The Radetzky March Readalong – Part 2


SPOILER WARNING – The answers and questions give away important plot points

Are there characters you like or dislike particularly so far?

While I find all of the characters very interesting and wonderfully drawn, there isn’t any character I particularly like. I feel sorry for many of them, but I don’t think they are particularly likable, possibly with the exception of Chojnicki. I loved the way he spoke about the Kaiser, calling him by hist first name. Was it out of lack of respect? Possibly, but also, I think because he felt that the end of the monarchy was approaching and, rightly so.

What does the old servant Jacques and his death stand for?

There are so many scenes in this book that signify or announce the end of an era but Jacques also announces the end of the von Trottas. He’s the only one who knew the hero of Solferino and with him, this man who has almost been forgotten, through his own doing, is sinking even further into oblivion. The whole death scene was particularly well done and used to great effect. Like the monarchy, he doesn’t die quickly but seems to go back to new life and then dies anyway. A book that’s so heavily preoccupied with death and dying had to have an extended death scene.

In many ways Chojnicki is the opposite of Jacques. What did you think of him?

I mentioned him earlier as one of the few characters I really liked. A modern man, very rich but not in a greedy kind of way. He’s always willing to share and give his money to those who need it. He seems to mind his own business more than anything else. He is alert and curious, also generous and free of self-importance, a typical trait of many of the other characters.

What do you make of this quote?

“I haven’t forgotten him,” said the lieutenant, “I always thought of that painting. I’m not strong enough for this painting. The dead! I can’t forget the dead! Father, I can’t forget anything. Father!”

I felt sorry for Carl Joseph from the beginning of the book, when his first lover, Frau Slama dies. Death got a hold of him and never let go. Although he thinks he’s found new life, with Frau von Taussig, the reader can sense it will be short-lived.

What do you think of Roth’s style so far?

I think I remembered his style differently. As Andrew said in his post on the first part, it feels much more like a 19th century novel. No modernist approaches. Maybe others feel differently, but I don’t think he’s a great stylist. His strengths are characterisation and descriptions. He’s more interested in psychology than beautiful language or original ways to say things.

Were you surprised to find the last chapter of part 2 told from the point of view of Kaiser Franz Josef? How effective did you find it?

I thought it was a great idea and worked very well. It showed the Kaiser as a human being, something people at the time possibly tended to forget. In people’s views he was almost God-like. The chapter shows how isolating this must have been. Most of the time, he had to play a role. Only when he was alone, at night, could he express his true self.

Do you have favorite quotes? Please share them and tell us why you like them.

I have so many favourite quotes but because I read the book in German, I won’t share them. I’m still not feeling well enough to embark on any translations.

When he meets Frau von Taussig, Carl Josef feels like he’s happy for the first time? Do you think that’s true? How do you think of her and their relationship?

Frau von Taussig is a great character. Silly and touching at the same time. But also selfish and self-involved. The way Roth introduced her, with only a remark at first, at the end of one chapter, told the reader she’s trouble. I don’t think she cares about Carl Joseph. One gets the feeling it could have been any young lieutenant. There’s no attempt to understand or get to know him. And so, in the end, she treats Carl Joseph like every one else does. Just a player in play that has lost its meaning. A bit like the Kaiser. Carl Joseph is as lonely and desperate as before, and possibly, without his knowing, worse off than before he met her.

How do you feel about the descriptions of alcoholism in this section?

It’s a chilling description of alcoholism and feels very realistic. Sadly, Roth knew what he was writing about and the reader can sense that.

13 thoughts on “The Radetzky March Readalong – Part 2

  1. My thoughts will be published tomorrow. I double-booked the blog for today. Oops!

    Also, if you’d like to send me a couple of your favourite quotes, I’ll send you the English translation, so you can share.

  2. Based upon your answers the characters sound so rich and interesting to read about. I tend to like “unlikable” characters do your observation about the characters actually makes the book more appealing.

  3. Just published my post. We had quite similar responses to this part! I like your insight about Chojnicki, that he is “free of self-importance, a typical trait of many of the other characters.” I saw him as different mainly because he seems more in control of his fate than the other characters, but I like how you focused on self-importance, which really nails it. They seem such heavy characters, so bound up in themselves and the boundaries of their lives.

    I didn’t know Roth had personal experience with alcoholism, but it doesn’t surprise me—that description was all too real.

    Sorry to hear you’re still not feeling well, Caroline, and thanks for going ahead with organising the readalong. I’m really enjoying it!

    • I’m so glad you enjoy it, Andrew. I have good and bad days. Hopefully there will be more good ones soon.
      Chojnicki seems much freer. In this part, I liked him best.
      Roth was a chronic alcoholic. One if the reasons he died young. He’s written a whole novel about an alcoholic. The descriptions in this book are so great because he knew so well what he was writing about.

    • Yes, I liked those chapters and he’s very good at irony. possibly I should have defined my definition of a stylist. I don’t find he’s as preoccupied with language as others. No poet‘s sensibilities. Maybe one can sense the journalist.

  4. Caroline,
    I’m so sorry to hear you’re continuing to feel unwell. I share with you your frustration–it’s so hard not to feel miserable when you’re really miserable. Best wishes.
    I echo your thoughts on a number of comments in your post. Yes, I think Frau von Traussig used him and for a few days, he had those deep-seated emotional needs met, but I agree with you that he is worse off afterward, almost as if her casting him off reminded him of the death of Katherina (sp.?), and what happened with Dr. Demant and his wife.
    I also agree with you in the ways that the novel reads like a 19th-century novel, especially as it concerns death imagery.
    Thank you for organizing the questions for this and for hosting the readalong.

    • Thank you, Judith. It’s not easy.
      I hadn’t thought of the imagery of death being very 19th century but that’s true.
      Frau Von Taussig really used him. Not once did she think about the consequences for Carl Joseph.
      I’m very glad you’re enjoying the readalong.

  5. Pingback: The Radetzky March Readalong – Part 2 – Lizzy's Literary Life

  6. A couple of responses:
    Jacques represents continuity with the old ways of the world, in effect that solid world of deference to the upper classes that the coming war will shatter. Roth’s frequent evocation of a generalised figure of Death, standing over his characters, especially Carl Joseph, reminds us constantly of the apocalypse that awaits these characters. Also, of course, from our perspective, there’s a double significance, as we think about this historical novel being written by a Jew as Nazi Germany was beginning its ascendancy. I’m also struck by the emphasis in District Commissioner Von Trotta’s life on tradition, as if it had the authority of generations, when his father, the hero of Solferino, had been artificially elevated to his rank. It reminds us that the figure of the kaiser, who seems to also represent a long tradition, is in fact the first and last ruler of the much reduced Austria – Hungary. Chojnicki, on the other hand, sees the coming disaster clearly, despite being a genuine aristocrat.
    On Roth’s style, it’s always difficult to judge when you are reading, as I am, in translation. But I’d say there are some modernist touches in the treatment of time, and the emphasis on the inner lives of the characters, particularly Carl Joseph, whose anguished battle to cope with the burden of expectations is dramatised so effectively.

    • Very interesting, Rob. Thanks for the comments.
      The use of Death is quite haunting, you’re right. Chojnicki seems the only character who is not totally caught up in tradition and therefore blinded.
      It’s true what you say about the District Commissioner but I suppose this way of life was quite infectious and they were never a warm family to begin with. And male-dominated at that.
      I find more modernist touches in the third part.

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