Turmoil reigns in post-Soviet Hungary when journalist Drake Bathory-Kereshtur returns from America to grapple with his family history. He’s haunted by the legacy of his ancestor, the notorious sixteenth-century Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who is said to have murdered more than 650 young virgins and bathed in their blood to preserve her youth. Interweaving past and present, The Blood Countess tells the stories of Elizabeth’s debauched and murderous reign and Drake’s fascination with the eternal clashes of faith and power, violence and beauty. Codrescu traces the captivating origins of the countess’s obsessions in tandem with the emerging political fervor of the reporter, building the narratives into an unforgettable, bloody crescendo.
Taut and intense, The Blood Countess is a riveting novel that deftly straddles the genres of historical fiction, thriller, horror, and family drama.
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About the Author
Codrescu is the recipient of an ACLU Freedom of Speech Award, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship for poetry, and the Peabody Award for the movie Road Scholar. Until retiring in 2009, he was the MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English at Louisiana State University.
Read an Excerpt
The Blood Countess
By Andrei Codrescu
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Andrei Codrescu
All rights reserved.
On the last day of the sixteenth century, Countess Elizabeth Bathory of Hungary, despondent over the irremediable passage of time, angered at the betrayal of her flesh, and sorrowed beyond measure at the passing of her youth, ordered her maids to break all the mirrors in her hilltop mansion at Budapest.
The frightened girls lowered the heavy frames from the walls and carried them out into the cold. Some of them cried without knowing why, suspecting that their mistress's whims had taken an even darker turn. When they reached the center of the courtyard, they laid the mirrors tenderly on the snow. The leaden sky reflected gloomily in them, but then it seemed that even the sky fled, leaving the polished surfaces dark.
From her perch at the window, Elizabeth signaled to them to begin. Watching her swarm of black-clad women smashing glass with shovels under the still-falling snow, Elizabeth felt a cold flame rise within her. They looked like crows, her women, laboring to bury the vanity of her flesh. When all the shards succumbed to a fresh blanket of snow, she vowed to erect a monument over the site, something powerful and cold that would commemorate the end of her temporal beauty.
She had supervised the shattering of her expensive collection of looking glasses hoping that what they had seen was being shattered as well. They had seen her transformation from a young girl to a woman, the blossoming of her flesh. They had seen the care she had taken with the vessel of her body, her intimate attention to its contours, her studious delight in the expanse of her skin, which she had studied as an explorer studies a map. They had seen also her abandon and the frenzy of her love sports, of which she was as proud as any artist. They had seen her try on faces and strike poses for official functions and clandestine assignations. Her mirrors held the discarded forms of her whims, her rejected poses, her failed selves. They had seen also her despondency, her defeated womanly being, her tear-drenched weakness. They had seen her humiliation at the hands of demons when she was alone with horned and winged creatures and no one could help her. She had allowed no human creature to see her defeated, but the mirrors had seen it all. And now they too, though made only of glass, had to be destroyed, because they had seen.
Elizabeth was not going to allow them to watch her grow old.
She had tried to put a stop to the passage of time, but her mirrors and her skills had failed. Time itself was her enemy, its very passing the darkness that cursed all with corruption and death. She had been gripped, as her friend Andrei once told her, by the pride of Lucifer. She despised nature in her star-bound course, in her slowness, her indifference. She had made contra naturam her credo, had emblazoned it on her stationery. What those mirrors had seen was a struggle no less fierce than the clash of armies all about her. Her victories had been brief and fraught with danger, and the hostility unending. But while her husband and his troops knew what they were fighting, her enemy had always been as elusive as it was ubiquitous.
But Elizabeth Bathory was not without hope. Andrei de Kereshtur, the friend of her childhood, had become a great magician. He had promised her shyly but firmly that he would use his magical arts to defeat time on her behalf. He had not yet completely mastered the formula, but he was nearing success. Should she die before he completed his work, he had promised her resurrection, in a beautiful body, at a future time. It might be a time far in the future, a different century even, but his promise would come to pass. Elizabeth believed him. Her time had been nothing but sorrow. She looked forward to being beautiful in a different century.
The heavy snow that fell throughout the afternoon and evening did little to lighten her spirits. She saw the whiteness as a shroud laid over her youth. From the ogival window of her bedroom she watched the fat flakes dancing over the cupolas and spires of the royal capital. One by one they buried her century, the century when she had been young and alive. The weightless crystals that she had welcomed with shouts of joy in her childhood were like nails now. She stared fixedly at the snow and thought she discerned a grinning shape in it, a skeletal woman holding a broken hand mirror. Elizabeth did not shrink from the apparition. When the gaunt form came close enough, she saw that it was none other than herself, mocked in the playful dance of the snow.
She would have turned for reassurance to her floor-to-ceiling Venetian glass, but it was no more. She continued to stare instead at the figure of her death, which she knew to be true. Looking glasses had outlived their capacity for flattery.
That evening, she chose her black garments for midnight Mass with the greatest care.
In the Church of Holy Mary in Budapest, Ilona Harszy, who had just turned fifteen years old, sang so beautifully that the Augustinian monks wept.
The Hungarian aristocrats attending the service showered the pale girl with praise. Some of them stripped their arms and necks of jewels and offered them to the church in gratitude.
Ilona stood modestly amid this storm of affection with her head bowed, inwardly thanking the holy Virgin for the inspiration that had caused her voice to soar to angelic heights. In her white shift she looked made out of nothing, a wispy white cloud in an otherwise empty sky. Her voice had been made of the purest and barest substance; the grit of this earth had not yet adhered to it. She shut her eyes tightly even as two tears made their way down the tender skin of her cheeks.
Watching closely from the front row, Palatine Thurzo of Hungary and his niece Countess Elizabeth Bathory seemed equally entranced.
The palatine fought the urge to rise from his seat, walk to the girl, lift her face in his hands, and drink those crystalline tears. They were doubtlessly ambrosial, a sort of holy water that would heal the weariness in his bones and lift from his shoulders, ever so briefly, the heavy mantle of state and his worries about his wild niece Elizabeth. The century that was about to end had been full of strife and sorrow. He had risen to the highest position in the land through cunning and ruthlessness, but there seemed to be no end to war and religious quarrels, and he was tired.
For her part, Countess Bathory was equally compelled to touch the divine instrument of the angels who stood in virginal shame before the worshiping crowd. But, unlike her uncle the palatine, the countess had no need to suppress her urges. The girl's purity was like spring water to her thirst.
That day the countess had buried her vanity, and freedom welled within her.
Her uncle had mildly reproached her for wearing "widow's cloth," and she had laughed in his face. Her husband, the renowned warrior Franz Nadazdy, was on his deathbed in Castle Kereshtur. While not yet a widow, Elizabeth had been wearing the color of mourning for many years now. Franz had died for her more than a decade ago. The mere presence of his rotting body on a bed was no impediment to her widowhood.
"And anyway, dear Uncle," she whispered to the palatine, "today I mourn my own passing. I am my own widow."
She could see by the narrowing of his eyes under the bushy brows feared by so many that he did not understand. And this made her glad.
The ground in front of the church was strewn with the silk of noble overcoats, shed so that Ilona would not have to walk on the snow.
Her performance caused Baron Eszterhazy to write to her parents: "Her pure voice was one of the best in Europe, better than I have heard in the opera houses of Italy."
By then, of course, his words came too late, and they brought no consolation to her parents.
The Augustinian monks who lived across the street from the Church of Holy Mary sewed a robe for Ilona. Their abbot, Teronius, admonished them to "sew the robe purely, with thoughts of gratitude for the angel Ilona Harszy whose voice was sent from heaven."
And whose voice was now, doubtlessly, in heaven, though her body lay in its grave covered by the beautiful robe.
Barely two hours after Ilona's astounding performance, an elegant carriage bearing the Bathorys' coat of arms had arrived at the girl's house, and a messenger had delivered a perfumed note and a gift of a gold locket set in precious stones. The note requested Ilona Harszy's presence that same night at the house of Countess Bathory, who desired a private performance. The messenger waited for the answer.
Ilona's father and mother, Gepy and Olyra Harszy, were modest landholders and petty nobles from the area of Kereshtur, which belonged to Countess Bathory. They too belonged to the powerful Bathory estate; no matter that they had gained some roundly disregarded and fleeting liberties from the Hungarian Parliament.
They could not refuse. Fearful to the bottom of their hearts, they bade farewell to their daughter. They had heard dreadful things about the countess and they feared for the health of their frail child, whose miraculous voice was a triumph over a weak constitution prone to fevers and fatigue.
Ilona stepped into the carriage, still wearing her white shift, her shoulders covered by an ermine fur that had been a gift from a noble.
It had stopped snowing and was dreadfully cold, the kind of cold said to spawn wolf stars. The peasants believed that on such cold nights the stars came down from the heavens to mate with wolves. Their offspring terrorized the world on the dark nights of winter.
During the short ride to the Bathory palace, Ilona prayed to the Virgin. She begged her luminous protectress, who had given her voice such strength at Mass, to help her to enter the good graces of the powerful countess. She saw her plea leave on the cloud of her breath and dissipate into the icy night. She watched the black horses breathe clouds of steam. She looked back on her life but found little to give her strength. Her happiest memories were the moments when her voice had soared in praise of God. She had had but little joy in her childhood, when she had been sick most of the time and unable to play with other children. Love she had not known. She had glimpsed a young man's burning eyes upon her in church, but she had felt such shame that she had given all her heart to her singing.
Elizabeth Bathory received the singer in the rose salon, a room paneled in rosewood and covered in rich Oriental carpets. A fire roared in the marble fireplace, making the room unbearably hot near the fire and cold just a few feet away from it.
The countess lounged close to the flames on a Turkish divan, clad only in a black silk robe. In her hand she held the gold mouthpiece of a Turkish hookah, on which burned a ball of golden hashish.
She rose slightly from her pillows, which were quickly readjusted for her by two maids who stood behind their mistress. The maids' faces were lit by the red tongues of the flames, which accentuated the circles under their eyes and their air of fatigue.
The countess motioned Ilona to come close. The girl had begun to tremble when she saw the famed Elizabeth Bathory. She could not take her eyes off the white hand with long black fingernails grasping the gold mouthpiece.
The curtsy she attempted was clumsy.
"Sing, my child," Elizabeth ordered. She lay back on her pillows, allowing her robe to fall open. She stroked the inside of her white thigh with her free hand without taking her eyes off the girl. She then drew smoke from her hookah.
Ilona opened her mouth but no sound came out.
"Don't be afraid," the countess encouraged her. "Sing to me like the angel who sang before us tonight."
Once more the girl tried to sing, but fear had paralyzed her vocal cords, and she made no sound. All she could see were the countess's black fingernails moving slowly and hypnotically on the white flesh of her inner thigh.
The countess rose from the divan, her face no longer composed. Fury twisted her features. She stood before the girl and first slapped her across the face, then scratched her cheek with her nails. Blood streamed through the skin. She then tore the white shift from the girl's body.
Her maids, who had quietly come to stand behind the singer, tore off the rest of the girl's meager garments. She now stood naked before Elizabeth, her head bowed, her hair streaming over her thin shoulders, tears falling from her eyes. The pale opals of her nipples rose from her small breasts, wet with tears. Her thin hips were boyish but her pubis was pronounced, covered in luxuriant soft dark curls.
The countess pulled fiercely at her own robe until she too stood naked. Her full breasts, fleshy hips, and loose abdominal skin faced defiantly the insubstantial form before her.
Thrusting her hand under the girl's chin, she brought her head up sharply.
"Behold womanhood!" she cried.
The countess bit the girl's nipples, first one, then the other, drawing blood. She caressed the length of Ilona's neck, then pressed softly, looking for the pure notes that had moved everyone to tears. Where were those notes? She squeezed harder, expecting those angelic sounds to rise unbidden from the depths of the girl's soul. But nothing came out, not even a cry of fear.
The girl had fainted. Elizabeth had been thwarted again by that nameless thing which had always taken from her what she truly wanted. She recognized it with familiar bitterness. Throwing the singer's ermine over her own nakedness, Elizabeth dragged the unconscious girl outside, followed by her maids.
The snow had given way to a brilliant, star-studded sky. A quarter moon shed its feeble light over the courtyard. The temperature had fallen greatly. It was fiercely cold. Shivering, the women helped pull the singer to the top of the slight mound where Elizabeth's mirrors lay buried.
The countess held the still-unconscious girl close, feeling the heat leave her body and seep into her own. The harsh cold pierced by the faraway stars made a music of its own, a desolate, high-pitched sound that Elizabeth remembered from her own childhood. As a young girl she had stood often at a window of her castle listening to the cold wind slice the endless night of the Hungarian puszta. Despite the castle's blazing fires, she had felt no warmth, though she could imagine in fine detail, as in a woodcut, the savage mating of stars in human form with she-wolves. She had heard their cries and had called on the stars to come to her. They had ignored her, perhaps because she had not been hot-blooded enough for the icy stars.
Elizabeth felt the girl's meager heat now, but it was too late to enjoy it, and there was too little of it to augment the small flame of memory that had flared within her.
Her best maid, Darvulia, brought a pail of water from the house. The maids held Ilona upright while Elizabeth poured water over the pale form. The water iced quickly and the girl froze on the spot.
The women stood gazing for a moment at the living statue. A blade of ice, sharp as a sliver of Venetian glass, curved forward from between the girl's legs. Above this blade her pubis glistened with crystals. Her navel had filled with crystals as well, a sparkling cluster of small jewels.
"Beauty," said Elizabeth coldly, "how easily you cling to the docile!"
The wind picked up just then, but if anyone heard her words they gave no sign of it.
The ice formed evenly around Ilona's girlish hips. Her waist became a smooth sheet of glass. Her breasts were encased by two bells of ice, the coppery nipples visible beneath the glass like clappers. Under her chin, the dripping water had constructed closely knit icicles that looked like a scraggly beard.
Only Ilona's blue eyes remained innocently open under their transparent sheet. They looked through Elizabeth at something she could not see, but she resisted the temptation to turn around. That's where her mirror had always been.
She shivered and headed back to the house.
Gratefully her women followed her in, out of the terrible cold.
From the window of her bedroom Elizabeth watched the ice statue standing over her broken mirrors. Her thoughts came to her in splintered shards, reflecting the hundreds of faces of people, mostly girls, whom she had known, loved, and been disappointed by. Like the moonlit ice outside, they had all begun bathed in angelic grace, only to shed it when she needed it most.
When the first light of the sun rose over the snowbound capital of the kingdom, Elizabeth ordered her servants to wake everyone and to pack for the long trip to Kereshtur.
By nine in the morning, the Bathory house in Budapest was deserted.
Excerpted from The Blood Countess by Andrei Codrescu. Copyright © 1995 Andrei Codrescu. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was easily one of the best books I've ever read. It had me at the very first page. With vivid imagery on every page, it will keep you on the edge of your seat with every turn of the page. It's simply insatiable.
describes Elizabeth Bathory. Add in some mental problems and you have a great read.
This was a very well done book. I loved how Adrei Codrescu interweaved the the fictional story and the true story to link them together. And to all the other reveiws from everyone on here, I have researched Elizabeth Bathory pretty much. And everything that is in there about her in the Biographical part of the story is from the Chronicles of Anrei De Kereshtur. So it should all be true. Not just the author trying to make it a sex and gore novel. I loved it. Great book.
Very historical, but mind numbing.
In this dark book, the author delved deep into the inner thoughts and motivations of Elizaveth Bathory, and in this he excelled. I much preferred to stay with Elizabeth's point of view rather than switching back to a modern day descendent. But that's because I'm a purist when it comes to historical fiction and I tend not to be fond of books set in both present and past times. Codrescue does not shy away from the brutality, superstitions, terror, and beliefs of the time including the animosity of the people towards the wealthy nobles. There is much violence in this book, and that must be expected. The murderous acts are chilling and graphic, so brace yourselves. Not for the feint of heart, that's for sure, but Elizabeth's story is all about the murders, and cannot be writtenw without it. The author did a ton of research and this is definitely one of the strengths of this book. The world continues to be fascinated with this notorious woman and this is one book that definitely portrays her accurately, giving readers a glimpse as to what evil lurcked in her mind and heart. For the full review and a brief bio and videos about Elizabeth Bathory visit: http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.ca/2015/08/the-blood-countess-by-andrei-codrescu.html
I admit to have been intrigued by the beginning of this book, but later felt alienated from the writer's excessive political references and intellectual innuendos about the state of modern Hungary. It seems that there are five books with five different stories and genres into one. I often felt both fascinated and overwhelmed by all the wealth of detail, and endless - ancient and modern - characters, resulting into confusion. The 'erotic' element seems to be the only ubiquitous, and rather lewd, element that does not seem to disappoint the reader. The rhythm of Mr Codrescu's book reminded me of the Marquis De Sade's many 'boudoir' sexual marathons, wrapped into a convenient historical and philosophical pretext.
This book is the worst book I have ever read in my entire life. It was so perverted and disgusting, there was no way anyone could finish this. Unless you are really, really intersted in sex and gore then read this book, otherwise leave it be for your own good. I would actually give this book no stars. It's impossible to show any adorness in this book.
As I was reading The Blood Countess I began to realize that this author was genuinely sadistic and perverted. This person got a kick out of writing what he wrote, I did not. Any educated reader will see this just as plainly as I did. This piece of writing was extremely disapointing considering it concerns a very interesting historical character. The historical aspects of this story do not mach up either, much of the information found in The Blood Countess isn't written in any history book. I found the modern half of the book dragged and pulled the whole book under. This book didn't grab me in any way and it was a battle to finish. To put it simply this book makes me sick.