Tuesday 6 May 2014

Review - The Countess: A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory by Rebecca Johns

The Countess: A Novel of Elizabeth BathoryThe Countess: A Novel of Elizabeth Bathory by Rebecca Johns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Time taken to read - 6 days

Pages - 287

Publisher - Broadway Books

Blurb from Goodreads

Was the “Blood Countess” history’s first and perhaps worst female serial killer? Or did her accusers create a violent fiction in order to remove this beautiful, intelligent, ambitious foe from the male-dominated world of Hungarian politics?

In 1611, Countess Erzsébet Báthory, a powerful Hungarian noblewoman, stood helpless as masons walled her inside her castle tower, dooming her to spend her final years in solitary confinement. Her crime—the gruesome murders of dozens of female servants, mostly young girls tortured to death for displeasing their ruthless mistress. Her opponents painted her as a bloodthirsty škrata—a witch—a portrayal that would expand to grotesque proportions through the centuries.

In this riveting dramatization of Erzsébet Báthory’s life, the countess tells her story in her own words, writing to her only son—a final reckoning from his mother in an attempt to reveal the truth behind her downfall. Countess Báthory describes her upbringing in one of the most powerful noble houses in Hungary, recounting in loving detail her devotion to her parents and siblings as well as the heartbreak of losing her father at a young age. She soon discovers the price of being a woman in sixteenth-century Hungary as her mother arranges her marriage to Ferenc Nádasdy, a union made with the cold calculation of a financial transaction. Young Erzsébet knows she has no choice but to accept this marriage even as she laments its loveless nature and ultimately turns to the illicit affections of another man.

Seemingly resigned to a marriage of convenience and a life of surreptitious pleasure, the countess surprises even herself as she ignites a marital spark with Ferenc through the most unromantic of acts: the violent punishment of an insolent female servant. The event shows Ferenc that his wife is no trophy but a strong, determined woman more than capable of managing their vast estates during Ferenc’s extensive military campaigns against the Turks. Her naked assertion of power accomplishes what her famed beauty could not: capturing the love of her husband.

The countess embraces this new role of loving wife and mother, doing everything she can to expand her husband’s power and secure her family’s future. But a darker side surfaces as Countess Báthory’s demand for virtue, obedience, and, above all, respect from her servants takes a sinister turn. What emerges is not only a disturbing, unflinching portrait of the deeds that gave Báthory the moniker “Blood Countess,” but an intimate look at the woman who became a monster.

My Review

I must admit, I have never read anything about Countess Bathory but I have heard of her and the story of murdering her staff and bathing in blood. She is an interesting figure and I was delighted to get this off of a friend to read.

The book opens as a letter from a priest, he does not believe the Countess is innocent however, he finds these letters written by her, from her prison and passes them on. We follow the story from the Countess being imprisoned and then she recalls back from her early childhood, to events and happenings in between, up until her death.

The book is fairly slow going, until just about halfway I would say, how she finds herself being sent to live with her future mother in law. Her brief encounters with her to be husband and his polite, cold, disregard for her. This continues through their marriage until he witnesses her cruelty to one of their staff, which bonds them together. After this the pace picks up and there is some torture although there is nothing close to a gore fest some people may be expecting due to the details usually surrounding Bathory.

Otherwise is was an interesting tale, the writer has a talent and she paints quite a vivid picture giving you a feel for the times the novel is set in. This was my first time reading this author and I would read her again, I feel I would like to read a factual book on the countess and learn what evidence they actually had. 3/5 for me this time.

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  1. Thanks for the review! Elizabeth Bathory is a fascinating historical figure.

  2. I enjoyed this one when I read it as well. Like you mention, I'd like to read a non-fiction account of the Countess.

  3. I myself had also only heard about Countess Erzsébet Báthory but never knew much fact.

    Though you describe this as slow going at first, it sounds like in some ways a very creative character study. It seems like Rebecca Johns put a lot into the character.


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