The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (novel)

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The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse (Spanish: Los cuatro jinetes del Apocalipsis) is a novel by the Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, first published in 1916, which tells a tangled tale of the French and German sons-in-law of an Argentinian land-owner who find themselves fighting on opposite sides in the First World War. Its 1918 English translation by Charlotte Brewster Jordan became the best-selling novel in the U.S in 1919 according to Publishers Weekly, who hailed it as "a superbly human story told by a genius". The novel was included in the list of 100 best novels of the twentieth century by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.[1]


A Frenchman named Marcelo Desnoyers travels to Argentina in 1870, and he marries the elder daughter of Julio Madariaga, the owner of a ranch. Eventually Marcelo, his wife, and his children Julio and Chichi move back to France and live in a mansion in Paris. Julio turns out to be a spoiled, lazy young man who avoids commitments and flirts with a married woman named Marguerite Laurier.

Meanwhile, Madariaga's younger daughter has married a German man named Karl Hartrott, and the Hartrotts move back to Germany. The Desnoyers family and the Hartrott family are thus set against each other with the onset of World War I. However, Julio Desnoyers initially shows no interest in the war, while Hartrott's family eagerly supports the German cause. It is only after Julio's lover, Marguerite, lavishes attention upon her husband after the latter is wounded in battle, that Julio is moved to participate in the war.

While young Julio Desnoyers serves as a soldier, the aging Marcelo Desnoyers leaves the shelter and returns to his mansion, where he watches the German soldiers advance and eventually plunder his belongings and eat his food. At last the French soldiers push back the German soldiers, and Marcelo chooses to defend a German man who had earlier spared Marcelo's life.

Julio Desnoyers returns to his family, wounded in a battle but praised for his valour, and he quickly sets out again to continue fighting. At the close 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 any children, they will not bear the name "Desnoyers." Marcelo finds that Hartrott, too, has lost a son in the war.

The "Four Horsemen"[edit]

The allegorical reference to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse is stated by "Tchernoff," a man occupying one of the rooms of the apartment building where Julio resides. Tchernoff is "a Russian or Pole who almost always returned with a package of books, and passed many hours writing near the patio window" (in spite of the initial ambiguity as to his nationality, he is thereafter described as a Russian, and a Socialist).[2]

At the end of Part I, as Tchernoff, Julio Desnoyers, and their friend Argensola watch the French soldiers leave for battle, the inebriated Tchernoff begins a wild monologue:

Suddenly he leaped from thought to word without any forewarning, continuing aloud the course of his reasoning.

"And when the sun arises in a few hours, the world will see coursing through its fields the four horsemen, enemies of mankind. . . . Already their wild steeds are pawing the ground with impatience; already the ill-omened riders have come together and are exchanging the last words before leaping 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, Famine, and Death.

Part I ends with the statement, "The agony of humanity, under the brutal sweep of the four horsemen, was 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 ruled by blind chance," and he has a vision of the four horsemen, threatening to trample the earth once more: "All the rest was a dream. The four horsemen were the reality. . . ."


The novel was made into a Hollywood film in 1921, starring Rudolf Valentino,[3] and again in 1962. The 1962 film takes place during World War II, rather than World War I.


  1. ^ "Lista completa de las 100 mejores novelas en castellano del siglo XX" El Mundo. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  2. ^ Ibanez, Vicente Blasco. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Trans. Charlotte Brewster Jordan.
  3. ^ Buergert, Kristen. 20th-Century American Bestsellers Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Retrieved 25 September 2013.

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