Miklos Bánffy: Megszámláltattál (They Were Counted)
This is the first in Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy, rediscovered in Hungary in the 1980s and now revered as a great work. And, indeed, it is a great work. It is written essentially as a nineteenth century novel (it is set at the end of the nineteenth/beginning of the twentieth century) but that is part of its charm. Clearly, Bánffy is unaware of or was unmoved by literary developments in other parts of Europe during the early twentieth century. What makes it so worthwhile is that it gives us an unrivalled portrait of a vanished world (and, for most of us, a world of which we were unaware). It is a portrait told with so much sympathy and love for the people, the region and the culture of Transylvania that outsiders cannot fail to be caught up in the story.
The story is about two cousins. The hero is Count Balint Abády, an honourable man, who goes into Parliament (a knowledge of Austro-Hungarian politics of the period is useful but not essential as it is easy to determine that Abády, like many a politicians, is not in tune with the political leaders of the day). He also tries to manage the estate he has inherited despite the devious, Gogolian characters who try to cheat him out his money. Though not averse to occasional misbehaviour he generally stays well within the bounds of what is expected of him, except only that he is in love with a married woman and has an affair with her. His cousin, Count Lászlo Gyeröffy, however, exceeds the proper bounds. His main vice is gambling (a vice he acquires during the course of the book, in order to earn money and at which, at first, he is very successful) which leads him to his downfall, losing him both the girl he loves and plans to marry as well as his position in society. There is even a worse scoundrel (called Warday) who not only loses money but forges a signature to get money and, when caught, is thrown out of his regiment and then flees the country, instead of doing the decent thing.
This book is not, thankfully, all about money though impoverished gentry do abound. It is a portrait of a period, of a people, of an era. Though Abády and Gyeröffy are the main characters, Bánffy gives us many wonderful characters. Adrienne, Abády’s married lover, and Fanny, Gyeröffy’s well-off and married lover, are just two examples as are the wittily drawn characters on Abády’s estate whose main aim is either to do as little as possible or get as much money as possible or both. Indeed, Bánffy seems intent on pointing out the frivolity of many Hungarians, particularly the upper classes where outmoded concepts of honour and money abound. He is also highly critical of the politicians of his day who seem no better (or worse) than the politicians of other countries and other periods. But all of this is of secondary importance, as Bánffy leaves us with a wonderful story and a wonderful book.
First published in Hungarian 1934 by Erdélyi Szépmíves Céh
First published in English 1999 by Arcadia