books and their quest for a lost culture, I want to read more of it.

      And you are so right, some periods and countries do get written about more.

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