They Were Found Wanting is the second book of Bánffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy. It again follows the fortunes of cousins Balint Abady and Laszlo Gyeroffy, Hungarian/Transylvanian noblemen, although it spends much more time with Balint.
In the first book, Balint began an affair with Adrienne Uzdy, married to a cruel and unstable neighbor of Balint’s Transylvanian estate. They resolved to part in that book but come together early in the second book. Balint wants Adrienne to divorce Uzdy, but Adrienne fears Uzdy will become violent. Moreover, she will likely lose custody of her daughter.
Laszlo started on the path of destruction in the first book after his cousin Klara rejected him because of his gambling. He has been cheated out of most of the profits from his estate by Azbej, a crooked lawyer, and he is drinking what little money he has. Early in the book, Dodo Gyalakuthy, who is so wealthy that no one will propose to her, asks him to marry her. Laszlo is stung by this and refuses, not realizing that Dodo loves him.
Balint is a member of the Hungarian Parliament, and much of this book is devoted to the machinations of the political parties, who manage to accomplish nothing because of their efforts to prevent the work of the other party. All the while, Balint is conscious of disquieting events in the outer world as it heads to World War I.
I struggled with this book a bit and actually read three other books while I was trying to finish it, something I seldom do. For one thing, there was a much stronger emphasis on Hungarian politics, but I didn’t understand all the ins and outs or sometimes who was whom. The first book came with about 100 pages of explanatory material, but I seldom read things like that and would hope a novel would be understandable without it.
For another thing, the major emphasis was on the affair between Balint and Adrienne, and I wasn’t much interested in it. Although Bánffy certainly can depict vivid characters, Adrienne isn’t one of them. She is almost there only to be the object of Balint’s yearning. You never get much of a sense of what she is like.
Finally, in some ways, Balint began this affair in a reprehensible way, and when he decides they should marry, he is merciless with the emotional blackmail. Otherwise likeable, he is not a nice lover in this book.
Throughout, the most interesting thing to me are Bánffy’s descriptions of customs and life in Transylvania. I am interested in how the third book will come out. Thank goodness it’s not nearly as long as either of the others.