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Okay, for Chapter 6 ("Paid In Full"), the quick 'n' dirty version...or what passes for it 'round these parts.

When I ran screaming from the task at hand the other morning, Fanny Meyer and her Aunt Teresa had absconded in the middle of the night to avoid the industrial-strength deflowering power of Abellino Kárpáthy. And when they tried to drop off the face of the earth, what godforsaken outpost did they choose to make camp? The other side of town, of course, where Teresa decided to take Mr. Boltay into her confidence about the whole mangled mess of l'affaire Upperclass Twit, and he agreed to offer his aid. Yes, Mr. Boltay, who was, in the distant past, Teresa's ex-fiance, and more recently her ex-landlord. So in other words, to completely lose the scoundrel, they ran away to the first place anybody would think to look. Brilliant strategy that, but lifelong church ladies don't get to be lifelong church ladies by their cunning deviousness, so let's just move on.

That part of the plan worked about as well as you'd think, since Boltay's was also the first place Dame Kramm came up with once Abellino brought the issue up. Fortunately, Alexander--who, as Fanny's presumed future betrothed, didn't care for how the current situation had messed up her emotions--was staking out the church every Sunday for just that moment.

Abellino marched rapidly to the corner of the street, with Alexander after him all the way. There he got into a carriage which was awaiting him. Alexander threw himself into a hackney-coach and trundled after him. He overtook him at the Michael Gate, and here the gentleman got out, while the carriage clattered into the courtyard. A big porter in bearskins was standing at the entrance.

"Who was that gentleman who went in there just now?" inquired Alexander of the porter.

"The Honourable Abellino Kárpáthy, of Kárpáth."

"Thank you."

So his name, then, was Abellino Kárpáthy! Alexander hastened home with his discovery.

On that day the whole family had such a vicious expression of countenance that every one who came to see them was positively afraid of them. (pp. 134-5)

Not realizing how totally blown his cover was before he even started, Abellino paid a visit to Mr. Boltay's shop, spinning the same line of BS he fed Dame Kramm under the disguise of buying an engagement present. Instead, Boltay produces six thousand florins, the amount of the "loan", to call the whole thing even, along with a promise that he'd regret it if he didn't take the offer. Instead, Abellino silently rode off in his Effite-Snobmobile while Boltay swung phase two into action.

Master Boltay did not put back in his pocket the money lying on the table, but swept it up, sent it to the editor of the Pressburger Zeitung, and the next day the following notice was to be read in the columns of that respectable newspaper: "A pater-familias residing in this town presents through us six thousand florins thirty kreutzers to the civic hospital, which amount the honourable Abellino Kárpáthy was pleased to offer as a gift to the daughter of the donor in question, who, however, thought the sum more suitably applied to charitable purposes."

The affair made a great stir. The name advertised was well known in the highest circles. Some were amused, others amazed at the comic announcement. A couple of wits belonging to the opposition complimented Abellino in front of the green table in the name of suffering humanity. As for Abellino, he strutted up and down the town all day on the offchance of calling some one out; but as nobody gave him the opportunity, he and the other young elegants finally held a conference at the Meyers' house, and it was decided that a challenge should be sent to this advertising pater-familias. (pp. 139-40)

A duel it was, a challenge calculated to scare the fear of God (and his (snort) betters) into that punk-ass carpenter. Whether our young twit was even thinking about deflowering the girl anymore is hard to say. Maybe this was the point it stopped being about the nookie and started being about just getting it over with, like the Coyote and the Roadrunner. Anyway, that was Abellino's new plan, but when his seconds arrive at Boltay's shop with the formal challenge, they find only Alexander, and another wrinkle they hadn't anticipated:

"Then listen to me, my dear Mr. Alexander Barna." He laid particular stress upon the word "Mr." that the lad might be duly sensible of the honour done to him thereby. "This letter tells your master——"

"You may give it me, sir. I am Mr. Boltay's confidential agent, and during his absence he has entrusted me with the transaction of all his business."

"Then take this letter," remarked Conrad in voice of thunder; and was on the point of adding something of a very imposing character, when Alexander completely disconcerted him by indiscreetly tearing open the letter addressed to his master, and approaching the window that he might be able to read it better.

"What are you doing?" cried both the seconds at the same time.

"I am authorized by Mr. Boltay during his absence to open all letters addressed to him, and discharge all debts or claims that may come in."

"But this is a purely personal matter which does not concern you."

Meanwhile Alexander had been glancing through the letter. He now came straight towards the two seconds.

"Gentlemen, I am at your service," he said.

"How! What business is it of yours?"

"Mr. Boltay has empowered me to satisfy any claim whatever that may be made upon him."

"Well, what then?"

"Why, then," said Alexander, smoothing out the letter with his hand, "I am ready to settle this account also whenever and wherever you please."

Conrad looked at Livius. "This lad seems disposed to joke with us," said he.

"I am not joking, gentlemen. Since yesterday I have become Mr. Boltay's partner, and all the obligations of the firm are binding upon both of us equally. The credit of the establishment demands it."

Conrad began to doubt whether the youth was in his right mind or knew how to read.

"Have you read what is in that letter?" he roared.

"Yes. It is a challenge."

"And what right have you to accept a challenge which is meant for some one else?"

"Because my partner, my foster-father, is not present, and everything, be it ill or good fortune, disaster or annoyance, which touches him, touches me equally. If he were present he would answer for himself. Now, however, he is away, and he has his own reasons, no doubt, for not telling me whither he has gone or how long he will be absent; and therefore, gentlemen, you must either take away this challenge or let me give you satisfaction."

Conrad drew Livius aside to consult him as to whether this was regular according to duelling rules. Livius recalled similar cases, but only as between gentlemen.

"Hark ye, Alexander Barna," said Conrad, "what you propose is only usual among gentlemen."

"Well, gentlemen, I am not the challenger; the challenge comes from you."

This was unanswerable. (pp. 142-4)

Abellino's rare gift of foresight would've come in handy in the 21st century. He'd probably be hip deep in sub-prime mortgages right now.

So it is agreed that Alexander will be the one to ride to the duelling ground the next day. What's more, two Very Worthy Gentlemen (Rudolf and Michael, described in the text as "the idols of the nation"...I'll have to take the author's word for it) have volunteered themselves as Alexander's seconds because they're sick of snotty punks like Abellino shooting up the rising generation because some dumb bastard soiled his pinafore.

Which brings us to the duel itself. After Abellino indulges in a few show-off shots at falling leaves and other twit-dickery, the two combatants take their places, and what about the result? Yes, what about that result...

What happened the next moment nobody was able to exactly explain.

A report rang out, and half a minute afterwards another. The seconds hastened to the spot, and found Alexander standing erect in his place; but Abellino had turned right round, and his hand was over his left ear. The surgeons came running up with the others.

"Are you wounded?" they asked Abellino.

"No, no!" said he, keeping one hand continually over his ear. "Deuce take that bullet, it flew so damned close to my ear that it has almost made me deaf. I can't hear a word of what I am saying. Curse the bullet! I would much rather that it had gone through my ribs."

"I wish it had with all my soul!" roared Conrad, who now came rushing up. "You are a damned fool, for you shot me instead of your opponent! Look, gentlemen! You see that tree by which I was standing? Well, the bullet burrowed right into it. What! fire at your own seconds? Do you call that discretion? If that tree had not been there, I should have been as dead as a ducat—as dead as a ducat, I say!"

So this is what must have happened. At the very moment when Alexander's bullet whizzed past Kárpáthy's ear he must have been so startled by the shock as to have involuntarily wheeled round and clapped one hand to his ear, and the same instant the loaded pistol in his other hand must have gone off sideways. At any rate, Kárpáthy was found standing, after the shot was fired, with his back to his opponent. (p. 151)

Hey, if the omniscient narrator doesn't know what happened, don't look to me for answers. I'm sure it'll be revealed in good time if it means anything at all.

So, in a good deal of pain and with blood trickling from his ear, Abellino was helped from the field and the necessary documents were signed by the seconds to show that, yes, the punk-ass bastid was stepping off. End of chapter.

It's just like what Jim Gettys said to Charles Foster Kane...some men need more than one lesson, and it looks like Abellino Kárpáthy's going to get more than one lesson...but not before he inflicts more jolly misery on his path to the gutter.

Coming next: "The Nabob's Birthday" You do remember the Nabob, don't you? This story's called A Hungarian Nabob, after all...

Jeez, that last chapter recap kind of got away from me, but there was so much going on, and I didn't want to shortchange anything. Anyway, at this point the story takes a sharp right turn and I almost hit the dark night of the soul that my "you're gonna break" buddy was hoping for.

Chapter 4 ("A Family Curse") introduces us to the Meyer family of Pressburg (the common-at-the-time Germanized name for Bratislava), husband, wife and five daughters. Mr. Meyer worked at the money-house, and decided to stretch himself above and beyond to keep his girls in the fineries, socialities, and other lady-things so that they'd marry into a buttload o' money. The lady of the house spent like she didn't know the value of anything, because this is the 19th century and that the type of social stereotype you're supposed to expect.

So it was laissez le bons tems rouler, as the poets say before they flash their tits for beads, until the day Meyer's drawer was short to the tune of 6,000 florins--y'know, just a little off the top to keep the old man on his feet, but you can't tell some employers anything. He was out on his butt like that, his personal effects seized, and there was idle talk of jail, which even today is nobody's idea of a good time. With his back to the wall, our Mr. Meyer managed to scrape together a few scraps of humility and went hat-in-hand to his sister Teresa, "partly ridiculous, partly malevolent", mostly a spinster, but entirely pious. Although a woman of humble means, she offered to put together a few coins to convince all parties to let it slide, but she had a price of her own.

Meyer swore by heaven and earth that his whole life would henceforth be devoted to showing his gratitude to his sister for her noble deed.

"You will do that best," replied the aged spinster, "by bringing up your family honourably. I have given my all to preserve your name from a great reproach, you must now take great care to preserve it from a still greater, for here below there is even a greater degradation than being thrust into prison. You know what I mean. Get something to do yourself, and accustom your children to work. Don't be ashamed of offering your services as a book-keeper to any tradesman who will have you; you will, at least, earn enough that way to make both ends meet. As for your girls, they are now old enough to help themselves. God guard them from accepting the help of other people. One of them might earn her bread as a milliner's apprentice, for she can do fine needlework. Another can go as a governess into some gentleman's family. God will show the others what to do in His own time, and I am sure you will all be happy." (pp. 92-3)
And he was good to his a point. Dad found another honest bookkeeping job, and his two oldest went to (gulp) work. Eliza went in with a seamstress, but Matilda went in for the theater! As a singer! Damn, son, you might as well hang out her shingle in the red light district right now! Dad decided he could swing that, since his inner gremlin was already counting the money. What's worse, the mother had to cook! Herself! Oh, the scandal. In theory, everybody was holding up their end, but in practice...well, saying and doing are two different things...
Meyer was occupied in his counting-house from dawn to dusk; Mrs. Meyer during the same period was in the kitchen; the children sewed and stitched; while the bigger ones worked out of doors on a larger scale, one of them turning out a frightful quantity of hats and bonnets, while the other was mastering her noble profession, or so at least they made each other believe. As a matter of fact, however, Mr. Meyer lounged about the coffee-houses pretty frequently, and read the newspapers, which is certainly the cheapest way of taking one's ease; Mrs. Meyer confided the pots and pans to the nursemaid, and gossiped with her neighbours; the children read books surreptitiously or played at blindman's buff; elegant dandies diverted the elder girl who was in the employment of the milliner, and it will be better to say nothing at all about the arduous artistic labours of the chorus-singer. The family only met together at dinner-time, and then they would sit round the table with sour, ill-tempered faces, the younger ones grumbling and whining at the meagre food, the elder girls with their appetites spoilt by a surfeit of sweetmeats, every one moody and bored, as if they found each other's company intolerable, and all of them eagerly awaiting the moment when they might return to their engrossing pursuits again. (p. 95)
As you can see, austerity makes family time a real pain in the ass, even when you're faking most of it. The girls even took to wearing their beat-up work rags to the table (consternation! uproar! rhubarb!), because what good is suffering if you can't show it off?

Meyer, for his part, learned to ignore all the idle grousing, only opening his mouth to talk about how suffering builds character. But gradually, things seemed to start turning a corner: Matilda's career appeared to be taking off and the money and fancy clothes started showing up to visit again. Dad figured "Hey, baby's a star now!" but after a birthday of the happy variety, he popped over to Teresa's to show off his present. All this time, Teresa had kept her ear to the ground, nosy spinster lady style, and set her brother straight.

She took (his) pipe by the stem and dashed it so violently against the iron foot of the stove that it flew to pieces in every direction.

Mr. Meyer's mouth fell at both corners dismally. This was a pleasant birthday greeting if you like!

"Sister! what does that mean?" he cried.

"What does that mean? It means that you are a stupid, a fool, a blockhead! All the world knows that one of your daughters is the mistress of a nobleman, and you are not only content to live with her and share her shameful earnings, but you actually come here to me and make a boast of it!"

"What! Which of my daughters?" exclaimed Meyer.

Teresa shrugged her shoulders. "If I did not know you for a credulous simpleton," said she, "I should take you for an abandoned villain. You thought me fool enough to believe that you were bringing up your daughter as a governess when she was on the stage all the time. I don't want to tell you what my views are as to choosing a profession—I admit that they are old-fashioned, and out of date—but will you tell me how it is possible for a girl with a salary of sixteen florins a month to expend thousands on extravagant luxury? (pp.98-99)

Yeah, that nobleman befooled her. He befooled her rotten.

Meyer did some nosing around to satisfy his curiosity, that the girl not only wasn't a star but rarely even showed up to rehearsals. So Meyer stomped home and disowned her on the spot, for ever and ever til the end of time...well, for all of a week, anyway. Matilda put together a deathbed show on the poor side of town and had her nobleman string together a pretty lame testimony that nevertheless convinced her dumbass dad.

In fact, if Matilda's going to be keeping company, why have her skulk around like she's up to something? Bring the guy right through the front door. Forget about blind spots when it comes to Meyer. He has vision spots in an otherwise big black field.

So the other girls grew into young womanhood, and the Meyer house became the early 19th century version of spring break party central. But gee, dad sure seems happy that the girls are happy...and dad did what he always did, which was not pay attention to anything. And then, with his youngest daughter Fanny a whisker away from becoming a teenager, here comes "crazy" Aunt Teresa again, and this time she's making a house call. Once again, she cuts right to the point (my emphasis here; that was about as on the nose as they'd let you get back in the day):
"[...]For two years we have not seen each other. During that time you have placed a pretty considerable distance between us, and your mode of life has been such as to make it impossible for all eternity for us ever to approach one another again. This I fancy will not very greatly astonish you, and the knowledge that this is so has given me the courage to say it. You have chosen for your four daughters, one after the other, the same career. [...] You have one daughter who is twelve years old; in a short time she will be a marriageable girl. I have not come to this house to make a scene, nor do I wish to preach about morality, or religion, or God, or maidenly innocence, subjects which great men and grand gentlemen simply sneer at as the stock-in-trade of hypocrites. I will therefore tell you in a couple of words why I have come. All I ask is that you deliver over to me your youngest daughter. I will engage to bring her up honourably as a respectable middle-class girl should be brought up. Her mind is still uncorrupted, she is still in the hands of God, and I will undertake to the day of my death to preserve her reputation. All I require of you is that neither you yourself, nor any member of your family, ever think of her again. " (p. 106)
Teresa adds that if he doesn't turn the girl over willingly, she'd petition the crown. Poor dumb dad. One moment he thought he had a family with a decent name, the next he's starring in Pimp My Daughters on MTV.

Naturally, Meyer wants a second opinion ("fine, you're ugly, too" (rimshot)), so he tracks down three old friends from the old days. The first two are infuriatingly evasive, but the third, a criminal lawyer, opens fire with all barrels: "(Y)our house was a respectable house, but now your house is a Sodom and Gomorrah which opens its doors wide to all the fools of the town." If he had his druthers, he'd take the girl away and lock the dad up, "in the house of correction, in case the things that are done in your house, sir, are done with your knowledge and consent; and in a madhouse if they are done without your knowledge."

Now that Meyer was thoroughly disabused of his illusions and realized his girls had been playing him for a sucker all this time, he stormed home with Angry Dad Violence in his heart and forcibly removed young Fanny from the household, laying into her and the other girls with the sticks from the embroidering frame (hard wooden dowels, mind you) when she hesitated. He even went in for a little wife-beating in the process. Yikes. Not exactly a "new dawn" for Meyer, but we won't have to worry about him for much longer, since after he deposited Fanny with his sister, he vanished off the face of the earth--and supposedly the book, if the note of finality from the end of the chapter is to be trusted. It wouldn't break my heart if this was the last we saw of him; the only wife beater I feel like making fun of is a style of shirt.

But wait, there's more...

When we pick up at Chapter 5 ("The Tempter in Church"), three years have passed. Teresa was originally a stern taskmistress and Fanny was a sullen little malcontent, but once Fanny was brought to heel and accepted the Eternal Truths, they'd really warmed to each other, and Teresa was very happy to see her youngest niece on the straight and narrow. They lived together in a house which was currently rented to them by John Boltay, a cabinet maker who was engaged to Teresa forty years ago until his family stomped that notion flat. Now a widower after a marriage which was just there, he still did "small kindnesses" for Teresa, and his chief journeyman Alexander seemed to be taking a shine to Fanny.

While Fanny had some liberty, she was still very heavily looked after. Would that protect her from the big bad evil world? Not really, because since she was doing such a bang-up job at shunning her sisters, they thought they'd have some hard-hearted jollies at her expense:

The girls themselves made no mystery of the matter. They explained with whom Fanny was, and where and when she might be seen. Ah! and this was much more than mere giddiness; it was shamelessness, jealousy, hatred! Matilda could not forgive Fanny for avoiding her in the street, and the others could not pardon her for possessing a treasure which they possessed no longer—innocence! What a dish for the fine palate of a connoisseur! What a rare fruit of paradise! A child of fifteen or sixteen, whose diamond soul has been cleansed from mud and filth, who is still conscious of God, and capable of pure delights, whose tender loving heart, perhaps, is in the safekeeping of some honest, romantic youth—what a fine thing to root her up unmercifully, to tear off her budding leaves one by one, hurl her back again into the mire from which she has been plucked, and make her acquainted with that new, that withering, consuming fire of infernal passion begotten among the souls of the nether world!

So the chase was let loose after the tender roe that had emerged from the garden of paradise. Swarms of those knight-errants who have nothing else to do waylaid and accosted her in the streets and byways, and offered her their flattery, their homage, their gifts, but above the head of the fairy roe rested a star, which suffered not the darts of the huntsmen to hit their mark. That star was the star of purity. (p. 121)

(By the way, this excerpt's particularly purple shade of prose marks the first point in the book where I felt totally screwed. But dammit, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to chew every bite.)

The evasiveness of the girl made them want her more (isn't that always the way), and at one point they elected Fennimore, the master seducer, to pick her lock once and for all. To this effect, he passed her a bouquet when he ran into her on the street with a note instructing her to leave her garden gate open if she wanted befooled (yeah, let's go with that). She loved the flowers, but when she read the note, she freaked out as if just reading his proposition would send her to Hell. She took her case to Aunt Teresa and Teresa's spinster pal Dame Kramm.
Meanwhile the two old ladies were concocting a plan of vengeance against the originator of all this trouble, and, believe me, ancient spinsters know how to be revengeful! They left the back door of the garden wide open, laid in wait till the cavalier had entered, and then closed it again. Then they took it in turns to watch from the garret window how the valiant young woman-hunter, the would-be seducer, who had himself fallen into the pit, cooled his heels for hours in the mouse-trap they had prepared for him, and when at last the rain began to fall, they went to bed full of malicious joy, with the house-keys tucked snugly beneath their pillows, and listening with delight to the rain pattering against the window-panes. (p. 123)
(Honestly, this scene wasn't entirely necessary for what I'm trying to do here, but reading it made me feel like I was watching a Victorian version of a John Hughes that takes the side of the authoritarian parents. Picture a version of Say Anything where John Cusack wasn't quite on the level and the dad turned on the sprinklers during the boombox scene. That's where my head was.)

Finally, the local lads place a bet with their pack leader that he can't get the hook-up inside of twelve months...without blackmail, firearms, or chemical inducement. And just who is this next contestant? Please welcome back to our stage five time nominee for Upper Class Twit of The Year, Eastern European Division, Abellino Kárpáthy! And not a moment too soon, I might throwing of rotten fruit, please.

Considering the wrong-footed gambit that introduced us to Abellino in chapter 1, his plan to snag Fanny was masterfully complex and devious. Fanny had taken up singing with the church choir, which is where Abellino insinuated himself into the graces of Dame Kramm. Over the course of several Sundays, he spun a yarn about his dear dead bethrothed and how she sang that song, too. He'd love to sponsor Fanny in proper music lessons...anonymously, of course. And of course, he was banking on Dame Kramm to not keep that secret for the long term. When Fanny finds out her benefactor is a man, she starts fantasizing about who it might be, and when the young man stops showing up at the church in person, Abellino's lackey tips the ladies off as to where he might be seen in person.

Well sir, when Fanny caught a glimpse of her sponsor and verified that the genuine article didn't measure up to the fantasy, her heart dropped through the floor and rolled around in the cellar for awhile, so she decided to come clean with her aunt:
She hurried Dame Kramm away from the gallery, and carried her poor disillusioned heart home. There she took her aunt into her confidence, and revealed everything—her dreams, her ambitious longings, and her disappointment. She confessed that now she loved—yes, loved—a man who was her ideal, whose name she knew not, and she begged to be defended against herself, for she felt tottering on the edge of an abyss. She was mistress of her own heart no longer.

Next day, when Dame Kramm came for Fanny to take her to the singing-master, she found Teresa's house deserted. The doors and windows were shut, and the furniture had been removed. Nobody could tell where she had gone.

She had taken it into her head to flit in the night-time. Her rent she had deposited with the caretaker, unknown porters had removed everything, and she had left no address behind for kind inquirers. (pp. 130-1)
Oh my GOD! Run away from the Penis Beast! Never saw a John Hughes movie end that way. Oh, my bad, the rest of this episode takes up another chapter. We'll just see where that takes us...just not right at this moment.

I should've mentioned this earlier, but I also found a British edition of Nabob on Google Books a few days ago, but what's all this then? AN Hungarian Nabob? I suppose that goes back to a previous point: when it comes to language, there's English and there's American. I blame Noah Webster, but that's mainly because I can't hang this one on George W. Bush.

I was going to write up chapter 3 last night along with the first two, but come on, did you notice the time stamp? People gotta sleep.

Anyway, Chapter 3 ("The Whitsun King") takes us back to Hungary in time for the Whitsun Day festivities (that's Pentecost, for those of us who speak American instead of English) in the village of Nagy-Kun-Madaras. They do a full festival and even crown a Whitsun King, which comes with all sorts of benefits, including an apparently bottomless bar tab at every tap in town and "the free run of all festivities and junketings that may be going on". That's unfortunate in a way, because the current Whitsun king for six years running is kind of an ass.

"Well, Martin," said the judge, "so here we have red Whitsun-Day again, eh?"

"I know it, noble sir. To-morrow I also shall be in church, and will listen."

"Then you intend to remain Whitsun King this year also?"

"I shall not be wanting to myself, noble sir. This is only the sixth year that I have been Whitsun King."

"And do you know how many buckets of wine you have drunk during that period, and how many guests you have chucked out of feasts, sow-dances, and banquets?"

"I cannot say, noble sir. My one thought was not to miss one of them, and so much I may say, neither man nor wine has ever floored me."

"Mr. Notary, read to him how many pitchers of wine and how many broken heads stand to his account!"

And it appeared from the register that Martin, during the year of his Whitsun Kingship, had cost the community seventy-two firkins of wine, and more than a hundred heads broken for fun. He had also made an innkeeper quite a rich man by smashing all his glasses every week, which the town paid for.

"And now, answer me further, little brother: How many times have your horses come to grief?"

"I have not troubled myself about them. I leave all that to my underlings."

"How many girls have you befooled?"

"Why should they let themselves be befooled?"

"How much of ill-gotten goods has passed through your hands?"

"Nobody has ever caught me." (pp. 61-2)

"Befooled." Must be some kind of code.

As it comes out, these old customs are subsidized by John "Master Jock" Kárpáthy, who you might remember has land and riches out the wazoo. He also keeps up the quality of horse racing in the community, which also feeds the festivities since a series of races is how the kingship is decided. Martin (the ass in question) got his pride of place by being handy with the spurs, but ho, what's this?

Master Jock was just about to signify, by a wave of his gold-headed cane, that the mortars were to be fired—the third report was to be the signal for the race to begin—when far away on the puszta a young horseman was seen approaching at full tilt, cracking his whip loudly, and galloping in the direction of the competitors. On reaching the two jurors—and he was not long about that—he reined up, and, whipping off his cap, briefly expressed the wish to compete for the Whitsun Kingship.

"Don't ask me who or what I am. If I am beaten I shall simply go on my way, but if I win I shall remain here," was all that the jurors could get in answer to their questions. Nobody knew the youth. He was a handsome, ruddy young fellow of about six and twenty, with a little spiral moustache twisted upwards in betyár fashion, flowing curly locks gathered up into a top-knot, black flashing eyes, and a bold expressive mouth, slight of build, but muscular and supple. His dress was rustic, but simple almost to affectation; you would not have found a seal on his white bulging shirt, search as you might, and he wore his cap, with a tuft of meadow-sweet in it, as gallantly as any cavalier.

Wherever he might have got the steed on which he sat, it was a splendid animal—a restive Transylvanian full-blood, with tail and mane long and strong reaching to the ground; not for an instant could it remain quiet, but danced and pranced continually.

They made him draw lots, and then placed him in a line with the rest. (pp. 66-7)

The Mysterious Stranger wins the first race, even beating Martin the Ass by a full half-minute, but still loses the first race on a technicality (you're supposed to grab the flag, too; wouldn't that be a fun NASCAR loophole?). The Stranger doesn't make that mistake in the second heat, snatching it out of the standard bearer's hand so briskly that it knocks him over. For round three, just as insurance, the Stranger grabs a willow switch, and the horse goes predictably nuts.

When the third report resounded, the stranger suddenly gave his horse a cut with the willow switch, and let the reins hang loosely.

The smitten steed scudded off like a tempest. Wildly, madly, it skimmed the ground beneath its feet, as only a horse can fly when, panic-stricken, it ravishes its perishing rider along with it. None, no none, could get anywhere near it; even Martin was left many yards behind in mid-course. The crowd gaped in amazement at the fury of the steed and the foolhardiness of the rider, especially when, in the midst of his mad career, the long chaplet of flowers fell from the youth's head, and was trampled to pieces beneath the hoofs of the other horses panting after him. He himself did not notice the loss of his chaplet till he reached the goal, where he had to exert all his strength to rein up his maddened steed. He had reached the goal; but he had lost his crown. (p. 71)

At this point, Martin the Ass, who by any objective standard is a beaten man, instead goes all Hillary Clinton on us and proposes a tie-breaker for a contest that isn't tied at all. That proposal: the manly, rugged art of bull-baiting. A wild bull has been spotted roaming the countryside, and the object of the contest is to rope it and take it back to the racing grounds. Then they will do what you expect them to do with a bull on a feast day. And in case the preceding flagged a few activists, hello, we're talking about 19th century literature today. Please drive through.

Martin the Ass, along with a collection of gawkers, is at the fore...and the bull is ready to do what bulls do to jerks that bug them when they're at home (wherever that may be) but once he catches wind of the audience, he proves that he's not nearly as dumb as his would-be hunter by stepping back and biding his time. This pisses off our would-be hunter, who gets out his whip...steel-tipped. Yikes. A few furious swats of that gets the bull's attention, and it's about six inches from tearing Martin the Ass a new orifice when the Mysterious Stranger lassos the beast and uses his own whip to force it into submission.

Yeah, I know. It's a necessary incident to move the story along. It's another time and culture. But in man vs. bull sports, I've taken to rooting for the bull, so part of me was let down that Martin the Ass didn't get a scratch.

That night, Master Jock calls the Mysterious Stranger into his study, who introduces himself properly to somebody for the first time all day: "Michael Kis, at your service, your honour." Michael has no family in the world and is a stablehand at Nadudvár. This lights a fire under the practical joker side of the Nabob, who has a proposition for the young man:
"[...]What if I make a bigger man of you than you yourself have any idea of; make you take your place in genteel society here; give you as much money as you like, to drink and play cards with; and turn you into Michael Kis, Esq., lord of the manor of Nadudvár?"

"I shouldn't mind, but how to conduct myself so that they may take me for a gentleman, I don't know."

"The bigger blackguard you are, the greater gentleman they'll take you to be. It is only our rustics who are modest and respectful nowadays."

"If that be all, I am ready."

"I'll take you with me everywhere. You shall drink, dice, bully, brawl, cudgel the men, and befool the women to the top of your bent. At the end of twelve months your Whitsun Kingship will be over, you will doff your genteel mummery, and become the leader of my heydukes. You shall then don the red mente, and wait upon those very gentlemen with whom you have been drinking and dicing for a whole year; you shall help into their carriages the same little wenches with whom you used to make merry. I consider that a very good joke. I don't know whether you think so, too? How the gentlemen will curse and the ladies blush when they find out who you were!"

The youth reflected for a moment; but then he threw back his head, and cried—

"All right! I don't care." (pp. 79-80)

So half an hour later, Mike came back kitted out as a gentleman of means, and acquits himself with the upper classes of the region by being an ass (as instructed, remember), even taking down a notorious drunken brawler. He spends the next year with Master Jock building his reputation, while the old man all the time relished the moment when the gentry gets punk'd. But when it comes time to trip the trigger on the punchline, it's Jock who gets the surprise.

There was a pipe in Master Jock's mouth, and he was engaged at that moment in filling it with tobacco.

"Halloa! Mike my son!" said he with infinite slyness, "just you get out of that chair and light my pipe for me—d'ye hear?"

"Light it yourself!" replied Mike; "the flint and steel is close beside you."

Master Jock stared at him with all his eyes. The lad himself had clearly forgotten what day it was. All the more piquant then to startle him out of his insolent security.

"Then, my beloved little brother, are you not aware that to-day is red Whitsun Day?"

"What's that got to do with me? I am neither a parson nor an almanac-maker."

"Eh, eh! Recollect that at a quarter to four your Whitsun Kingship ceases!"

"And what then?" inquired Mike, without the slightest perturbation, polishing the antique opal buttons of his attila with his silken handkerchief.

"What then?" cried Jock, who was beginning to get warm; "why, from this instant you cease to be a gentleman."

"What am I then?"

"What are you, sirrah? I'll tell ye. You're a boor, a betyár, a good-for-nothing rascal, a runaway ragamuffin, that's what you are! And you'll be glad enough to kiss my hand, and beg me to make you one of my lackeys, to save you from starvation or the gallows."

"Excuse me," replied Mike Kis, deftly twisting his moustache, "but I am Michael Kis, Esq., proprietor of Almasfalva, which I purchased the day before yesterday from the trustees of the estate of Kázmér Almásfalvi, for 120,000 florins, with the full sanction of the Court, wherefore my title thereto is unexceptionable." (pp. 86-7)

He got the money the honorable way: card sharking. Okay, fine, he doesn't come right out and say that, but he did have an unusually good night at the table at next to the last moment. Regarding the underhandedness of his masterstroke's second flank, there is no question, at least to me.

"Pray how did you get your diploma of gentility?" he asked; "you are not a gentleman by birth."

"That was a very simple matter. When Whitsun Day was only a week off, I strolled into one of the trans-Danubian counties, and there advertised that a prodigal member of the Szabolcs branch of the noble Kis family was in search of his relations, and if there were any noble Kises who remembered that branch of the family, and had certificates of nobility in their possession, which they were willing to transfer to the undersigned in exchange for one thousand florins, would they be kind enough to communicate with him. In a week's time fifteen members of the Kis family remembered their Szabolcs kinsmen, and brought me all kinds of certificates of nobility. All I then had to do was to select the one which had the prettiest coat of arms; whereupon we kissed each other all round, and traced out the genealogy. I paid down the thousand florins; they recognized me as their kinsman, and advertised the diploma throughout the county; and so now I am a landed gentleman. Look, here on my signet-ring is my crest." (p. 88)

So he got the ring, the crest, and the title, and all he had to do was use a bit of social engineering. Fraud? Never heard of it. Such a gauche word to use among gentlemen, really. At least he didn't have to start a war or anything.

To his credit, Master Jock is a good sport; he doesn't mind being had, as long as he's had well (and boy, isn't that a double-edged phrase on my part), so he forgives Mike for being such a clever, clever bastard.

Well, we're off to a rip-roaring start on what's shaping up to be a fun story. I'll be back in a few days with more, so stay tuned, lit fans...

It occurred to me that I might want to actually comment on the story I'm reading as I watch it unfold, the way the B-movie and (Heaven help me) Lost recappers do on the Intertubes--because as an uncultured cretin, that's my current frame of reference. Therefore, for those who might want to read this stuff and still be surprised, but you still want to folow along, I've set up spoiler and non-spoiler tags for my book reports. If you weren't expecting this, this is your only warning.

Oh, and if you're going to read the spoiler posts out of hopes that it'll be enough to do your homework for you, this is just going to be enough of a gloss to give you an idea what caught my attention. This isn't Cliff's Notes, you lazy bum. Hope you get an F.

Anyway, on to Our Feature Presentation...

Chapter 1 ("An Oddity, 1822") introduces us to John Kárpáthy (nicknamed Master Jock to the villagers), a good-natured Hungarian nabob (hey! just like the title of the book!) and a lover of practical jokes. As we join him, he's in the process of pulling one off, riding to a country inn (or BEER HALL, but we went through the semantics of that yesterday) in the middle of the night to see how quickly his massive retinue can piss off the proprietor. Oh, and maybe he'll have the guy roast a mouse and try to feed it to his Gypsy jester.

Meanwhile, the mouse was a-roasting. The innkeeper himself brought it lying in the middle of a large silver dish, surrounded by a heap of horseradish shavings, and with a bit of green parsley in its mouth, the usual appurtenances of a very different animal.

Down it was placed in the middle of the table.

First of all, the Nabob offered it to the heydukes one by one. They did not fancy it, and only shook their heads.

Then it came to the poet's turn.

"Pardon, gratia, your Excellency! I am composing verses on him who eats it."

"Well, you then, Vidra! Come, down with it, quick!"

"I, your Excellency?" said Vidra, as if he did not quite catch the words.

"Yes, you. What are you afraid of? While you were living in tents, one of my oxen went mad, and yet you and your people ate him!"

"True; and if one of your lordship's hogsheads of wine went mad I would drink it. That's another thing."

"Come, come, make haste! Do the dish honour!"

"But my grandfather had no quarrel with this animal."

"Then rise superior to your grandpapa!" (p. 21)

Yes sir, nothing but good clean fun. And pestilence.

This variety of shenanigans is interrupted by a stranger riding in on the back of one of his retainers, because it's one of those ridiculous muddy country roads and his coach got stuck on the bridge and he can't be bothered to walk. He introduces himself to the assembled crowd as "Abellino Kárpáthy, of Kárpát," which, besides being John's name, is Quite Worthy in those parts to the tune of thirty generations. Abellino, who used to be Bélá until he changed it to something a little more "up-market", isn't terribly impressed with the lineage, Hungary or this crazy Hungarian moon language he has to talk while he's there, except he's been living the life and his purse is awfully empty at the moment, and when he heard his uncle John died, he came straight around to collect what's due to him as a relative who has sworn off the family and then get the hell out of Dodge, or whatever you people call this godawful backwater. That's a notion of which Master Jock is happy to disabuse him...after he allows the lad a bit more rope to hang himself, of course.

"A mad, doating old fellow, of whom I could tell you a thousand follies."


"Oh yes. He never budges from his native village; but he has a theatre in his castle, in which they play his own comedies; he sends for the leading prima donnas, simply that they may sing boorish peasant ditties to him; and he keeps a whole palace for his dogs, who eat with him from the same table."

"Anything else?"

"Then he has a whole harem of farmyard wenches, and betyárs similar to himself dance with them and him till dawn. Then he sets the whole company by the ears, and they fight till the blood flows in streams."

"Nothing more?"

"And then his conduct is so very eccentric. He can't endure anything that comes from abroad. He does not allow peas to appear on his table, because they don't grow on his estate. They are for the same reason not allowed to bring coffee into the house, and he uses honey instead of sugar. Mad, eh?"

"Certainly. But do you know anything else about him?"

"Oh, I could tell you a thousand things. His whole life is an absurdity. He only did a wise thing once in his life. When I was at the very last gasp, and nothing in the world could save me but a rich uncle, this Hungarian Nabob, this Plutus, one night crammed himself up to the very throat with plover's eggs, and died early in the morning. I was immediately advertised of the fact."

"And so I suppose you have come hither to take over the rich inheritance without delay?"

"Ma foi! nothing else were capable of bringing me back into this detestable country."

"Very well, my pretty gentleman, then you may just clap your horses into your carriage, and drive back to Paris, or Italy, or Morocco if you like, for I am that half-crazy uncle of yours, that rich betyár of whom you speak, and I am not dead yet, as you can see for yourself."

At these words Abellino collapsed; his arms and legs grew limp and feeble, and he involuntarily stammered in his terror

"Est-ce possible? Can it be possible?"

"Yes, sir, it can. I am that John Kárpáthy whom the country folks jokingly call Master Jock, and who likes to be so called." (pp. 34-6)

That revelation knocks Abellino off his game, but only for a moment. Live as long as you like, uncle...just give me the money and I'll be on my way. A few million should tide me over.

This upper-class twit tests Master Jock's last nerve like no one ever has, and not only does he walk out with his entire retinue ("Leave everything where it is; I'll touch nothing that that fellow has had aught to do with."), but he pays the (wink wink) innkeeper to put the torch to the place immediately with everything left inside. This obviously wasn't the result Abellino was looking for. "You have driven me out of this inn; I'll drive you out of the world."

Chapter 2 ("Bargain For The Skin Of A Living Man") begins with a vest-pocket history of one Monsieur Griffard, a Parisian and former baker-turned-moneylender whose rising and falling fortunes are on the upswing, as evidenced by his gaudy, Trump-like tastes in decor:
It was not enough that the garden itself should stand on an island, but it was surrounded by an artificial stream meandering in the most masterly style in every direction, and with all sorts of bridges thrown across it, from an American suspension-bridge to a rustic Breton bridge, composed of wood and bark, and covered with ivy. And each of these bridges had its own warden, with a halbert across his shoulder, and the wardens had little sentry-boxes to correspond with the style of the bridges, some like hermitages, others like lighthouses, and their own peculiar trumpets to proclaim loudly to approaching guests over which of the bridges they ought to go to reach the castle.

[...] In one place he would behold masterly reproduced ruins, with agaric and cactus monsters planted amongst them. In another place he would observe an Egyptian tomb, with real mummies inside, and outside eternally burning lamps, which were replenished with oil early every morning, or a Roman altar with vessels of carved stone and Corinthian vases. Here and there, in more open places, fountains and waterfalls plashed and gurgled in marble basins, throwing jets of water into the air, and enabling merry little goldfish to disport themselves, whence the stream flowed among Oriental reeds into artfully hidden lakes, where, on the tranquil watery mirror, swam beautiful white swans, which did not sing as sweetly as the poets would have us believe, but made up for it by eating no end of Indian corn, which was then very much dearer than pure wheat. (pp. 43-45)
Very classy. Probably compensating for a bad combover. Maybe this guy was his decorator:

Ya gotta get yahself some MAHBLE CAHLUMNS! Look at this one...and that one...and this one...

So of course, upperclass twit of the year Abellino Kárpáthy, hand eternally in the begging position, is drawn to him like a fly to your sweaty Uncle Dave, except that Griffard sees through his pitiful story and cuts to the meat of the matter: Abellino found out he had a rich dead uncle with all that pretty money, but his uncle didn't have the courtesy to stay dead. Not surprisingly, Griffard seems okay with that, but he's not just a ATM machine in fancy French bloomers. Oh no, he's a loan shark in fancy French bloomers, and expects to make back two francs for every one that he "invests".

"[...]But let us go further. So far as you are concerned it is not enough that I pay your debts. You will want at least twice that amount to live upon every year. Good! I am ready to advance you that also."

At these words Kárpáthy eagerly turned towards the banker again.

"You are joking?"

"Not in the least. I risk a million to gain two. I risk two millions to gain four, and so on. I speak frankly. I give much and I lose much. At the present moment you are in no better a position than Juan de Castro, who raised a loan on half his moustache from the Saracens of Toledo. Come now! an Hungarian gentleman's moustache is no worse than a Spaniard's. I will advance you on it as much as you command, and I'll boldly venture to doubt whether there is any one except myself and the Moors of Toledo who would do such a thing? I can answer for nobody imitating me."

"Good! Let us come to terms," said Abellino taking the matter seriously. "You give me a million, and I'll give you a bond for two millions, payable when my uncle expires."[Pg 53]

"And if your uncle's vital thread in the hands of the Parcæ prove longer than the million in your hands?"

"Then you shall give me another million, and so on. You will be investing your money well, for the Hungarian gentleman is the slave of his property, and can leave it to nobody but his lawful heir." (pp.52-53)

Unless, Griffard reminds him, the old guy marries and the union pumps out a kid. Foreshadowing? Probably...I haven't read that far ahead. But for now, he's content to invest in the foreclosures of the future. All Griffard asks is that the young man doesn't do anything stupid so he won't outlive his uncle. Either that or get married. Whatever it takes to run down the clock on Master Jock.

"Then we are agreed?"

"To-morrow morning, after twelve, you can send your notary to me with all the documents ready, so that no time may be lost."

"I will not keep you waiting."

Abellino took his leave, and the banker, rubbing his hands, escorted him out to the very door of the saloon.

And thus there was a very good prospect of one of the largest landed estates of Hungary falling in a few years into the hands of a foreign banker. (pp. 56-7)
Duhn duhn DUHNNNNNN. Is that nationalistic enough for you?

(Back in a few...or maybe a few more after that.)

There are parts of R. Nisbet Bain's introduction to A Hungarian Nabob that tripped all kinds of fascinating alarms in me.

It is no light task to attempt to transplant a classic like "Egy Magyar Nábob." National tastes differ infinitely, and then there is the formidable initial difficulty of contending with a strange and baffling non-aryan language. Only those few hardy linguists who have learnt, in the sweat of their brows, to read a meaning into that miracle of agglutinative ingenuity, an Hungarian sentence, will be able to appreciate the immense labour of rendering some four hundred pages of a Magyar masterpiece of peculiarly idiomatic difficulty into fairly readable English.
This is an alien attitude to a modern reader, the translator being right up front about what a chore the translation was (at least in a mass market edition). But in this case, my friends, the effort must be acknowledged. You see, Mr. Bain was a Briton. The bizarre Magyar morphology frightens and confuses a natural-born citizen of the Empire, assuming they're paying attention at any given time. Then you look at a word like karácsony and realize that's supposed to be Christmas (you crazed savages!) and you have to ask why they don't just pollute their mother tongue with the Germanic families, like God intended? But not Bain. He swallowed his pride and did his duty for England, and therefore you will appreciate what has been gifted upon you, you horrible children. Still, all things considered, there has to be some part of Chinese that would've made his head explode.

Keep in mind I say all the above as an American, the country that gave us a politician who said that if English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us. A foreign tongue makes some of my neighbors a trifle paranoid...assuming we're paying attention at any given time.

But wait, there's more (my emphasis here):
I may add, in conclusion, that I have taken the liberty to cut out a good third of the original work, and this I have done advisedly, having always been very strongly of opinion that the technique of the original tale suffered from an excess of episode. This embarras de richesse would naturally be still more noticeable in a translation, and I am particularly anxious that "A Hungarian Nabob" should attract at first sight. Let this, therefore, be my apology to Dr. Jókai and, as I trust, my claim upon his forgiveness.
Part of me is suspicious of condensations, having been raised on Reader's Digest, where the popular works of the day are rendered into bite-sized morsels for people who just can't be bothered. I also ran across a late 1930s movie tie-in version of Dickens' Tale of Two Cities in which the editor promised a condensation that removed "non-essential" passages while preserving the heart of the book. And what was the first section to go? Some bit at the front about the best of times, the worst of times. You know, things that the reader wouldn't miss. I'll give Bain the benefit of the doubt for the moment, but here's my bias in a nutshell: when you add water to a can of condensed soup, you get a bowl of soup, but when you add water to a condensed book, you get a pulpy mess. Make of that what you will.

Anyway, back to Nabob. Mr. Bain decided to preserve some of the local color by leaving some Hungarian words in the text, along with a footnote that a glossary of those terms is included in the back of the book. And here's where Google Books (or the library) fumbles just a bit, because the last pages are missing from this copy--including the end of the story. In this case, Gutenberg picks up the spare, but Bain's introduction put me in an especially skeptical mood, so when I came across this--
Csárda, a country inn.
--I was primed for a little second guessing. I ran csárda through an online Hungarian-English dictionary and it came back as "a jerry-shop". And since I'm an uncultured clod, then I had to find out what the hell a jerry-shop is. E. Cobham Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines that as "a low-class beer-house", which you have to admit would be a much more colorful description of csárda than "country inn". [minor spoiler] A beer house probably burns faster, too, as you'll find out in chapter 1.

Oh, for those of you who were wondering:
Nabob: a : one who returns to Europe from the East with great riches b : man of great wealth c : a man of unusual prominence in a particular field (these scientific nabobs) -- sometimes a generalized expression of disapproval. (from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary)
Hope that helps. Maybe I'll actually get around to the story next time.

This is the point where I was going to enter the complete introductory piece, to give you the full flavor of the task I've taken on, but thanks to the florid prose that seems so common to this type of 19th century feature writing, this is as far as I got before I surrendered:

What delightful pictures the very name of books for Summer reading brings to our mind--pictures of past holidays as well as visions of past holidays, as well as visions of the many delightful journeys we are always planning; days spent under the trees, in canoes, or flying before the wind on beautiful Long Island Sound; or, as often happens, becalmed in one of its many bays; or perhaps the day may be spent in what Ashby-Sterry called "Happy Hammockuity."
If you swing in a hammock on a summer day through,
And dream with profound assiduity,
A new phase of content it will give unto you,
Which philosophers call Hammockuity.
Or perhaps one's happy lot may be cast by the side of one of Dr. van Dyke's "Little Rivers," in which case, or, in fact, in any circumstances, what pleasanter companion could one have than that delightful book?

In Summer, as at all other times, Dr. Johnson's counsel, to "read the book you do honestly feel a wish and curiosity to read," is the best of advice; but perhaps at this season of the year there is greater latitude in the choice. One could never do much serious studying, or even solid reading, out of doors. There is quite too much to distract one's attention; now a bird, a flower, the outline of the trees against a brilliant sky; now the very changes in that sky itself, the rapidly floating clouds, with their varying shapes; or again, the absolutely cloudless, deep blue sky above us [...]

And it just keeps going on and on like that, and in my mind I picture it being read by a plummy voice with clipped enunciation, glasses sitting on the end of the nose...oh, and I suppose there's a person attached to all that, too. And yeah, I know, it's sentimental because it's supposed to be about the romance of it all--summer and reading and daydreaming and feeling sorry for the poor sods who look at daffodils and only see daffodils--but you'll forgive me if I don't have the stomach to type out the whole thing in one sitting. You're invited to read the whole thing at the New York Times site. In fact, I'd highly recommend it. Cut off a piece. Chew every bite. See if I care.

By the way, I actually have the complete poem. If you're good, I'll even keep it to myself. "Hammockuity". Oy.

As for the first book of the project, I got a grand total of two votes after the list went up the other week, one for Mrs. Hugh Fraser's Letters From Japan, the other for A Hungarian Nabob by Maurus Jokai (or Mór Jókai, if you want to split hairs). In the event of a tie, it falls to me to break the deadlock, so Nabob it is. Before we get to my first thoughts, here's what the listmakers had to say:
A Hungarian Nabob. By Maurus Jokai. Second Edition. Size 5 by 7 1/2. Decorative Binding. 358 pages. The Doubleday & McClure Company $1.25

Maurus Jokai is the Hungarian Alexander Dumas, for Jokai delights in the dramatic situation, and is a master of dialogue. Material for romance abounds in the land of the Magyar, for even up to the first quarter of this century the Hungarian noble was a figure apart. There was still traces of mediaevalism about him, and he was a most picturesque creation. Maurus Jokai's principal personage is an eccentric nabob, and he makes of him an imposing figure among the nobility. The author has an admirable descriptive style, and follows the romantic impulses of the period. In Hungary this novel has attained the position of a classic and has helped to keep alive the national feeling. "A Hungarian Nabob," as translated by Mr. R. Nisbet Bain, loses nothing of its original vigor, but is pervaded with the spirit, the go, of the original text.
As it turns out, Nabob wasn't particularly new in 1899, being about fifty years old at this point; apparently what was "new" about it was this English edition. According to Wikipedia, Jokai was "a combination, in almost equal parts, of Walter Scott, William Beckford, Dumas père, and Charles Dickens, together with a strong hint of Hungarian patriotism." As well-meaning as that description must be, Mark Twain planted a big, red flag for me on the border of Walter Scott-Land, so I'm already on my guard without even opening the book. But as far as 19th century Hungarian novelists go, I've been assured Jokai was important with a capital I, so Nabob should kick us off in the grand manner.

However, before anybody gets a case of national pride from this choice, the guy who recommended Nabob just liked the sound of the word "nabob". And yes, he's an American, too. Thanks for asking.

I'll be posting (possibly spoiler-laden) reports as I go and a post-game wrap-up once I reach the end. And as promised, here's where you can find the full text if you want to play along at home:
  • Google Books (Image scans from the University of Michigan collection. Since I'm going for the "original" experience, this is the text I'll be least until I run across pages which are missing or out of order. As much as I dig Google Books, a lot of texts I'm interested in aren't entirely there, even when they're supposed to be. That's when I go to my backup...)
  • Project Gutenberg (Plain text and HTML versions. If you're interested in just the text, rather than obsessing over some anal-retentive "purity of experience" (guilty as charged), you'll do just fine with this version and it'll only take up a fraction of the space.)

Late addition! Skip to the spoilerific chapter recaps (links go live as they're posted): Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and the Post-Game Wrap-up.

This is a list from the June 24, 1899 edition of the New York Times Saturday Review of what they judged the best books published in America in the previous twelve months suitable for that dark goal known as "summer reading". The reason I chose this particular list probably tells you a lot about me: it was the first one I found, and of the three pre-1900 lists, it was the shortest one I found. In a way, I regret jumping the gun; if I had held out for 1898, not only would I get to talk about The War of the Worlds and Captains Courageous, but John Rowley's The Art of Taxidermy. And wouldn't that be a great beach read? Sure, it'd be a conversation starter, but do you want that kind of conversation?

Then as now, summer reading was considered light reading. "In the midst of all these and many other distractions," the introduction tells us, "the book must not be too absorbingly interesting, but rather one whose current flows along like a gentle stream, so that we may be able at any moment to put down the volume and go off into day dreams of our own manufacture." Which sounds familiar enough: no heavy mental lifting. But then you look at the the list and there's Kate Chopin's The Awakening, which apparently was so challenging in its days and the times that it went out of print for nearly 50 years, and today is a book esteemed enough to be encased in a thicket of pick-apart lit-crit articles. And some reviewer 110 yeas ago decided to tag it with the "summer reading" label? The same label that today is used for books by Dan Frickin' Frackin' Brown? What the hell's going on here? That, fun-time gang, is the question that sold me on doing this in the first place.

Anyway, here's the deal: All I know about all but maybe a dozen of these authors is that in 1899, they were considered worthy of attention. My intention is to read all of these (except one, which I'll touch on in a moment) for however long it takes, and report what I get from each one along the way. I'm not a lit major or even someone remotely well-read in modern critical theory (oh, God forbid), just a guy who likes a good story, and that's going to influence my approach to this project. As a reader, I'll be focusing first and foremost on what's actually on the page, then spinning off from there. As an Internet jerk, however, I reserve the right to do all this with a dollop of snark when it's deemed necessary.

So without any further delay, under their designated categories, here's The List:


  • THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Part I 1766-1776, by the Right Hon. Sir George Otto Trevelyan
  • INDUSTRIAL CUBA. Being a Study of Present Commercial and Industrial Conditions, with Suggestions as to the Opportunities Presented in the Island for American Capital, Enterprise, and Labor, by Robert P. Porter, Special Commissioner for the United states, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. (Sorry, that subtitle was too ridiculously involved to throw out.)
  • TALES OF THE MALAYAN COAST, By Rounsevelle Wildman, Consul General of the United States at Hongkong.
  • THE LIFE OF HENRY DRUMMOND, by George Adam Smith.
  • THE MARTYRDOM OF AN EMPRESS (no author listed)
  • REMINISCENCES, by Justin McCarthy.
  • THE ROUGH RIDERS, by Theodore Roosevelt. (Book #4, finished 27 September, 2009)
  • AN AMERICAN CRUISER IN THE EAST, by Chief Engineer John D. Ford, U.S.N.
  • ALPS AND PYRENEES, by Victor Hugo (A Journal of His Travels)
  • THE HOOLIGAN NIGHTS, by Clarence Rook. (book #2, completed 12 July, 2008)
  • LETTERS FROM JAPAN, by Mrs. Hugh Fraser.
  • A THOUSAND DAYS IN THE ARCTIC, by Fredrick G. Jackson.
  • CATHEDRAL DAYS: A Tour in Southern England, by Anna Bowman Dodd.
GARDEN AND FOREST AND POETRY (and boy, isn't that a head scratcher of a category...)
  • POEMS by Richard Realf.
  • LYRICS OF THE HEARTH-SIDE, by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
  • THE GOSPEL IN THE FIELDS, by R.C. Fillingham, Vicar of Hexton.
  • RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM, Edward FitzGerald translation (second version), preface by Nathan Haskell Dole.
  • NATURE STUDIES IN BERKSHIRE, by John Coleman Adams.
  • BIRD LIFE, by Frank M. Chapman
  • THE PRACTICAL POULTRY KEEPER, by Lewis Wright. (See? I gave up taxidermy, I get poultry in return.)
  • THE RUBAIYAT OF OMAR KHAYYAM, Edward Heron-Allen translation.
  • THE MARKETPLACE, by Harold Frederic.
  • THE OUTSIDERS, by Robert W. Chambers.
  • THE GARDEN OF SWORDS, by Max Pemberton.
  • A DASH FOR THE THRONE, by Arthur W. Marchmont.
  • MARTYRS OF EMPIRE, by Herbert C. McIlwaine.
  • CHILDREN OF THE MIST, by Eden Phillpotts.
  • THE ADVENTURES OF FRANCOIS, by Dr. S. Weir Mitchell.
  • THE TWO STANDARDS, by Dr. William Barry.
  • GOOD AMERICANS, by Mrs. Burton Harrison.
  • THE BLACK DOUGLAS, by S.R. Crockett.
  • THE WIND-JAMMERS, by T. Jenkins Hains.
  • RUPERT OF HENTZAU (the sequel to "The Prisoner of Zenda"), by Anthony Hope.
  • SNOW ON THE HEADLIGHT, A Story of the Great Burlington Strike, by Cy Warman.
  • A HUNGARIAN NABOB, by Maurus Jokai. (book #1, completed 11 June, 2008)
  • THE AMATEUR CRACKSMAN, by E.W. Hornung. (Hey look, it's Raffles! Give it up for Raffles, y'all!)
  • GALLOPS, by David Gray.
  • THE BATTLE OF THE STRONG, by Gilbert Parker.
  • STRONG HEARTS, by George W. Cable.
  • LADY JEZEBEL, by Fergus Hume.
  • IDOLS, by W.J. Locke.
  • THE WOLF'S LONG HOWL, by Stanley Waterloo.
  • NOT ON THE CHART: A NOVEL OF TO-DAY, by Algernon Sydney Logan.
  • THE SILVER CROSS, by S.R. Keightley.
  • THE SEED OF THE POPPY, by Clive Holland.
  • RICHARD CARVEL, by Winston Churchill.
  • NO. 5 JOHN STREET, by Richard Whiteing.
  • D'ARCY OF THE GUARDS, by Louis Evan Shipman.
  • DAVID HARUM, by Edward Noyes Westcott.
  • THE SHORT LINE WAR, by Merwin Webster.
  • THE TAMING OF THE JUNGLE, by Dr. C.W. Doyle.
  • PRISONERS OF HOPE, by Mary Johnston.
  • THE VALLEY PATH, by Will Allen.
  • A GENTLEMAN PLAYER, by Robert Neilson Stephens.
  • DEFICIENT SAINTS, by Marshall Saunders.
  • THE DAUGHTERS OF BABYLON, by Wilson Barrett and Robert Hichens.
  • THE MEASURE OF A MAN, by S. Livingston Prescott.
  • MISTRESS CONTENT CRADOCK, by Annie Eliot Trumbull. (Book #5)
  • I, THOU, AND THE OTHER ONE, by Amelia E. Barr.
  • THE FOWLER, by Beatrice Harraden.
  • DEADMAN'S, by Mary Gaunt.
  • HEART AND SWORD, by John Strange Winter.
  • AS TOLD BY THE TYPEWRITER GIRL, by Mabel Clare Ervin.
  • A DOUBLE THREAD, by Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler.
  • A WIND FLOWER, by Caroline Atwater Mason.
  • PAULINE WYMAN, by Sophie May.
  • THE GREATER INCLINATION, by Edith Wharton.
  • THE MIRACLES OF ANTI-CHRIST, by Selma Lagerlöf
  • A TENT OF GRACE, by Adelina C. Lust.
  • ELIZABETH AND HER GERMAN GARDEN, by Elizabeth von Arnim (published anonymously).
  • LOVE AND ROCKS, by Laura E. Richards.
  • THOSE DALE GIRLS, by Frances Weston Carruth.
  • THE AWAKENING, by Mrs. Kate Chopin.
  • THE STRONG ARM, by Robert Barr.
  • TIVERTON TALES, by Alice Brown.
  • IRISH LIFE AND CHARACTER, by Michael McDonagh.
  • WATERS THAT PASS AWAY, by N.B. Winston. (book #3, completed 24 August, 2008)
  • THE BARONET AND THE BUTTERFLY, by James McNeil Whistler.
  • THE DREAMERS: A CLUB, by John Kendrick Bangs.
  • FIELDS, FOREST, AND WAYSIDE FLOWERS, by Maud Going (E.M. Hardinge).
  • KIPLING KALENDAR FOR 1900 (Yeah, a calendar. On a reading list. This is the one that I'll probably not get to actually "read", but don't think I won't dwell on the merchandising angle at some point.)
  • THE GOSPEL FOR AN AGE OF DOUBT, by Rev. Henry Van Dyke.
  • THE BOOK OF GOLF AND GOLFERS, by Horace G. Hutchinson and others.
And now the part I throw onto you, dear reader: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to pick out the first victim (or, if you prefer, the first book to feed to the victim). As a pasty-faced digital age scrounger, I'm obviously leaning heavily toward starting with the stuff that can be found for free online (Google Books has been great in this regard). Be certain that when I ramp up to a title, I'll post a few links to online versions for those who want to be tag-along pals.

I dedicate this post to Matt, whose fondest desire is to watch my back snap under the industrial strength of leaden Victorian-era prose. "I've read stuff from that era. You will not have fun." That's a challenge I refuse to ignore, punk.

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