Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Blood Countess by Andrei Codrescu

Many authors have written about Elizabeth's life, the most recent is Andrei Codrescu.  


A Hungarian-American journalist confronts the beauty and terror of his aristocratic heritage in this suspenseful chronicle of murder and eroticism. 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.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Also visit Historical Novel Review for more fascinating historical fiction books!

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.

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In her lifetime, Elizabeth Bathory became infamous as the "Bloody Countess". Obsessed with retaining her young, Elizabeth was convinced that bathing in blood was the way to achieve eternal youth. To keep herself stocked in blood, she tortured, murdered, and drank the blood of literally hundreds of innocent young women. 

Countess Elizabeth Bathory
August 7, 1560 – August 21, 1614

She was born in the year 1560, into very wealthy noble family of kings, politicians, and clerics. But not all was what it seemed within her family circle, for they dabbled in black magic, satanism, and sexual escapades. And Elizabeth was exposed to all of it. Beautiful, vain, self-centered, and of such high rank, she was betrothed when she was 11 and married to Count Ferenc Nádasdy, The Black Hero of Hungary, a famous count, when she was 15.

Count Ferenc Nádasdy

The couple moved to their new home nestled deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Their castle was surrounded by rich farmlands worked by superstitious peasants and a tiny village.

Being married to a war hero had its disadvantages. She found herself mostly alone except for brief interludes when the count would return home long enough to attempt to impregnate her. Despite her four children, Elizabeth was bored and left to entertain herself. Left to her own devices, her penchant for cruelty and her horrendous temper soon veered its ugly head. Vassals and villagers were terrified of her. To relieve her boredom she took on numerous lovers, even one believed to be a vampire. Her love was pale, thin, and had sharp teeth. One day, he vanished, without an explanation, never to be found. This fueled gossip and the people became even more fearful of her. They lived in fear of making her angry or inadvertently drawing her attention. Stories of how she beat and tortured her female servants with devices she found hidden deep in the bowels of her husband's castle. She surrounded herself with those most loyal, her beloved childhood nurse, and those who practiced witchcraft of which she became a most avid pupil.

Above everything, Elizabeth valued her beuaty. Giving birth to 4 children and finding herself in her middle to late twenties, she realized her beauty was fading. Her temper became sharper, quicker, more unpredictable. She took it out on her servants, punishing them, torturing them with the devices in her dungeon. Everyone was too terrified to speak out on behalf of Elizabeth's victims for fear of reprisal. 

In the year 1600, when she was in her early 40's, her husband died. Elizabeth was sole mistress of the estate, including surrounding lands and villages. Eager to be free, she got rid of her children by sending them to nearby relatives to look after. This is when her taste for blood came to life. Desperate to hang on to her youth, she searched for an answer because all other dark rituals and potions she had attempted failed miserably.

Then one day, when a new maid angered her, she struck the young woman in the face. Blood spurted from the poor woman's nose, splashing onto Elizabeth's hand and dress. Elizabeth wiped it away, and when she did, she was certain the flesh beneath the blood was more vibrant, softer. An idea was born and she ordered one of her male servants to execute the maid and drain her blood into a tub so that she could submerge herself in it. 

An obsessions was born. Before long, her accomplices set to work and a long line of unmarried virgins were offered good paying positions to work for Elizabeth. And thus they came to the castle, but not to work in the upper chambers like promised, but forced into the torture chamber in the dark dungeon. he dark  Under Elizabeth's direction, her accomplices used the most gruesome methods to extract their blood. When their bodies were drained of blood, they were secreted away in the dead of night for burial.

Soon it became more difficult to acquire virgins. Desperate, Elizabeth and her aides had to come up with another clever plan to fool potential victims. Under the pretense of hiring a governess to tutor her children, she soon resumed her murderous ways.

Things were not that easy, however, for when poor village or peasant girls went missing, no one dared ask too many questions. But when young women of higher rank went missing, a cacaphony of suspicions arose. Elizabeth had grown careless. Instead of burying her victims, she simply allowed her henchmen to leave them out for the wolves. Soon, the authorities began to suspect something untoward was happening behind her castle's walls. The remains of one or more girls was discovered. Rumors swirled anew and the suspicons were brought to the king. He ordered an investigation, headed up by a close relative of Elizabeth's. .

On a cold night in December 1610, he and his men rode to Elizabeth's castle. Upon their arrival, they were met with a grisly scene - almost a dozen dead or dying young women, all of them horrifically tortured. A search revealed even more bodies strewn about. They immediately arrested Elizabeth and her henchmen and brought them to trial. All but one were found guilty and executed, many in a way as gruesome as those their victims faced.

But Elizabeth escaped that fate. Under Hungarian law at the time, a citizen of noble birth could not be brought to trial or executed. Determined to hold Elizabeth accountable for the murder of over 600 young women, the government passed a law that allowed her to be sealed alive in a room in her castle. The only contact she was allowed was from her guards who passed food to her through a narrow slot in the thick, locked door.

Four years later, one of those guards discovered her dead on the floor. Elizabeth was 54 years old. During her incarceration, she refused to speak about her atrocious crimes, and showed no remorse.

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