Prelude to the Great War

They Were Divided, Miklos Banffy, 1940
Book Three of The Writing on the Wall, the Transylvania Trilogy, translated into English in 2001


Miklos Banffy The Tolstoy of Transylvania


Kolozsvar Romania

This book covers events from the time of Austria’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908 to the start of the Great War (WWI) in 1914. The story is told from the point of view of Count Balint Abady, an Hungarian aristocrat with large land holdings near Kolozsvar (now Cluj-Napoca) in Transylvania (Romania). This is a world well known to the author Banffy, perhaps the richest Hungarian aristocrat in Kolozsvar who was an able diplomat who negotiated the agreement under which Hungary joined the League of Nations in 1920.

The book is about evenly divided between stories and descriptions of the social lives of these Hungarian aristocrats and the meaningless politics of the Hungarian aristocrats in the dual monarchy Austro-Hungarian empire. It is a nostalgic and regretful look back on a world destroyed in the Great War. An English preface to the look likens the Hungarians in Romania to the English in Ireland and says Banffy reminds him of Hardy.

Balint tries his best to maintain his Noblesse oblige to his own serfs and actively promotes the establishment of agricultural cooperatives to allow the Romanian small land holders to collectively cooperate in the production and distribution of their agricultural products. He is forward looking but helpless in the face of the foolish political maneuvers of his fellow political aristocrats. He credits the peace that has held in Europe since 1967 with creating a generation unacquainted with the horrors of war and unprepared to take the necessary steps to prevent it. Italy, Russia, and France are busy trying to expand their empires in North Africa and the Balkans feeling that they have come late to the party of empire. Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany is building up his navy and recklessly challenging England on the seas. Franz Joseph has been emperor of the declining dual empire since 1848 but seems destined to live forever. Efforts to build up their military and even build a navy (with sea-bases where?) come to nothing.

In the end Balint fatalistically rejoins his old regiment in the mobilization and prepares for war. He expects to die and expects the world he has known and loved to be completely destroyed.

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