by Sybille Bedford, introduction by Brenda Wineapple
A Legacy is the tale of two very different families, the Merzes and the Feldens. The Jewish Merzes are longstanding members of Berlin’s haute bourgeoisie who count a friend of Goethe among their distinguished ancestors. Not that this proud legacy means much of anything to them anymore. Secure in their huge town house, they devote themselves to little more than enjoying their comforts and ensuring their wealth. The Feldens are landed aristocracy, well off but not rich, from Germany’s Catholic south. After Julius von Felden marries Melanie Merz the fortunes of the two families will be strangely, indeed fatally, entwined.
Set during the run-up to World War I, a time of weirdly mingled complacency and angst, A Legacy is captivating, magnificently funny, and profound, an unforgettable image of a doomed way of life.
A Legacy is the NYRB Classics Book Club selection for February 2015.by Sybille Bedford, introduction by Brenda Wineapple
One of the very best novels I have ever read.
Dry wit, careful attendance to detail, dialogue in which there is 'more to be said than can come through'—these are the hallmarks of Bedford's fiction. She shows the ways in which the private lives of individuals reflect the larger political life of their culture, and vice versa; she portrays the evolution of Nazism and Fascism where it really took place—in living rooms and kitchens and on benches.
There's such a wonderful tension between the hedonist and the historian in this author.
—Maria Bustillos, The Awl
A book of entirely delicious quality. Two families, vastly dissimilar, the one Jewish inartistic millionaires, the other slightly decadent Catholic aristocrats, become joined in marriage. Everything is new, cool, witty, elegant, and some scenes are uproariously funny.
A Legacy lives by its delightful tart and feline wit, and by its author's remarkable gift for capturing the breath of Europe past on the glass of fiction present.
At once historical novel and study of character, a collection of brilliantly objective portraits.
An astonishing and fascinating first novel.
Bedford's language is vibrant with an awareness of people and their manners and the countries that shape them; she moves in and out of European sensibilities with a natural ease. This reissue of A Legacy will give new readers a chance to swoon over her gracious felicities—and to come to share Bruce Chatwin's assessment that, 'when history of modern prose in English comes to be written, Mrs. Bedford will have to appear in any list of its most dazzling practitioners.'
A Legacy is a story from a vanished world, a world before the deluge, and it provides its reader with the disorienting, melancholy pleasure derived from looking at old maps. It is a sophisticated book with a cosmopolitan gloss which flatters the reader, induces a nostalgia for other people's past: for the vanished configurations of fallen empires, and days when the dice were shaken differently, where emotions were operatic and whims well-funded, where borders were crossed with ease but countries were different from each other, where beauty was viewed not merely as a personal asset but as part of an aesthetic tradition, and where raw experience had uncertain value till it was rationally examined and filtered through the lens of high culture...For a modern reader, some of the pleasure of A Legacy may be nostalgic, but the thrust of its intention is forward. What is the legacy of the nineteenth century, how and in what manner did it transform intolerant and divided societies into societies where mass murder was practiced?
—Hilary Mantel, The New York Review of Books
The extraordinary feat of A Legacy is to be both an intimate family drama and an objective exposition of history...A Legacy is as perfect as a novel gets. It’s written with the sentence-by-sentence intensity of a short story, the narrative sweep of a history, and the tragi-comic interest of a family drama. Moreover, it is as significant as a novel gets, full of the interest of people distant from us in time and custom but recognizably human, and effortlessly illustrative of a period and society lost to us but incalculably important for the world we live in. Read it.
—Robert Minto, Open Letters Monthly