The playwright Ferenc Molnár, by his grandson

The latest title in the Blue Danube imprint, which focuses on literature, history and travel in Central Europe, is Venetian Angel, a short novel by Ferenc Molnár, now translated into English for the first time.  Molnár was a famous pre-war dramatist whose many plays included one on which the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel was based.  Here, in the introduction, his grandson Mátyás Sárközi writes about the author:

The putto, the “angel” of the title, is the one on the right, below the Madonna’s left foot in Bellini’s beautiful altarpiece in the sacristy of the Frari in Venice. The saints around her are Nicholas of Bari, Peter, Mark and Benedict (Blue Guide Venice)

Ferenc Molnár, my grandfather, had to leave Hungary in 1937 because of the Fascist tide there. He aimed to take refuge in America, but his first stop on the way to New York was Venice, a city he loved dearly. In this novel he calls it ‘a wonder of the world’.

Daily life in Budapest was still undisturbed in 1933. Molnár was seen daily in his straw hat, sparkling monocle in the right eye, strolling along the Duna Corso, the promenade on the Pest side of the Danube, stretching from the Elisabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge. Already a well-known dramatist and writer in Europe and America, he was greeted at every step, even by friendly strangers. The Athenaeum publishing house asked him for a new novel. What should he write about? He submitted a manuscript without much of a story, its title inspired by a little flute-blowing putto at the bottom of Bellini’s Madonna in the Frari church in Venice. In essence, the story is a love triangle, a romance coloured with intrigue and jealousy. Molnár, with the skill of a psychologist, describes a young woman on the verge of becoming a grown-up, still unversed in the complications of adult life, still a dreamer. The action is played out against the backdrop of the Venice which Molnár knew so well, with its fascinating history and its narrow little alleyways.

He maintains that living abroad makes one different. Does it? Perhaps less so today than it did in Molnár’s time. Now the world’s populace is becoming a global melting pot of nationalities and races. But the main theme remains eternal. The protagonists come into sharp focus in Molnár’s mirror. A mirror which is able to show not only virtues, but every human foible and frailty.

Mátyás Sárközi
Hampstead, 2024

The Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser

The life of Josef Mayr-Nusser (1910-1945) is a chapter in the complicated story of South Tyrol.  Born in Bolzano Bozen, he was an active German speaking Catholic, contributor to the subversive young Catholic newssheet Tiroler Jugendwacht (subversive because the Italian government banned use of the German word Jugendwacht – literally “youth watch”).  Despite reservations about Italy’s treatment of the South Tyrol, he was unmoved by the Nazis’ siren calls to German speakers and became a key member of the South Tyrolean resistance group, the Andreas Hofer Bund. 

The Blessed Josef Mayr-Nusser, beatified by Pope Francis for his heroism in defence of South Tyrol and martyrdom by the Nazis.

This Bund was an anti-Nazi association and resistance movement, formed in opposition to Hitler’s and Mussolini’s “Option Agreement” of October / November 1939, by which the German- and Ladin-speaking inhabitants of South Tyrol were given the “option” of either remaining in their homes and facing Italianisation or migrating to the Germanic “homeland” – in this case the recently seized lands of Western Poland.  The Bund was formed particularly to protect the remainers (“Dableiber”) from the aggression of the leavers (“Optanteren”).  Of the 75,000 who eventually opted for migration – mainly the landless rural poor, few burghers and almost no farmers – many got no further than the Austrian Tyrol, and after the war around one third of them returned.

When Mayr-Nusser was drafted into the SS he refused to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler, claiming it contrary to his faith.  For this he was sentenced to death.  Beatified by Pope Francis in 2016, he is referred to as the Martyr of the First Commandment (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”). His reliquary casket is in the south aisle of Bozen Cathedral.