Slaves in their Chains
Translated by J.M.Q. Davies
‘Slaves in their Chains condenses more than fifty years of inexorable social change that began with the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece in 1864. This powerful novel, fluently and compellingly rendered into English for the first time, deserves to be much better known.
‘This is Corfu, but not as you’ve ever known it. Of the lush olive groves, shimmering crags and soft Mediterranean colours made famous in the landscapes of Edward Lear, or the travel writing of Lawrence Durrell, the most you’ll find in these pages are a ruined Venetian fortress or a bird in a lilac tree, glimpsed through a window. […] Konstantinos Theotokis’s masterly anatomy of the old ruling class of his native island in terminal decline is as tightly constructed and claustrophobic as a tragedy by Ibsen or Strindberg.
‘Old Count Ophiomachos is broke. Every step that might save his family from ruin involves trampling on ancient notions of honour. His sons are feckless dandies. His daughter Eulalia is bullied into giving up the love of her life for a dreary marriage to a wealthy arriviste. […] These people are doomed, and the novel follows the intersecting paths of their doom with an anatomist’s precision.
‘The characters are drawn with great sensitivity. Old Ophiomachos swings wildly between extremes of rage, self-abasement and genuine love and compassion, and by the end he invites comparison with King Lear. The voluptuous Aimilia Valsami is violently torn between love and hate: her thoughts are rendered, often while she lies in bed, in free-flowing sentences reminiscent of Proust or Joyce (Ulysses was published in the same year as this novel, 1922).’
Excerpts from review by Roderick Beaton in the TLS, 11 July 2014 (page 19)
KONSTANTINOS THEOTOKIS (1872–1923) came from an ancient family which fled to Corfu after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. As a student in Paris he lived extravagantly, neglected his studies and without taking his degree moved to Venice. At the age of nineteen he married a Catholic Bohemian baroness considerably older than himself, from whom ten years later he became estranged. On the dilapidated Theotokis country estate in Corfu he immersed himself for two decades in philosophy, Sanskrit and European literature, wrote powerful Naturalist short fiction about Corfiot aristocratic and peasant life, and produced a distinguished body of translations of classic European literature.
In 1897 Theotokis took part in the Cretan insurrection against the Turks, after which he turned towards marxism and helped found a socialist club. In the lead-up to the Great War he endorsed the pro-Entente policies of Greece’s liberal Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos. The novel Slaves in their Chains (1922) is his most personal work and artistically his finest. He died of stomach cancer at the age of fifty-one.