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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.


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