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AS a fitting eulogy of a glorious ruling House whose power is no more, comes Bertita Harding's Imperial Twilight, a stirring account of the lives of Karl and Zita of Hapsburg. Purposely avoiding more than a bare outline of the historical and political background, the author focuses almost her sole attention on the ill starred war-time rulers, struggling valiantly to hold together a tottering empire, whose collapse the outbreak of that first world conflagration rendered inevitable.
Although this resurrection of the dying moments of the Dual Monarchy makes for vivid reading, one wishes that Miss Harding had elaborated on the wider significance of events which led directly to profound changes in the European map. In an almost offhand manner, the author brings up the question of the rights of national minorities, like the Croats and Ruthenians. With only superficial analysis, she baldly asserts that the principle of national self-determination cannot be realized in Central Europe. There must be at all times a Great Power to rule this heterogeneous mass of peoples who, if allowed to govern themselves, constitute an ever-present danger to the peace of Europe. And disposing of these absorbing problems with such vague generalizations, Miss Harding jerks the reader abruptly away from any further discussion and continues with her biographical narrative.
On the other hand, when dealing with the central theme, the author's treatment leaves little to be desired. Idealistic, hesitantly courageous Karl, and his almost recklessly brave wife stand out as worthy wearers of the public in a Central Europe torn by the jealous bickering of newly emancipated nationalities. Although Karl's abortive attempts to regain his Hungarian kingdom resemble a comic opera farce, Miss Harding's sympathetic understanding never fails to show his complete and sincere devotion to the Magyar people. Karl's efforts were doomed to frustration from the outset. Out of the wretched peace at Versailles came a new doctrine of brute force. Mercifully he did not live to see Vienna fall an easy prey to a remilitarized Prussia. Even as twilight descended upon the House of Hapsburg, darkness was once more beginning to fall all over Europe.
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