Joseph Roth

The Radetzky March 1

For many years he had been a delegate at the Reichstag [sic!], regularly returned by his district, seeing off all comers with a combination of money, violence and cunning; a favourite with the government and a despiser of the parliamentary body to which he belonged. He had never made a speech, never even heckled. Illusionless, mocking, fearless and self-assured, Chojnicki would tell all and sundry that the Emperor was a senile idiot, the government a bunch of morons, the Upper House an assembly of credulous and pathetic nitwits, the state authorities corrupt, villainous and lazy. Austrians of German stock crooned waltzes in their cups, Hungarians stank, Czechs were born to clean shoes, Ruthenians treacherously disguised Russians, Croats and Slovenes, whom he called ‘stoats and ravens’, were broom-makers and chestnut-roasters, and Poles, of whom he himself was one, fornicators, barbers and fashion-photographers.

Whenever he came home from Vienna, or wherever else in the wide world he’d been disporting himelf, he would deliver a lugubrious lecture, which would go roughly as follows: ‘This empire’s had it. As soon as the Emperor says goodnight, we’ll break up into a hundred pieces. The Balkans will be more powerful than we will. All the peoples will set up their own dirty little statelets, and even the Jews will proclaim a King in Palestine. Vienna stinks of the sweat of democrats, I can’t stand to be on the Ringstrasse any more. Ever since they got their red flags, the workers have stopped working. The mayor of Vienna is a churchgoing janitor. The clergy’s desperate to ingratiate itself with the people, you can hear the sermon in Czech if you please. In the Burgtheater, they put on Jewish garbage, and they ennoble one Hungarian toilet-manufacturer a week. I tell you, gentlemen, unless we start shooting, it’s all up. In our lifetime, I tell you.’

Those who listened to the Count laughed and refilled their glasses. They didn’t get it. There was shooting, from time to time, especially round election time, to make sure that the likes of Count Chojnicki were duly returned, and to prove that the world couldn’t end just like that. The Emperor was still alive. There was an heir to the throne in place. The army drilled and dazzled in all the proper colours. The peoples loved the dynasty and worshipped it in their various national costumes. Chojnicki was pulling their leg.
Lieutenant Trotta, however, more sensitive than his comrades, sadder than them, and with the constant echo in his heart of the dark, rushing wings of death, which he had now already twice met: Lieutenant Trotta occasionally fetl the prophetic force of his gloomy speeches.

Translated by Michael Hoffman

Joseph Roth: “The Radetzky March” (London: Granta Books, 2002), 148-149.

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Joseph Roth


Initially a pacifist who had been declared unfit for war service, Joseph Roth (b. September 2, 1894 in Brody, East Galicia, d. May 27, 1939 in Paris) volunteered for military service with the Feldjäger batallion in 1916 and spent the rest of the war with the news service in Galicia. The war and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Dual Monarchy – his “strongest experience,” as he later wrote – inspired his greatest novel, The Radetzky March (1932).