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Here we go. My thoughts on the final section of Roth’s magnum opus. I’m going to miss writing these posts on Wednesday afternoons …

There seems to be only one true and honest relationship in this novel—the friendship between district administrator von Trotta and Doctor Skowronnek. Would you agree? What did you think of their relationship?

I don’t agree. I believe the friendship between Carl von Trotta and Dr Demant to have been genuine – for a while at least. Until the complication that was Frau Demant got in the way. However, nothing soured the friendship between the district administrator and Doctor Skowronnek, and I was delighted that the district commissioner found a confidant and a comfort for his last days.

I found the focus on the district commissioner in this final section saddening but satisfying.  It emphasised just how lonely his life had been, and how stoically he bore the knocks that came his way.  Instead of indulging in a permanent existential crisis about being forced to an unwanted career, the Baron had made the most of it, unlike well, you know who.

Do you think the novel would have taken another turn, had Carl Joseph opened his father’s letter?

I cheered when Baron von Trotta basically told his son to grow up!  Would he have done so?  I doubt it.  But I could see him putting an end to himself in the manner of Captain Wagner and that would have made part 3 much shorter.  That would have been the likely ending too, had his father ignored his later plea for help …

What is the significance of the regimental party at Chojnicki’s country house?

For me, this was the real climax of the novel, the moment the world shifted and the empire disintegrated.  A fair old shindig, interrupted by a telegram notifying the death of the Archduke Ferdinand, and the national groups separated immediately from the each other, all babbling in their own tongues.  That they reunited in a grotesque, drunken dance to Chopin’s funereal march is prophetic.  Thereafter, everything is a foregone conclusion.

What role does nature play throughout the novel?

Roth uses the weather to invoke mood. There are some notable examples in part 3: 1)  the threatening skies during the regimental party heralding the storm to come.  (And what a storm!)  2)  the foreboding inherent with the arrival of the ravens on the eve of war 3) “the incessant, drizzling rain” (Hofmann) that begins as the Emperor lies dying,  continues during his funeral, and on until the death of Baron von Trotta. The weather is not only dampening the Austrian spirit, it is extinguishing it.

Chapter 21 takes us to the Eastern front. What do you think about the way Roth depicts the conflict? How do you feel about the manner of Carl Joseph’s death?

Remember that astonishing display of prowess by the Cossacks in Part Two?  Now the Russians put it to good use to run rings round their Austrian foes, who are slaughtered by the thousand.  Not that this should surprise us much.  We’ve just seen that their training – for the war that they had been expecting – consisted mainly of gambling and boozing.

But Roth doesn’t take us to the front.  Rather he keeps us in the villages.  We don’t see countless military sacrifices, although Roth makes it clear that this is what awaits the “officers marching to their regulation deaths” (Hofmann).  Instead, we see locals hanging from trees, victims of summary “justice”, executed by their own side!  Spies, the lot of them, allegedly.  The world has indeed lost all sense.

It is interesting that Carl Joseph’s death is the only one witnessed in combat.  He is the only soldier of significance to this narrative.  “What did Herr von Trotta care about the hundred thousand dead who had since followed his son? … And what did he care about the end of the world, which he could now see approaching with even greater clarity … His son was dead.  His job was over.  His world had ended.” (Hofmann)

Could Roth have made Carl von Trotta’s death more pointless?   I do wonder though whether he had succumbed to his own myth, that the grandson of the Hero of Solferino was untouchable in battle?  Or was he simply fulfilling a death wish?

Did you find the ending satisfying?

Extremely.  The novel begins at the high point of the Trotta’s dynasty and the flow has been downhill ever since. The novel has to end as it does, but I’m glad Baron von Trotta did not die alone.  He was the one character I grew fond of.

Did anything surprise you in this section?

That Roth’s deadpan dry delivery made me laugh out loud!  A couple of examples:

Of the effect of the telegram at the regimental party (quite possibly my favourite sentence in the novel): “Some may have been paralysed by the shock, others were merely paralytic.” (Hofmann)

Final sentence of chapter 17: “There were a lot of things, he didn’t understand, Lieutenant Trotta.” (Hofmann) You can say that again! (Lizzy)

The Radetzky March has been described as a nostalgic novel for a lost empire. Is nostalgic the adjective you’d use?

Is Roth looking back fondly on the lost empire? In some respects, I would say so.  He was very fond of his lost homeland of Galicia, which,  I think, became part of Poland after 1918.  Thus he sets the novel on the outer borders of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and includes extended descriptions of countryside.  Can Carl Joseph’s final walk around the villages be anything other than a final fond farewell?

In a historical context, the collapse of the Weimar Republic was imminent at the time Roth was writing. The early 1930s was marked by the inexorable rise of Nazism and resurgent German Nationalism. Was the forthcoming persecution of the Jews clear at that point? Possibly not the full extent, but the direction was clear.  So looking back at an empire in which multiple nationalities, including the Jews, lived together in relative harmony would invoke feelings of nostalgia for past times that were undoubtedly better.

And yet, Roth was not blind.  The weaknesses and idiocies of that empire are on full display.  The military code of honour – does it get any more absurd than that?

What struck you the most in this novel, what do you like or dislike the most?

Dislike first:  Lieutenant Trotta (no surprises there, given what I’ve been saying during the last three weeks.)

Likes:  More than I can possibly list here.  And that is saying something, considering that only a #germanlitmonth readalong could have persuaded me to re-read it after I  disliked it on first reading! (It appears that 12 years of blogging has made me a more appreciative reader.) In particular, however, I was delighted by the predominantly C19th feel (I love C19th novels) and I really appreciated the mirroring that Roth uses extensively throughout, the mirror becoming almost literal when Baron von Trotta meets the Emperor Franz Joseph in chapter 18.

“A stranger, seeing them at that moment, would have thought they were two brothers.  Their white whiskers, their narrow, sloping shoulders, their matching height and build, gave each of them the impression of confronting his own mirror image.” (Hofmann)

Would you reread The Radetzky March?

This was a reread! And this time I discovered a quite astonishing richness.  As I’ve written these posts, I’ve uncovered aspects that I’d still like to reflect on, in particular: Roth’s portrayal of the Jews in the Habsburg Empire (such a lot of red-hair!) and the co-relation of the time depicted and that Roth was living in.  So who knows, quite possibly, maybe! But for now, I’m moving on to Simon Winder’s Danubia – A Personal History of Habsburg Europe.


This is the final post (for now) on The Radetzky March.  You can find my ruminations on Parts One and Two here and here.  Thanks to Caroline for co-hosting this readalong, despite ongoing health issues.  (Get well soon, Caroline.)  Thank you too to all participating “readalongers” for all your wonderful posts and comments.