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THE HUSSAR by Gregor von Rezzori



Pub Date: April 11th, 1960
Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

The ermine dies when his coat is sullied"" provides the keynote quotation at the start of this enormous, brilliant, sprawling but withal compact myth. It describes the fall of an old order, through the eyes of children, in a Middle European city where everything- armies, cultures, races, childhood- is evolving from set myths and heroes into disorder. Tildy, the Hussar of the title and the representative ""ermine"", is first seen by the children as a godlike vision, through the spear-shaped palings of their park. He is the past they revere; an incredibly correct officer who lives by duty (""because the only other reaction""...the one which the town, the new order, - has accepted ""is to joke"") -- ie. chaos. Attempting to defend his already lost notion of honor, he is locked up in an insane asylum, becomes bankrupt, and after his release, falls in love with a town whore (the anarchy of love, life and the new order), and- having lost his old-world face forever, is killed a few hours later while trying to rescue another drunken member of the old order from beneath the wheels of a runaway street car (the new order). This symbolic thread is embedded almost to the vanishing point in other defining relationships, love affairs, scandals and a program; but even more in descriptions of people, places and ideas so dazzlingly intricate, so wide-flung, that the action scenes are comparatively tedious. At its best, this is writing as compact and many levelled as the most exciting poetry; oblique and highly original insights are sometimes thrown away in half a phrase. In stretches it is a great book; certainly a book for an intellectual audience, and one not to be read at a sitting.