Meyrink’s Walpurgisnacht is set in the castle district (Hradschin) of Prague during World War I. The aristocratic inhabitants of the district don’t view themselves as residents of Prague, and they are oblivious to the brewing civil unrest and the obsolescence of the Austrian political order. To this setting, add an apocalyptic occultist sensibility, according to which an ancestor possesses her descendent through the medium of a painted portrait, the one-eyed Hussite general Jan Žižka returns from the grave, and Lucifer visits the dreams of a retired court physician.
The narrative is impressionistic and mysterious, full of portents and wry observations. The flavor of the novel reminded me a lot of Moorcock’s Brothel in Rosenstrasse, which is set in the same part of the world during a previous war, with similar social myopias afflicting the characters, as well as twinning the themes of decadence and senescence. Walpurgisnacht has elements of the supernatural missing from the Moorcock book, though. Lucifer’s soliloquy in Chapter Seven is a piece of theological insight on a par with the similar exposition of Janicot in Cabell’s The High Place, but it goes further, in providing a glimpse of important magical doctrine.
The technique of aweysha, or magical domination of the personality, is important to the plot of the novel, but one of its fascinating features is the ambivalence of agency in such occult transactions. To what extent are those manipulating others themselves psychic puppets? The occult conundrum meshes perfectly with the moribund persistence of social custom and the horrors of violent revolution. [via]