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Rebecca West
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon
A Journey through Yugoslavia

Black Lamb and Falcon Grey

Black Lamb and Gray Falcon by the late Dame Rebecca West was first published in two volumes in 1941 (in the US) by the Viking Press. The first paperback edition was published by Penguin Books in 1982.
From the back cover

"[It] is widely recognized as Rebecca West's most distinguished non-fiction work. It describes a journey she and her husband took through Yugoslavia in 1937, a journey overshadowed by the growing inevitability of the Second World War. The landscape and people of Yugoslavia, its history, cultures, religions and politics, are brilliantly observed as Rebecca West untangles the tensions that rule the country's history as well as its daily life."

"A masterpiece. As astonishing in its range, in the subtlety and power of its judgment, as it is brilliant in expression." The Times.

"Her magnum opus. A magnificent achievement" The Guardian.

"Brilliant and penetrating" Contemporary Review.

"As astonishing as it is brilliant...That it is Miss West's magnum opus goes without saying... one of the great books of our time." Clifton Fadiman

Bibliographic Notes

"I do not propose to give a complete list of the sources I have consulted for the purposes of these two volumes , for two reasons.

One is the consideration of space. So many issues are raised by any study of the Balkans that the student has to cast his nets far and wide. To gain any insight into the South Slav mind it is necessary to have a clear picture of both the Byzantine Empire and its legacy to the modern world....

The other reason for curtailing the list is the peculiar character of the literature which deals with the Balkans. A large proportion of it is propaganda bought and paid for by the great powers. An even larger proportion represents a sour controversy between birds of two different feathers, persons who do not like oppression and cruelty and persons who do, both content to beat their wings in the empyrean of ignorance."

Herzegovina, Trebinye

....I looked up at the mountain and wondered which gully had seen the military exploits of my admired Jeanne Merkus.

That, now, was a girl: one of the most engaging figures in the margin of the nineteenth century, sad proof of what happens to Jeanne d'Arc if she is unlucky enough not to be burned. She was born in 1839, in Batavia, her father being Viceroy of the Dutch East Indies. Her mother came of a clerical Walloon family, and was the divorced wife of a professor in Leiden University. Jeanne was sixth in the family of four boys and four girls. When she was five her father died, and she was brought home to Holland, where she lived with her mother at Amsterdam and The Hague until she was nine. Then her mother died and she went to live with an uncle, a clergyman, who made her into a passionate mystic, entranced in expectation of the second coming of Christ.

It happened that when she was twenty-one she inherited a fortune far larger than falls to the lot of most mystics. Her peculiar faith told her exactly what to do with it. She went to Palestine, bought the best plot of ground she could find near Jerusalem, and built a villa for the use of Christ. She lived there for fifteen years, in perpetual expectation of her divine guest, and conceiving as a result of her daily life a bitter hatred against the Turks.

When she heard of the Bosnian revolt she packed up and went to the Balkans, and joined the rebels. She came in contact with Lyubibratitch, the Herzegovinian chief, and at once joined the forces in the field, attaching herself to a party of comitadji led by a French officer. We have little information as to where she fought, for very little has been written, and nothing in detail, about this important and shameful episode of European history. We have an account of her, one winter's night, struggling single-handed to fire a mine to blow up a Turkish fortress among the mountains when all the rest of her troop had taken to their heels, and failing because the dynamite had frozen. It is almost our only glimpse of her as a campaigner.

Jeanne's more imortant work lay in the outlay of her fortune, which she spent to the last penny in buying Krupp munitions for the rebels. But as soon as the revolt was proven success the Austrians came in and took over the country, and in the course of the invasion she was captured. She was set free and allowed to live in Dubrovnik, but she eluded the authorities and escaped over the mountains to Belgrade , where she enlisted in the Serbian Army. There the whole population held a torch-light serenade under her window, and she appeared on the balcony with a round Montenegrin cap on her fair hair.

But there was to be no more fighting. The action of the great powers had perpetuated an abuse that was not to be corrected till thirty-five years later, and then at irreparable cost to civilization, in the Balkan wars and first World War. There was nothing for Jeanne to do, and she had no money to contribute to the nationalist Balkan funds. The Turks had seized the house in Jerusalem which she had prepared for Christ, and, not unnaturally, would pay her no compensation. We find her moving to the French Riviera, where she lived in poverty. Sometimes she went back to Holland to see her family, who regarded her visits with shame and repugnance, because she talked of her outlandish adventures, wore strange comitadji-cum-deaconess clothes, smoked big black cigars, and was still a believing Christian of a too ecstatic sort... The relatives who remained insensible to her charm carried their insensibility to the extreme degree of letting her live on Church charity at Utrecht for the last years of her life, though they themselves were wealthy. When she died in 1897 they did not pay for her funeral, and afterwards theyeffaced all records of her existance within their power.

It is important to note that nothing evil was known of Jeanne Merkus. Her purity was never doubted. But she never achieved martyrdom, and the people for whom she offered up her life and possessions were poor and without influence. She therefore, by series of actions which would have brought her the most supreme honor had she acted in an imortant Western state as a member of the Roman Catholic Church in the right century, earned a rather ridiculous notoriety that puts her in the class of a pioneer bicyclist or Mrs. Bloomer

Author describes her and her husband's conversation with a Serb and a Jew from Sarajevo.

"'the Turkish Empire went from here in 1878, but the Slav Moslims remained, and when Austria took control it was still their holiday. For they were the favourites of the Austrians, far above the Christians, far above the Serbs or Croats'. "But why was that?' asked my husband. 'It was because of the principle, Divide et impera', said the banker. It was odd to hear the phrase from the lips of one of its victims. 'Look, there were fifty or sixty thousand people in the town,' said the banker. 'There were us, the Jews, who are of two kinds, the Sephardim, from Spain and Portugal, and others, the Ashkenazi, who are from Central Europe and the East, and that is a division. Then there were the Christian Slavs, who are Croats and Serbs, and that is a division. But lest we should forget our differences, they raised up the Molsems who were a third of the population, to their allies against the Christians and the Jews.'

Their faces darkening with the particular sullenness of rebels, they spoke of their youth, shadowed by the double tyranny of Austria and the Moslems. To men of their position, for both came from wealthy and influential families, that tyranny had been considerably mitigated. It had fallen with a far heavier hand on the peasants and the inhabitants of the poorer towns, and there it meant a great deal of imprisonment and flogging, and occasional executions. But to these people there had been a constant nagging provocation and a sense of insult. The Molsems were given the finest schools and colleges, the best posts in the administration were reserved for them, they were invited to all official functions and treated as honoured guests, the railway trains were held up at their hours of prayer. The Turkish land system, which grossly favoured the Moslems at the expense of the Christians, was carefully preserved intact by his Catholic majesty the Emperor Franz Joseph. And it was a special source of bitterness that the Austrians had forced their way into Bosnia after the Slavs had driven out the Turks, on the pretext that they must establish a garrison force to protect the Christians there in case the Turks came back. That they should then humiliate the Christians at the hand of those Moslems who had stayed behind seemed to these men an inflaming piece of hypocrisy which could never be forgotten of forgiven.


'When I went to Berlin to study for my degree,' said the banker, 'I used to feel ashamed because the Germans took me as an equal, and here in my house I was treated as an inferior to men with fezes on their heads, to Orientals'."

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