The World's Best Unknown Books
04 04 2018

Doomed Grandeur

The Transylvanian Trilogy Miklós Bánffy

Translation Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Bánffy-Jelen

They Were Counted, the first part of the trilogy, paints an unrivalled portrait of the vanished world of pre-1914 Hungary, as seen through the eyes of two young Transylvanian cousins, Count Balint Abady and Count László Gyeroffy.

Bánffy’s enthusiasm produces an effect rather like that of the best Trollope novels - but coming from a past world that now seems excitingly exotic


Shooting parties at great country houses, turbulent scenes in parliament and a life of luxury in Budapest provide the backdrop for this gripping, prescient novel, a chilling indictment of upper-class frivolity and political folly, in which good manners cloak indifference and brutality. Abady becomes aware of the plight of a group of Romanian mountain peasants and champions their cause, while Gyeroffy dissipates his resources at the gaming tables, mirroring the decline of the Austro-Hungarian empire itself.

They Were Found Wanting takes up the tale of the two Transylvanian cousins, their loves and diverging fortunes. The final part of the Bánffy trilogy, They Were Divided, reflects the rapidly disintegrating societies of Central Europe.

Bánffy’s trilogy contrasts lives of privilege and corruption with those of the Romanian peasant minority Balint tries to help. It is an unsurpassed evocation of a rich and fascinating aristocratic world oblivious to its impending demise.

All three titles are biblical references to The Writing on the Wall (Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin) in the fifth chapter of The Book of Daniel. When King Belshazzar profanes sacred vessels from Solomon’s Temple at a banquet, a hand appears, writing a line on a wall. The prophet Daniel interpreted this line as ‘God has counted the days of your kingdom, he has weighed you and found you wanting, your kingdom will be divided’. That same night the king was killed and his kingdom conquered.

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Arcadia Books
Original language
Original title
Megszámláltattál (1934)
Earlier in these languages
French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Chinese, Turkish and Korean.
The Guardian (2011)
The Washington Post (2013)
The London Review of Books (2002)

Available as
ISBN 978-90-450-0745-8
624 pages
second hand