A Review by Anna Tüskés

december 22nd, 2017 § 0 comments


Csapody Miklós, A Magyar PEN Club története: 1926–2016 [The History of the Hungarian PEN Club: 1926–2016], 1–2, Budapest, Magyar PEN Club, 2016.

The publication of Csapody’s book coincides with the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian PEN Club in the spring of 1926. The author, Miklós Csapody, is a Hungarian literary historian, journalist, politician and parliamentary representative (1990–2010). He wrote mainly about the graphic artist Gusztáv Cseh, the ethnographer and art historian Sándor Bálint, and the writer and politician Miklós Bánffy.

The first volume of the reviewed book contains the systematic presentation of the history of the Hungarian PEN Club, divided into three main periods: from the foundation until the second world war (under the direction of Dezső Kosztolányi), between 1945 and 1989 (under the direction of Jenő Heltai, István Sőtér and Iván Boldizsár), and since the change of regime in 1989 (under the direction of Miklós Hubay). The author analyzes the important events and personalities of the Hungarian PEN Club and interprets its history on the basis of newspaper articles, and documents in the archives of the Hungarian PEN Club and in the state security archives. This main part is preceded by an introduction by the current president of the Hungarian PEN Club, the poet and politician Géza Szőcs, and followed by a bibliography, an index of persons and places, and some one hundred archival photographs. On the whole, it is an objective, analytical study with exciting explanations, although sometimes with dry enumerations.

The second volume contains 153 documents and 27 papers (lists of members in every period, participants of events, activities, publications etc.) illustrating the most important events and turning points of the Hungarian PEN Club’s foundation, the international congress in Budapest in 1932, the last years of the Second World War, and the revolution of 1956 and its aftermath. Such a collection makes the volume an interesting chrestomathy of the international relations of Hungarian literature. These newly published documents originating from the archives of the Hungarian PEN Club throw light upon crucial details of friendships, alliances, conflicts, moral and literary judgements, and compromises. These reflect the relation of the participants to the political power and the contemporary national and international relation network of the writers.

Even the two 500-page volumes could not include all materials and thus contain a selection of the documents. Other collections where highly relevant unpublished sources can be found include the fonds of the members of the PEN Club in the Manuscript Department of the Petőfi Literary Museum, Budapest. These are fonds of the Hungarian members, foreign members residing for a shorter or longer time in Hungary, and Hungarian members living abroad. I would like to mention some details about the activity of two persons, namely the French diplomat, poet and writer François Gachot, and the Hungarian poet and translator Ágnes Nemes Nagy, both members of the Hungarian PEN Club. Gachot’s and Nemes Nagy’s official and private letters shed light upon these two writers’ personal stories, especially in an international context. These personal stories keep alive the otherwise very important but dry data.

The reader comes to know many facts about Ágnes Nemes Nagy from Csapody’s book: for example, she was the author and editor of the literary journal Újhold (New Moon), founded in December 1946; she did not sign the statement against the discussion of the “Hungarian Question” in the United Nations in September 1957; she visited the events organized by the British Embassy in Budapest in the 1960s; the directorate of the Hungarian PEN proposed her as a member of the delegate to the international congress in Frankfurt in 1959, but eventually she did not participate; she organized performances dedicated to the poets György Rónay and László Kálnoky in 1967; she participated in the world congress in Dublin organized for the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the International PEN Club in 1971; she spoke about the importance of the adaptation of Hungarian poetry at the general meeting in 1972. In 1985 the secretary general István Bart recommended to promote the oeuvre of five Hungarian poets abroad, among them those of Nemes Nagy, in the interest of a possible literary Nobel Prize.

All these pieces of information are complemented by the fonds of Nemes Nagy, which contain four French letters written by and to the Hungarian poet and Pierre Emmanuel, the president of the French P.E.N. Club in March–April 1975. We get to know that Nemes Nagy was asked to deliver a lecture about the “the creative woman” for the Women’s Day organized by the French PEN, on 22 May, 1975 in Paris. She arrived in Paris with the delegation of the Hungarian PEN, who arrived for the meeting of the Executive Committee.

François Gachot lived in Budapest between 1924 and 1949. He taught French language, literature and culture first in the Eötvös Collegium, later in a secondary school, and from the 1930s, at the College of Fine Art, Budapest. In 1926 he married the Hungarian Irén Laborcz. He learned to speak Hungarian fluently, and he became enthusiastic about Hungarian literature and painting. He adapted many Hungarian poems and novels in French, and he was committed to promoting Hungarian literature worldwide. In 1949 he was expelled from Hungary on the basis of accusations made in connection with conceptual lawsuits.

From Csapody’s book we get to know that after the Second World War the provisional committee of the Hungarian PEN elected 87 writers to be members, among them Gachot, who gave lectures on the position of French writers and literature. He also organized a Hungarian-French society. In 1949 he was considered a French spy, and his Hungarian friends were all under suspicion and surveillance in the 1950s. During the direction of Iván Boldizsár, the adaptation program had chief importance in the activities of the Hungarian PEN. From the 1970s Boldizsár could invite many foreign translators of Hungarian literature to Budapest. After 20 years, Gachot finally visited Budapest and his Hungarian friends in 1972. On this occasion he was honoured with the medallion of the Hungarian PEN (photograph on p. 788).

From the many letters of Gachot conserved in the Manuscript Department of the Petőfi Literary Museum, this image can be complemented with many details. The correspondence between Gachot and the painter Ilona Tallós given to the Manuscript Department of the Petőfi Literary Museum in Spring 2017 is a testimony of a long friendship, with a 20-year interruption in the 1950s and 1960s. After his visit in 1972, Gachot wrote to Tallós: “You can imagine my surprise when, during the reception given by the Union of Hungarian Writers to the invitation of which we have been able to return to Budapest as official guests, I saw a great young man, your son having received the invitation card which I had sent to you, still believing you in Hungary. He told me that you were remarried and lived in Linz. So I renew contact with you after several years of silence to hear from you and deprived from the knowledge if you continue to paint, what I hope. I had the opportunity to talk about you in Budapest with Csohány that we went to see, and we were happy, Irene and me, to get to know and see the engravings and drawings”. Gachot also wanted to meet his old friend, Béla Czóbel, but from the letter of the painter we knew that this didn’t happen: “My dear François, Thank you for the invitation. You will excuse me that I will not be present at this friendly meeting, I am the last 2 weeks exhausted, tired almost unable to move to my regret. They will celebrate you, as you deserve as a great friend of Hungarian writers and painters. Yours affectionately, Béla”.

This invitation by the Hungarian PEN Club was a turning point in Gachot’s life. From 1972 he renewed his friendship with his old friends, Hungarian literary journals (for example, Nagyvilág and Irodalomtörténet) published his writings, and he wrote articles on Hungarian literature for French Journals (for example, Nouvelle Revue Française). In a letter of October 1974, written by Gachot to the Hungarian poet and writer György Somlyó, he asks for advice: “So I think this first paper could be about poetry. Perhaps you could indicate to me in this case, apart from the names I know well, who, in your opinion, are the young people who should be mentioned and to whom I could address myself so that the poem collections can be sent to me, that I would have to talk about?” From the letters written by Gachot to Somlyó and his other Hungarian friends (for example the painter Ilona Tallós and the editor Endre Bajomi Lázár), we get to know that he translated into French three novels by Gyula Krúdy, which Gallimard wanted to publish at first, but which finally Corvina only edited after his death in 1986 (with the title of Pirouette).

Gachot came to Budapest at the invitation of the Hungarian PEN Club by Boldizsár for the last time in May 1985, at the age of 84, right before his death, to give a lecture about Gyula Krúdy to the PEN Club. On that occasion he wanted to realise the reediting of his tale Kakas Ferkó diadala (Kakas Ferkó’s triumph), which had been first edited by Cserépfalvi in 1943, with illustrations by the young talented painter, Ilona Tallós. This reediting was never realised.

These two details show that the facts of a well-documented book on the history of the Hungarian PEN Club by Csapody can be coloured by some more human stories.

A szerző az MTA BTK Irodalomtudományi Intézete
tudományos munkatársa (Bibliográfiai Osztály)


A Magyar PEN Club megalapításának 90. évfordulóján, 2016-ban, két kötetben megjelent monográfia és forrásgyűjtemény az intézmény történetét három korszakra bontva tárgyalja: a megalapítástól a második világháború végéig, 1945 és 1989 között, valamint 1989 után. A szerző elemzi a fontos eseményeket, végigtekinti a Club életében betöltött kulcsszemélyiségeket és szerepüket. A kötetek forrásait a korabeli újságcikkek, a Magyar PEN Klub archívuma és az Állambiztonsági Szolgálatok Történeti Levéltára iratai alkotják. Azt állíthatjuk, hogy összességében egy objektív, elemző munkát tarthatunk a kezünkben, amely az izgalmas magyarázatok mellett olykor száraz névfelsorolásokat is tartalmaz. Az első kötetet, amelyet bibliográfia, személy- és helynév mutató, valamint több mint száz archív fénykép egészít ki, a költő és politikus Szőcs Géza, a Magyar PEN Club jelenlegi elnökének előszava vezeti be. A második kötet 153 dokumentumot és 27 iratot tartalmaz (a tagok listája minden időszakban, a rendezvények résztvevői, tevékenységek, kiadványok stb.), amelyek a legfontosabb eseményeket és fordulópontokat mutatják be. Ilyenek az alapítás, az 1932-es budapesti nemzetközi kongresszus, a második a világháború és az 1956-os forradalom és utóhatásai. Írásomban igyekeztem néhány apró adalékkal szolgálni a Magyar PEN Club ún. „személyes” vagy „emberi” történeteihez úgy, hogy a Club két tagjának a levelezésére, annak izgalmas részleteire hívtam fel a figyelmet. Nemes Nagy Ágnesnek és François Gachot-nak a Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeumban őrzött levelezése szép példája annak, hogy az adatok mögött rejtőző ilyen és hasonló személyes történetek árnyalni tudják, sőt „élettelivé” tehetnek egy olyan összefoglaló igényű művet, amely egy szervezet történetét kívánja dokumentálni.


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