Author(s): József Eötvös Language: English Year of publication: 2023 Page Range: 618 ISBN: 978-3-949607-14-1 E-ISBN-13: 978-3-949607-15-8
Subject(s): Literary fiction, 19th Century
Translated by Bernard Adams
“We very much regret having read The Village Notary, for we envy those that have not done so the pleasure that is in store for them,” says a reviewer in February 1850. “Lovers of romance will find an unusual combination of materials for amusement and reflection,” says another reviewer, “scenes with which few in this country are familiar, descriptive of a people whose fortunes have excited a universal and anxious sympathy.”
Typical elements of the Romantic novel are present — wicked stepmother, thwarted lovers, devious lawyers, the innocent wronged, crime justly rewarded and (this is Hungary!) some galloping — and the action scarcely flags in this highly entertaining book. Between its first appearance in Hungary in 1845, however, and that of the 1850 translation there occurred the revolution of 1848–49 in which Hungary rose against Austria, to be defeated only when Russia intervened. As the historian deduces principles from facts, the novelist illustrates principles by narrative; the translation aroused much interest in England on political grounds, but — a week is a long time in politics! — in Hungary it was slammed on political grounds: Eötvös is critical not of Habsburg oppression but of the largely self-serving and indolent Hungarian common nobility. After 170 years, this re-translation may lose in topicality, but some aspects of mankind are for ever.
The book holds a balance between racy tale and the author’s frequently trenchant commentary on the Hungary of his time. In the English translation of 1850 it is significantly abridged in favor of the racy tale, thus diluting Eötvös’s purpose not a little.
The present translation is made from the unabridged Hungarian, and one must hope that while being better informed of Eötvös’s aims the reader of this version will suffer no loss of entertainment.