Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The Emperor's Tomb ()

Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels

    I am a conservative and a Catholic, consider Austria my fatherland, and desire the return of the
           -Joseph Roth

It has aptly been noted that the Austrian novelist Joseph Roth was a man at war with his times.  Many of the Post World War I generation convinced themselves that the ancient regimes and institutions had lead Europe, particularly the naive youth of Europe, into a self-destructive war which no one really wanted and, as a result of this determination, declared themselves unalterably opposed to the antediluvian system.  Roth, in his multivolume, multigenerational saga of the extended von Trotta family, more accurately diagnosed the rot in his own generation, the lack of beliefs and values that had contributed to the unthinking descent into war:

    I lived in the cheerful, carefree company of young aristocrats whose company, second only to that
    of artists, I loved best under the old Empire.  With them I shared a skeptical frivolity, a
    melancholy curiosity, a wicked insouciance, and the pride of the doomed, all signs of the
    disintegration which at that time we still did not see coming.  Above the ebullient glasses from
    which we drank, invisible Death was already crossing his bony hands.  We swore without malice
    and blasphemed without thought.  Alone and old, distant and omnipresent in the great and
    brilliant pattern of the Empire, lived and ruled the old Emperor, Franz Joseph.  Perhaps in the
    hidden depths of our souls there slumbered that awareness which is called foreboding, the
    awareness above all that the old Emperor was dying, day by day with every day that he lived, and
    with him the Monarchy--not so much our Fatherland as our Empire; something greater, broader,
    more all-embracing than a Fatherland.  Our wit and our frivolity came from hearts that were
    heavy with the feeling that we were dedicated to death, from a foolish pleasure in everything
    which asserted life: from pleasure in balls, new wine, girls food, long walks, eccentricities of
    every sort, senseless escapades, self-destructive irony, unfettered criticism: pleasure in the Prater,
    in the giant Ferris wheel, in Punch and Judy shows, masquerades, ballets, light-hearted
    lovemaking in quiet boxes at the Court Opera, in manoeuvres, which we mostly missed, and
    pleasure even in those illnesses which love more than once bestowed upon us.

And so, the specter of Death haunts these melancholy, elegiac novels, as the Trotta family rises to the respectable lower levels of the aristocracy after Lieutenant Joseph Trotta fortuitously intervenes at the Battle of Solferino to save the Emperor's life.  But by the time of The Emperor's Tomb, Franz Ferdinand Trotta seeks companionship among the peasantry, with his cousin Joseph who sells chestnuts from a cart and his friend Manes Reisiger, a Jewish wagon driver; they seem more authentic to him than his urban aristo circle of friends.  Meanwhile, the nation careens into the Great War, which will see Franz, Joseph and Manes defeated in battle and shipped to a Siberian prison camp.

Upon returning home after the War, Franz says:

    I felt happy.  I was home again.  We had all lost position, rank and name, home and money and
    esteem, past, present and future.  Every morning as we woke up, every night as we lay down to
    sleep, we cursed Death who had vainly beckoned us to his mighty banquet.  And each of us envied
    the dead.  They were at rest beneath the soil, and next spring violets would grow from their
    bones. But we had returned home, fruitless and inconsolable, crippled, a generation dedicated to
    death, by death disdained.  The verdict of the Commission of Enquiry was without appeal.  It
    read: 'Found unfit for death.'

There are not a whole lot of great explicitly conservative novelists, and it's no wonder with passages like that.  What could be more harsh than to judge a generation that sought dissipation and death as ultimately unworthy for that death?  The truth that Roth intuited--that the old Empires, as archaic and repellent as our modern liberal sensibilities may find them, offered a unique means for unifying diverse peoples and giving them a common sense of purpose and destiny--is not one that folks then or now were willing to hear.  This is not to say, as Roth surely would have, that monarchy is a desirable form of government, nor is it comparable to democracy.  However, it is hard to see any benefit that accrued to the people of particularly Central and Eastern Europe when they simply disposed of their monarchies after, or during, World War I.

The story of the Trottas ends, as did Roth's own life, at the dawn of the Nazi era in Austria.  Here writ large were the trends that Roth opposed.  Gone was the idea that many peoples could be ruled by a central authority; replaced by the idea that blood and race should determine political representation.  Roth drank himself to death rather than see this culmination of all that he feared. But not even in his worst nightmares could he have imagined how many would be found fit for death in the coming years.


Grade: (A+)


Joseph Roth Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Joseph Roth
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Keiron Pim on Joseph Roth, LBI Book Club    -Encyclopaedia Britannica: Your search: "joseph roth"
    -Joseph Roth (1894-1939)(kirjasto)
    -FEATURED AUTHOR : Joseph Roth (NY Times Book Review)
    -OBITUARY:  Joseph Roth, Author of Several Novels, Dies (NY Times, June 7, 1939)
    -ESSAY: The Last Chronicler of a Lost World: Searching for Joseph Roth in wartime Ukraine (EDWARD SEROTTA, FEBRUARY 28, 2024, Tablet)
    -ESSAY: The Curse of Joseph Roth: The story of the greatest, and maybe the drunkest, Jewish novelist you’ve never heard of (DAVID MIKICS, SEPTEMBER 02, 2022, Tablet)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Champagne Flute with an Iron Spine: Dystopia and Providence in Five Novels (Eve Tushnet, 3/01/20, Kirk Center)
    -ESSAY: EUROPEAN DREAMS: Rediscovering Joseph Roth (JOAN ACOCELLA, 2004-01-19, The New Yorker)
   -ESSAY: What He Saw, and What He Wrote: Americans will soon be able to read more of Joseph Roth (ADAM KIRSCH, January 3, 2003, Wall Street Journal)
    -ESSAY: Joseph Roth’s golden twenties: When Hitler came to power, the bubble burst (Malcolm Forbes, 12/26/12, The Critic)
-REVIEW : of 'Radetzky March' (John Chamberlain, NY Times, 1933)
    -REVIEW : of 'Radetzky March,' translated by Eva Tucker (Elie Wiesel, NY Times Book Review, 1974) -REVIEW: of The Radetzky March (Paul Bailey, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of The Radetzky March (The Economist)
    -REVIEW: of The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth (Julius Purcell, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW: Nadine Gordimer: The Empire of Joseph Roth, NY Review of Books
        The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth, translated by Eva Tucker, and
        translated by Geoffrey Dunlop
        Hotel Savoy, including 'Fallmerayer the Stationmaster' and 'The Bust of
        the Emperor' by Joseph Roth and translated by John Hoare
        'The Spider's Web' and 'Zipper and his Father' by Joseph Roth and
        translated by John Hoare
        The Emperor's Tomb by Joseph Roth and translated by John Hoare
        Flight Without End by Joseph Roth and translated by David LeVay
        The Silent Prophet by Joseph Roth and translated by David Le Vay
        'The Legend of the Holy Drinker' and 'Right and Left' by Joseph Roth
        and translated by Michael Hofmann
    -REVIEW: THE TALE OF THE 1002d NIGHT By Joseph Roth Translated by Michael Hofmann (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of THE TALE OF THE 1002ND NIGHT By Joseph Roth. Translated by Michael Hofmann (Iain Bamforth, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of REBELLION By Joseph Roth. Translated by Michael Hofmann (Peter Filkins, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: REBELLION By Joseph Roth Translated by Michael Hofmann (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of  Rebellion Joseph Roth trans Michael Hofmann Empire of the infinite:  All that is wicked, all that is fine. James Wood on  Joseph Roth's Rebellion  (James Wood, Books Unlimited, UK Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of HOTEL SAVOY Fallmerayer the Stationmaster. The Bust of the Emperor. By Joseph Roth. Translated by John Hoare (Herbert Gold, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of HOTEL SAVOY. With 'Fallmerayer the Stationmaster' and 'The Bust of the Emperor.' By Joseph Roth (John Gross, NY Times)
    -SHORT REVIEW: of CONFESSION OF A MURDERER: Told in One Night. By Joseph Roth. Translated by Desmond I. Vesey (James Snead, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Wandering Jew by Joseph Roth (Richard Eder, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (David Pryce-Jones, booksonline)
    -REVIEW : of The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (Elena Lappin, Independent uk)
    -REVIEW : of The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (Julian Evans, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW : of The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (Michael Andre Bernstein, New Republic)
    -REVIEW: of 'What I Saw: Reports from Berlin, 1920-1933' by Joseph Roth (Thane Rosenbaum, Washington Post)
   -REVIEW: of What I Saw Reports From Berlin, 1920-1933 By Joseph Roth (Matthew Price, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of WHAT I SAW: REPORTS FROM BERLIN, 1920-33 By Joseph Roth (Jonathan Keates, Spectator)
    -REVIEW: of What I Saw by Joseph Roth (Nadine Gordimer, Threepenny Review)
    -REVIEW: of Report from a Parisian Paradise: Essays from France, 1925-1939 By Joseph Roth, translated with introduction by Michael Hofmann (JILL LAURIE GOODMAN, 1/16/04, The Forward)
    -REVIEW: Playing Depart: The restless fiction of Joseph Roth: a review of THE CORAL MERCHANT: ESSENTIAL STORIES BY JOSEPH ROTH (BECCA ROTHFELD, Bookforum)
    -REVIEW: of Endless Flight: The Life of Joseph Roth by Keiron Pim (Hermione Lee, NYRB)
    -REVIEW: of Endless Flight (Rachel Seiffert, Prospect)
    -REVIEW: of Endless Flight (Katrina Goldstone, Dublin Review of Books)


-REVIEW: of Vienna: How the City of Ideas Created the Modern World, by Richard Cockett (Samuel Gregg, City Journal)
-REVIEW: of The Habsburg Way by Eduard Habsburg (James Patterson, Law & Liberty)

Book-related and General Links:

    -REVIEW: of THE JEWS OF VIENNA IN THE AGE OF FRANZ JOSEPH By Robert S. Wistrich (Leon Botstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of LAST WALTZ IN VIENNA The Rise and Destruction of a Family,1842-l942. By George Clare (Fredric Morton, NY times Book Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Michael Ignatieff: The Rise and Fall of Vienna's Jews, NY Review of Books
        The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph by Robert S. Wistrich
        Vienna and Its Jews: The Tragedy of Success, 1880s-1980s by George E.
        A History of Habsburg Jews, 1670-1918 by William O. McCagg, Jr.
        Judentum in Wien: Sammlung Max Berger catalog of the exhibition at the
        Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, November 12, 1987-June 5, 1988
        The Rise of Political Anti-Semitism in Germany and Austria (revised
        edition) Peter Pulzer
        The Viennese: Splendor, Twilight and Exile by Paul Hofmann
        Vienna and the Jews, 1867-1938: A Cultural History by Steven Beller
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Timothy Garton Ash: Does Central Europe Exist?, NY Review of Books
        The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern
        Europe by Václav Havel, et al., introduction by Steven Lukes, and edited
        by John Keane
        The Anatomy of a Reticence by Václav Havel
        Antipolitics: An Essay by George Konrád and translated from the
        Hungarian by Richard E. Allen
        Letters from Prison and Other Essays by Adam Michnik, translated by
        Maya Latynski, foreword by Czeslaw Milosz, and introduction by Jonathan
        Takie czasy...Rzecz o kompromisie by Adam Michnik
        KOR: A History of the Workers' Defense Committee in Poland,
        1976-1981 by Jan Józef Lipski, translated by Olga Amsterdamska, and
        Gene M. Moore
    -REVIEW: of THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES By Robert Musil. Translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike (Michael Hoffman, NY Times Book Review)