The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is a novel by the Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, first published in 1916, which tells a tangled story of the French and German sons-in-law of an Argentine land. -owner who finds himself fighting on opposite sides in World War I.
Summary and Synopsis
A Frenchman named Marcelo Desnoyers traveled to Argentina in 1870, and married the oldest daughter of Julio Madariaga, the owner of a ranch. Finally, Marcelo, his wife and children, Julio and Chichi, return to France and live in a mansion in Paris. Julio turns out to be a pampered and lazy young man who avoids commitments and flirts with a married woman named Marguerite Laurier.
Meanwhile, Madariaga’s youngest daughter has married a German man named Karl Hartrott, and the Hartrotts return to Germany. The Desnoyers family and the Hartrott family face each other with the start of the First World War. However, Julius Desnoyers initially shows no interest in the war, while Hartrott’s family enthusiastically supports the German cause. Only after Marguerite, Julio’s mistress, lavishes attention on her husband after the latter is wounded in battle, Julio is forced to participate in the war.
While young Julio Desnoyers serves as a soldier, old Marcelo Desnoyers leaves the shelter and returns to his mansion, where he watches the German soldiers advance and eventually loot their belongings and eat their food. Finally, the French soldiers push back the German soldiers, and Marcelo chooses to defend a German man who had previously saved his life.
Julio Desnoyers returns to his family, wounded in a battle but praised for his courage, and quickly prepares himself to continue fighting. At the end of the war, Julio is killed in battle. The novel ends with Marcelo at his son’s grave, regretting that if his daughter, Chichi, has children, they will not bear the name “Desnoyers”. Marcelo discovers that Hartrott has also lost a son in the war.
The allegorical reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is declared by “Tchernoff”, a man who occupies one of the rooms of the apartment building where Julio resides. Tchernoff is “a Russian or Pole who almost always returned with a packet of books, and spent many hours writing near the patio window” (despite the initial ambiguity as to his nationality, he has since been described as Russian and socialist).
At the end of Part I, when Tchernoff, Julius Desnoyers, and their friend Argensola watch the French soldiers depart for battle, the drunken Tchernoff begins a wild monologue:
He suddenly jumped from thought to word without warning, continuing the course of his reasoning aloud.
“And when the sun rises in a few hours, the world will see the four horsemen, enemies of humanity, running through their fields… Already their wild steeds are scratching the ground with impatience; The evil riders have already gathered and are exchanging the last words before jumping into the saddle. “
Tchernoff goes on to describe the beast of the Apocalypse, and then the four horsemen who precede it: Plague (or Conquest), War, Hunger, and Death.
Part I ends with the statement, “The agony of humanity, under the brutal sweep of the four horsemen, had already begun!”
At the end of the novel, when Marcelo Desnoyers is at the grave of his son Julio, Desnoyers has come to believe that “there was no justice; the world was governed by blind chance ”, and he has a vision of the four horsemen, threatening to trample the earth once again:“ Everything else was a dream. The four riders were the reality… ”.
Genre: Historical fiction
Written at the beginning of the First World War, this novel ingeniously combines the author’s admiration for France and its revolutionary and democratic tradition with the story of an Argentine family that has close ties to Germany and France. What makes it a historical fiction novel.
Historical fiction presents a story set in the past, often over a significant period of time. In historical fiction, the time period is an important part of the setting and often of the story itself.
In some historical fictions, famous events appear from points of view not recorded in history, showing historical figures dealing with real events while depicting them in a way that is not recorded in history. Other times, the historical event or time period complements the narrative of a story, forming a framework and background for the characters’ lives. Sometimes historical fiction may be for the most part true, but the names of people and places have been altered in some way.
- Julio Madariaga: a tough and virile Spaniard who immigrates to Argentina. Madariaga earns a fortune buying land that no one wants and turning it into fine ranch land, supplied with cattle raised from an award-winning bull that is now filled and placed at the entrance to his salon. Madariaga kills or tames Indians, seduces local women, and leaves offspring wherever he wanders.
- Julio Desnoyers: the pampered and handsome son of the millionaire Marcelo Desnoyers. He is a hot-footed tango dancer and the heartthrob of numerous Parisian ladies. Julio falls in love with Marguerite Laurier, but when war makes her husband a hero, her war wounds remind her of her first love and duty.
- Marguerite Laurier: the beautiful and adulterous lover of Julio Desnoyers, whose not-so-secret dates with him begin on the dance floor and end in his Montmartre studio. The discovery of Marguerite’s husband, Etienne Laurier, led to marriage plans. Her husband’s uniform and heroism, however, embarrasses her over her lover’s failure to join the war effort.
- Argensola: Julio’s servant and confidant, who reads widely all the books that Julio, as a man of the world, has to be familiar with. Provide compact summaries of your content for your teacher’s edification. He keeps Julio’s closet full by storming the family’s pantry and cellar.
- Don Marcelo Desnoyers: the husband of Luisa Madariaga, the foreman and heir to the Madariaga ranch, and the millionaire father of Julio and Lusita. Most of the story is from Marcelo’s perspective.
One of the themes of the book is the contrast between the Teutonic values of Northern Europe and the culture of the peoples of the Latin Mediterranean. The worship of the false idols to which the Germans subscribe will bring, almost out of necessity, sadness and ruin to the German side of the family. German racism is mentioned in this book, although the subject of the superiority and purity of the Aryan race does not dominate the long list of accusations of German culture contained in the narrative.
The reader is supposed to be convinced that Latino culture is superior because it possesses, and enjoys, strong humanistic values and a more developed aesthetic sense. These virtues are worth fighting for and dying for, even for young Julio Madariaga, an irresponsible and frivolous Argentine national inspired to fight on behalf of the French for the sense of justice of their cause.
In The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the distorted and perverted notions of nationalism can triumph over common sense and family relationships. This would never happen in the New World, the author implies, where open borders allow those of many nations to live and prosper together.
The anti-war theme dominates the second part of the book. It is clear, on the one hand, that the author abhors war and its consequences and attributes it to narrow and selfish motives, such as a desire for power and territorial enlargement. On the other hand, he is not a pacifist; Blasco clearly believes that serving as a soldier in war, when fighting on the side of the French and their allies, is a noble and exemplary act and a true measure of heroism.