Frederick Karinthy

The Moral


When I was seventy-eight I discovered that my wife had been betraying me with another man for fifty-four years, so I went to St. Margaret’s Bridge and took a lovely header into the river, thereby winning the diving championship of the Metropolitan Athletic Club. Subsequently, I established a record in under-water swimming, for I stayed under water for two and a half days, whereas my nearest rival, Kankovsky, could only bear it for two minutes and nineteen and a half seconds.


St. Peter was sitting in front of the projector, winding up the film of my life on a spool. When I arrived he had just reached the scene where I jump into the river, and as the audience—a number of saints and angels—were excessively amused at the way I kicked and struggled in the water, I became so angry that I gave St. Peter’s arm a strong pull, which caused a piece of the film to be torn off.

“Fool!” cried St. Peter. “How do you think I’m going to take it off the spool now, what? I must run it off again—backwards. A fine sight that’ll make. I’m afraid you’ll have to go back where you came from.”

And with that he began to run off the film of my life from the end.


The next instant I shot out of the Danube feet upwards, and jumped on to the bridge. Then walking backwards, I went home. I backed up to the third floor and shut the door of my flat, whereupon it opened. Backing through the hall into the drawing room, I sat down on the settee.


I retired for a few minutes, then I returned to the room and began to digest my lunch. Soon after lunch was ready, the maid backed in with the dirty plates and I sat down at the table and began to take bits of roast chicken from my mouth with a knife and fork, placing them on my plate and piecing them together. Then, having emptied the soup from my mouth, spoonful by spoonful, I rose and glanced at my watch. It was half past one, and I had to be at the office by one o’clock, so I hurriedly backed out of the room. The half smoked cigarette in my mouth became bigger and bigger, until finally I lighted it and replaced it in my pocket.


Ten years later my hair began to turn black and teeth gradually returned to my mouth. I was deprived of my pension and had to sit at the office doing my work from the end right to the beginning. My employers were very kind to me, but after twenty-five years they ceased to know me and engaged me on trial at fifteen pounds a month. So there I stood, back to front of course, without money and without a job, but with a wife who grew prettier and loved me more every day.


I was now twenty-five years old. I ran away with my wife backwards, taking her back to her father and falling in love with her for the first time. On a sinful night of passion she fell into my arms three times running (backwards), whereupon I became more timid and tried to touch her lovely hand, but she withdrew it. Finally, we met and I was introduced to her. Then I never saw her again.


Having obtained my degree, I plunged into my carefree student life. I was young and happy and I loved to study, so I knew less and less as time went back. At the age of eighteen I matriculated, my moustache vanished, and as I shrunk into my clothes I forgot more and more of what I knew. At the age of fourteen I recovered from cholera, which almost proved fatal, but then I became infected with the disease and so I was out of danger. After that I lived a quiet life. First I began to lisp, then I forgot to speak, and when I was small enough I crawled back into the cradle on all fours and the memory of what happened next is all confused.


When I came before St. Peter for the second time he had just finished the spool. He smiled at me and raising his hands he said, no doubt in an attempt to instruct the assembled saints and angels:

“You who’ve lived twice, and have experienced everything backwards, thus enjoying an opportunity to look deep into the secrets of life—will you tell us what moral you’ve gathered on the path which ordinary mortals only traverse once, but which by the infinite Grace of God you’ve traversed twice.”

Placing my finger thoughtfully on the tip of my nose I reflected. Then:

“I’ve only learned one thing,” I said.

“And what might that be?”

“That expressionist poetry’s just as meaningless when read backwards as it is when read in the ordinary way.”

SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes [Frederick]. “The Moral,” in Soliloquies in the Bath, translated by Lawrence Wolfe, illustrated by Franz Katzer (London; Edinburgh; Glasgow: William Hodge and Company Limited, 1937), pp. 7- 10.

Frigyes Karinthy, Humorist and Thinker” by Miklós Vajda

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Select Bibliography

Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide

Alireteje / Offsite:

Frigyes Karinthy @ Ĝirafo

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