Tüskés Anna írása

november 13th, 2020 § 0 comments

review

Gyor­gye­vics Ta­más. Szé­che­nyi Zsig­mond éle­te. Bu­da­pest: Ami­cus, 2018.

An­ni­ver­sary da­tes are tra­di­ti­o­nally oc­cas­ions to ce­le­b­ra­te a per­son or event. The bio­gra­phy of Zsig­mond Szé­che­nyi by Ta­más Gyor­gye­vics meets the cri­ter­ion in two ways: 2018 mar­ked the 120th an­ni­ver­sary of the birth of Szé­che­nyi and, furt­her­mo­re, the year co­in­ci­ded with the 90th an­ni­ver­sary of his se­cond, and at the same time his lon­gest, half-year-long journey to Ke­nya in 1928. Both were, in the­ir own ways, cru­ci­al in his life. The sto­ry of this journey was pre­ser­ved for­ever in his book Csui!… (chui means leo­p­ard in Swa­hi­li): the book was first pub­lis­hed in 1930, and its ele­venth edi­ti­on was re­le­as­ed in 2009. This richly il­lustra­ted book (80 il­lustra­tions) was inst­ru­men­tal in pre­sent­ing Kenya’s wild­life to Hun­ga­ri­ans. To ce­le­b­ra­te the­se achi­eve­ments, Gyor­gye­vics, who has re­se­ar­ched the life and work of Szé­che­nyi for over thirty ye­ars, has pub­lis­hed this bio­gra­phy. It is also richly il­lustra­ted, with 170 pho­tos from both ar­chi­val ma­te­ri­al and new pho­tos sho­wing the me­mor­ab­le buil­dings in the hunter-writer’s life in the­ir cur­rent sta­te. With this book, we can not only fol­low Széchenyi’s life al­most day by day, but we can also get an in­sight into the work­shop sec­rets of the trans­for­ma­ti­on of his hunt­ing and tra­vel ex­pe­ri­en­ces into li­ter­ary works.

Zsig­mond Szé­che­nyi (1898–1967) is the best-known fi­gu­re in the his­to­ry of Hun­ga­ri­an hunt­ing. His hunt­ing per­for­mance in itself wo­uld make it so, but his wi­des­pre­ad fame is ma­inly due to his books. He coll­ec­ted many things in his life: but­ter­f­li­es and stamps, por­ce­la­in birds and pas­sen­ger lists, ti­ger skins and el­ep­hant tusks, and, in ad­di­ti­on to all this, books on ani­mals and hunt­ing. He was not only an ex­cel­lent hun­ter and pho­to­gra­p­her, but also a writer: he pub­lis­hed fo­ur­teen books in his li­fe­ti­me, some of them were trans­la­ted into Ger­man, Eng­lish, Dutch and Slo­vak. Af­ter his death, se­ve­ral of his books were re­pub­lis­hed: with the ex­cept­ion of a sci­en­ti­fic work (Ma­ni­pu­la­tive Ma­nag­ement on Deer Po­pu­la­ti­on, 1948), they are all works of (semi-)fiction. Szé­che­nyi descri­bed his hunts so di­rectly, with so much ex­pe­ri­en­ce, that the re­ader, even if op­po­s­ed to the hunt, is al­most hap­py with the writer when, af­ter an ex­ci­ting sto­ry, he fi­n­ally ma­na­ges to ob­ser­ve, pho­to­gra­ph and som­etimes even kill the cho­s­en ani­mal. But per­haps even more in­ter­est­ing than his hunt­ing descript­ions are tho­se parts of his book that are abo­ut his ob­ser­va­tions of the lo­cal po­pu­la­tions. He writes and rew­rites his ex­pe­ri­en­ces with hu­mo­rous kind­ness.

As the bio­gra­p­her cla­ims in his Int­ro­duc­ti­on, “over the past de­ca­des, he had many op­por­tuni­ti­es to speak at length with Mrs. Zsig­mond Szé­che­nyi, who hel­ped him pro­cess her husband’s di­a­ri­es, let­ters, and pho­to al­bums. This book also con­ta­ins her per­so­nal mem­ori­es and the­se re­lics ment­ion­ed, in an at­tempt to give a true pic­tu­re of the fa­mous hun­ter and succ­ess­ful writer. One of the most im­por­tant sour­ces for the book is the di­ary of Széchenyi’s father, Vik­tor, in which he re­cor­ded the events of his life from his child­ho­od al­most to the day of his death. Of co­ur­se, the events of his son’s life were also inc­lu­ded in this di­ary, un­til the end of the sie­ge of Bu­da­pest and the death of the di­ary writer. Zsig­mond Szé­che­nyi himself kept se­ve­ral di­a­ri­es, but the­se are not or­di­nary di­a­ri­es that re­cord daily events. He also wro­te such things at times, as much of his books are tra­vel di­a­ri­es. More im­por­tant for his bio­gra­phy are his ot­her types of re­cords such as his hunter’s di­ary and his so-called awa­ke­ning di­ary. Both are an ir­rep­la­ce­ab­le sour­ce for gett­ing to know and un­der­stand his life.”

Szé­che­nyi had many Anglo-American con­nec­tions bet­ween the two world wars: he spent se­ve­ral weeks studying zoo­logy as a pay­ing guest at Christ’s Col­l­e­ge, Camb­ridge in the spring of 1923, and he took part in co­urs­ings in Tring, at the hou­se of Li­on­el Wal­ter Roth­schild, who­se sister-in-law was of Hun­ga­ri­an ori­gin. Land of El­ep­hants, his book on his hunt­ing ad­vent­ures in 1933–1934 in Ke­nya, Tanganyi­ka and Ugan­da, was pub­lis­hed in 1935 by Put­nam Books. In the same year, he hun­ted mo­o­se, Ko­di­ak bear, big­horn she­ep, and ca­ri­bou in Alas­ka. At the end of 1935, he met in Bu­da­pest his fu­tu­re first wife, Stel­la Crowt­her, daugh­ter of Da­vid Stoner Crowt­her, ow­ner of one of the lar­gest cloth-producing mills in York­s­hi­re, whom he mar­ried half a year la­ter. They had a son, but the­ir mar­riage soon broke down and Stel­la re­turned to Eng­land at the be­g­in­ning of the Se­cond World War.

Aware­ness of Szé­che­nyi has inc­re­as­ed in re­cent ye­ars in Hun­gary, beyond the circ­les of hun­ters who ne­ver for­got him. One year be­fo­re the pub­li­ca­ti­on of this bio­gra­phy, in 2017, the Na­tu­ral His­to­ry Mus­e­um in Bu­da­pest held an ex­hi­bit­ion exp­lor­ing Széchenyi’s life and work, to com­me­mo­ra­te the 50th an­ni­ver­sary of his death in 1967. This is the mus­e­um which con­ser­ves the va­lu­ab­le lib­rary of the hunter-writer and the ani­mals which Szé­che­nyi himself hun­ted for the museum’s coll­ec­tions in the 1960s. The se­cond de­ve­lop­ment which at­tests to and also promo­tes this “cult” is the re­le­a­se in 2019 of the film Close to The Wild – On The Path of Count Sig­mund Szé­che­nyi, di­rec­ted by the screenw­riter, di­rec­tor and ci­ne­ma­to­gra­p­her Já­nos Ler­ner with the ad­vi­ce of Gyor­gye­vics. The third phe­no­me­non is a port­ra­it sculp­tu­re ina­u­gu­ra­ted in July 2020 in Ba­la­ton­gyö­rök, whe­re Szé­che­nyi li­ved in the 1950s af­ter half a year of for­ced re­sett­le­ment be­ca­u­se of his sta­tus as “enemy” of the then po­li­ti­cal sys­tem. The ar­tist, La­jos Orr, de­pic­ted the ag­ing Szé­che­nyi in the act of writing, and the ri­fle and back­pack pla­ced in front of the bust base were props for the hi­ker and hun­ter. This is the fo­urth sculp­tu­re of Szé­che­nyi wit­hin the last six ye­ars.

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