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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.


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