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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Resurrection of Maltravers

Alexander Lernet-Holenia

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To purchase The Resurrection of Maltravers

Title: The Resurrection of Maltravers
Author: Alexander Lernet-Holenia
Genre: Novel
Written: 1936 (Eng. 1988)
Length: 263 pages
Original in: German
Availability: The Resurrection of Maltravers - US
The Resurrection of Maltravers - UK
The Resurrection of Maltravers - Canada
Die Auferstehung des Maltravers - Deutschland
La resurrezione di Maltravers - Italia
  • German title: Die Auferstehung des Maltravers
  • Translated by Joachim Neugroschel

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Our Assessment:

B : meandering, and not quite sharp enough

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Chicago Tribune . 26/2/1989 Larry Kart
Publishers Weekly . 1/1/1989 .
Die Zeit . 1/10/1953 Ruth Lutz

  From the Reviews:
  • "What no summary can convey, though, is that plot is where the lyrical or poetic element of Lernet-Holenia's fiction resides; like Kafka, whom he otherwise does not resemble, Lernet-Holenia weaves his most intimate hopes and dreams into the texture of what happens next. (...) (A) book that begins as a crystalline farce and then modulates downward toward resignation and release -- the whole so prescient of what will emerge from the decaying, mid-1930s world the novel portrays that one can hardly believe it was written just then and not many years later." - Larry Kart, Chicago Tribune

  • "This first English edition of a tale by Lernet-Holenia (...) captivatingly vivifies the European between-wars shattering and re-creation of values." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Sein allzu widerspruchsvoller Charakter, nimmt nicht nur seiner Funktion als Hauptfigur im Buche die Größe, er entwertet von vornherein auch den Höhepunkt seines zweiten Lebens und der Fabel." - Ruth Lutz, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

[Note: this review is based on the German original, and any translations are my own; I have not seen Joachim Neugroschel's translation.]

       The Resurrection of Maltravers is the story of Count Georg Maltravers' death --- one that doesn't quite take at the initial go-round. Nobility of the highest order -- he humbly notes he's: 'one of the peaks of the towering mountain range of nobility' -- he's also descended to dishonorable depths, the novel opening with him returning from serving a twenty-two month prison sentence. He returns to the household of his brother -- and detested sister-in-law -- and settles in reasonably well for a while, but then doesn't recover well from a hunting accident, remains bedridden -- and dies.
       His death proves to be convincing -- but temporary: in the dead of night he rises from his coffin in the family chapel. He takes stock of his situation, and decides a second chance at life isn't a bad idea: without telling anyone he collects his things and takes off into the night. The next day, his brother finds the coffin is empty but decides not to trouble himself or anyone else about it -- better to be rid of the blot on the family name, one way or another -- , and they go through with the funeral, everyone else then convinced the good Count is dead and buried.
       His obituary reveals a bit more about him: twice-married, he went through his wives' fortunes as well as his own, and lived a wild life as one of the last of the titled adventurers of the nineteenth century -- before his ignominious fall, reduced to a card cheat.
       With his passport, made out in his actual name, Georg Hugh Fortescue, the Count of Maltravers has a handy fall-back identity, and makes his way to Prague. He surprises a friend there -- who returns from his funeral to find him in his home -- and quite quickly sets about planning his next coup and new life.
       Maltravers' plan essentially involves grooming someone to follow in his footsteps, to build someone up in his own image, at least to the extent possible: firmly convinced that nobles are a breed apart, he recognizes that some things just can't be changed. But people are easily fooled, and for his purposes appearances matter more than reality -- which is why he settles on failed boxer Henrikstein, a dashing young man whom Maltravers feels he can transform. Much of the fun is seeing Maltravers' philosophy put into practice: so, for example, he takes care not to dress his new charge up too well: someone so striking-looking shouldn't be too well dressed, he believes. (Finding a tailor up to that peculiar task -- of tailoring less than perfect suits -- proves one of many hurdles.) Similarly, he warns of being seen in too-fine and tastefully decored restaurants:

Style is, basically, something inauthentic. Only people who have nothing else have it. Truly fine people have no style
       Exactly what plans Maltravers has in mind for Henrikstein long remain unclear, but clearly he is using him to get particular women to fall for him -- as they quite readily do. Henrikstein goes along with most of this -- though he's head over heels in love with working girl Lola, and is more interested in getting his confidence back so he can get back into the boxing ring. Things apparently progress reasonably well -- if slowly -- though Maltravers finds himself inconveniently frequently recognized by people from his old life: his attempts to present himself as Fortescue keep being undermined by people who are certain he is good old Count Maltravers.
       First one and then the second con fall somewhat flat -- more or less working out half as intended (leading to a divorce and a broken engagement) but not quite in the way they should have, and culminate in one very dissatisfied man looking to get satisfaction from the one he blames -- Henrikstein.
       The Resurrection of Maltravers quite entertainingly meanders through several European capitals (before concluding in Venice), always poised and sure of himself Maltravers muddling through even when he is rather down and out, accompanied most of the way by a naïve and slightly confused Henrikstein. They mingle in the best circles, in which Maltravers of course feels at ease: nothing can diminish the nobleman in him: 'One is what one is', he tells his brother, and he is indeed, to the core, built up entirely on his titled-family roots: for him, noblesse oblige, in every respect. The fine dining and going out and mingling among the upper crust is well done (and the boxing scenes are decent too), while Lernet-Holenia also consistently makes clear that these are just the remnant of a bygone age: the Count's world -- the one he truly reveled (and belonged) in -- has died, with only these after-echoes left, less pale imitation than shadow.
       Maltravers is often cryptic and secretive about his doings, and Lernet-Holenia doesn't really manage this in a way that would make the story more suspenseful. Dribbling out the reveals -- of who wants what done, and their motivations -- doesn't work as well here -- but then Lernet-Holenia does seem more concerned with atmosphere and character than plot (though in fact the plot, in summary, is decent -- it's simply unfolded somewhat awkwardly). Set scenes, including the one where a family eagerly joins in the grand procession to present their daughter at court, to the Italian king, and is turned away at the last minute, are neatly presented, and the increasingly philosophical Maltravers waxes entertainingly wise, in well-phrased sentences, but the novel isn't entirely gripping -- not nearly as much as, given both its pieces and the plot and ideas behind it, one would expect it to be.
       Impressive in concept -- a neat reflection on a dying age, attempts at recreation, and strict class hierarchies (and their crumbling) -- and, bit by bit, its realization, The Resurrection of Maltravers is a decent yet still slightly disappointing entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 4 April 2019

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The Resurrection of Maltravers: Reviews: Alexander Lernet-Holenia: Other books by Alexander Lernet-Holenia under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Alexander Lernet-Holenia lived 1897 to 1976.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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