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The Nameless Castle

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The Nameless Castle

Post  Sophie on Sun May 18, 2014 2:13 pm

I promised nearly a month ago to write here about the novel 'The Nameless Castle', a piece of 19th century Hungarian literature, that has some connection to the Dark Countess myths. Here it goes Smile

About the author

Mór (Maurus) Jókai is my favourite writer ever. Most pupils clearly dislike his works because they have to read them at the age of 12-13, and due to their archaic language, they hardly understand a word. I was an odd one - after reading 'The Baron's Sons' in 2004, I fell in an eternal love with that novel. Seriously. (There's an English translation of it on archive.org, but it lacks some important scenes and lost its beautiful oldschool language. Did I mention I have some odd tastes? Very Happy) So, after a while, as my devotion to Louis & Antoinette also appeared, I got really excited while finding a novel of the same author having Madame Royale as a protagonist.

Hungary's Dark Countess

This Marie-Therese-Charlotte, in the novel only referred to as "Marie", has of course not so much with the real Duchesse de Angouleme in common. In Jókai's age, the myth of the Dark Countess was a topic of serious historical discussion, and he as a romantic author simply used his imagination to create an alternative version of Madame Royale's story. His "Marie" is a dark-haired girl who was smuggled from France as a twelve-year-old, and lived in Fertőd, Hungary (!) with a man called "Ludwig, Count Vavel de Versay" (funny name, if you ask me Very Happy). At the beginning, one can't understand if Vavel is a good friend, a platonic lover or a prison guard.
The plot doesn't only contain their story along with their really controversial relationship. Jókai, who was a revolutioner in 1848 himself, shows here the terrible side of the French Revolution, despite the general admiration of his contemporary Hungarians towards everything "revolutionary". The important fact showed in the novel, namely that even children were used as spies during the Reign of Terror, foreshadows the most disgusting periods of the 20th century history - that came long after Jókai's death.
There's a long part (cut out of the English version, I assume Very Happy) about the Hungarian Insurrection of Nobles against Napoleon. Jókai's own father was also an insurgent, so the son portrays the soldiers, who were in reality terribly defeated - as heroic. It was another challenge for him because this "coward, reprobate insurgents"-card was often played out by the revolutioners, most notably by one of Jókai's closest juvenile friends, the "national poet" Sándor Petőfi. Maybe the insurgents had anachronistic weapons and techniques, but Jókai showes them in a positive light here, and thereby tries to clear a popular misconception in Hungarian history.
Another interesting subplot is the "water-monster". In the 19th century, after Darwin's ideas became widespread, many intellectuals toyed with the idea: what makes us humans? The human-like water-monster of a Hungarian lake was a recorded phenomenon these days, and Jókai decided to use him as a supporting character. At first, Marie sees him at the lake and becomes terrified. Then Katharina, another important character, tries to tame him (anyone who watched Disney's Tarzan can imagine how it worked Razz). She apparently fails this process, the water-monster escapes back to the lake and remains an animal. But in one of the last scenes (also cut out from the English translation) he comes back for the last time laying some stones on a grave in "the form he have usually seen among humans" - a Cross, indeed. This was Jókai's idea about taming the indomitable in the 19th century.

Why do I recommend it?

I don't want to write any more spoilers here - the story with its twists and tensions is in itself enjoyable. In addition, this is exactly a novel that you read over and over again, even after you found out the ending. Each scene operates with strong emotions and moods that remain with the reader for years (I read it in 2006 for the first time), if one has the chance and time to read it slowly, extensively, as people of the 19th century had read novels. This work has thereby the flaws and outdated details of its age - but it is still a masterpiece of it, either!

If you are interested...

The novel - English translation, full text online:


The pictures are from the film version, I googled them as illustrations. I don't own them, of course Smile

PS: If you read the biography 'Marie-Therese' by Susan Nagel, there's a short mention of the novel at the very end. Nagel didn't realize that Hungarians use Eastern name order and refers to the author as "Mór", but it's the same man and work, anyway! Wink

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Re: The Nameless Castle

Post  Elena on Sat May 24, 2014 1:46 pm

Thank you, Sophie! This is fascinating! I love you 

Je pardonne à tous mes ennemis le mal qu’ils m’ont fait.

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Re: The Nameless Castle

Post  Sophie on Sat May 24, 2014 2:31 pm

Elena wrote:Thank you, Sophie! This is fascinating! I love you 

You are welcome!  sunny 

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