Forgotten masterpiece of Transylvanian fiction

Miklos Banffy’s Transylvania Trilogy was written between 1934 and 1940, and has been hailed recently as a forgotten masterpiece. It has been reprinted by Arcadia Books in recent years, and sounds like a fabulous read.

Says Telegraph reviewer Charles Moore: “This growing acclaim is deserved. Banffy’s trilogy is just about as good as any fiction I have ever read…. 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.”

 

Banffy, Hungarian writer, set in Transylvania, 20th century Romance novels, Magura Transylvania

Banffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy

The Scotsman’s reviewer exulted: “[Th]is is a novel of great events and the private lives of a huge cast of characters told with gusto and amplitude…. If it is the Romantic elements that make the novel so enjoyable, so irresistible, it is the author’s keen political intelligence and refusal to indulge in self-deception which give it an unusual distinction. It’s a novel that, read at the gallop for sheer enjoyment, is likely to carry you along. But many will want to return to it for a second, slower reading, to savour its subtleties and relish the author’s intelligence.”

Jan Morris named They Were Found Wanting as one of her books of the year for 2000 and Caroline Moor wrote: “My great find of the year is a reprint of the magnificent trilogy, set in pre-war Transylvania by Miklos Banffy which stands comparison with the great Russian and French masters. Banffy vies with Tolstoy for sweep, Pasternak for romance and Turgenev for evocation of nature; his fiction is packed with irresistible social detail and crammed with superb characters: it is gloriously, addictively, compulsively readable.”

See more fiction set in Transylvania here.

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6 thoughts on “Forgotten masterpiece of Transylvanian fiction

  1. Sorry to be so late getting back to you. But the first book was late arriving, then I wanted to start the second, and, of course, then the third demanded to be read. I can finally report that I’ve completed the trilogy.

    While the books are frequently referred to as Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy,” the book describes a Transylvania that was still part of Hungary, not Romania, in the decade before the outbreak of World War I. The main character (Abady), like Bánffy, is a Hungarian aristocrat, and much of the story takes place in Budapest. But regardless of the character’s – or author’s – nationality, there’s no doubting their love for Transylvania. Its forests and lands seem as dear to Abady as his lover, and Bánffy lovingly describes them in all four seasons. And even as a Hungarian, Bánffy – through Abady – argues for Transylvania’s unique needs, customs, and resources.

    One disadvantage of the time frame of the novels is that the Transylvanian place names in the book are no longer in common usage, reflecting the older, Hungarian labels. Kolozsvár is clearly Cluj-Napoca, but I had problems with the other names. (Is Brasso Braşov?) I would love a future edition to include a map indicating both Hungarian and Romanian names. The Abady seat is near Kolozsvár, so I gather that most of the action takes place in northern Transylvania rather than the southern area that most western tourists associate with Transylvania.

    As might be expected of a trilogy, the scope of the novels is huge. But, in composing his elegy for Hungarian Transylvania, Bánffy lays bare the jewels and faults of his society with the skill of a miniaturist. Duelling customs, ball protocols, forest management practices, are all described in detail, yet all feel an integral part of the story, never falsely introduced just to convey information. Perhaps Bánffy’s most astonishing feat in this regard are the long passages relating the Parliamentary dysfunction of the time, pages and pages of information that somehow never feel didactic. I devoured them, a history lesson wrapped up in an epic novel. (Bánffy even manages a brief reference to himself as actor rather than author.) In fact, the political side of the novels gripped me more than the central love story, but that says as much about my temperament as Bánffy’s storytelling.

    I don’t want to relate too much for fear of giving something away (I tend to detest many recent reviews for that reason), but I would unreservedly recommend this book to anyone: those looking for a fuller understanding of Transylvania’s rich complexities or Eastern Europe’s dysfunction and misfortune leading up to World I, those looking for a heart-breaking story of human decency and blindness, or those simply looking for a rollicking good read.

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    • Susan – fantastic review, many thanks. Detailed and well-informed without giving anything away. You’ve made me keen to get my hands on all three books, which is exactly what I hoped for. May lots of other readers react the same way… I’ll post your review as a stand-alone entry rather than leaving it in the comments – it deserves the widest possible readership.

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  2. Thanks for this. I’ve just requested the first volume from the local library. For some bizarre reason, my library carries the first and last volumes, but not the middle. Oh well, having to buy one book out of three isn’t bad.

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