Frigyes Karinthy, Nyugat, & political change
in Hungary, 1908-1918

Mario D. Fenyo

Ernö Osvát was the most apolitical of the three editors, the one least inclined to express political opinions. The superlative loses some of its significance, however, if we recall that Osvát was very reluctant to express himself in writing on any subject at all; when he had to communicate with distant friends or relatives, including his wife, he much preferred to send a short cable. But no man is totally apolitical, or completely and exclusively political—homo politicus is an abstraction; and there are clues to be gleaned even from Osvát’s sparse publications. In a review of a work around the turn of the century Osvát commented to the effect that its author was conservative “as all intelligent people are” and liberal “as all honest people are.” [14] (We have seen, however, that the antinomy conservative-liberal is not particularly meaningful in the Hungarian context.) Osvát was well aware that literature, including poetry, may have a function: “The poet is best able to express the conscience of his time,” he wrote in 1898. [15] In 1911 Osvát was accused of being “petty” for having published a radical poem by Frigyes Karinthy (“Martinovics”—the only political poem he ever wrote) precisely at a time when the Magyar Figyelö, the counter-Nyugat, was scheduled to be launched; in other words, Osvát was accused of having exposed the Nyugat and himself to attacks from the right. [16] But he was attacked from the left as well; for instance, for his refusal to publish a naturalistic short story by Lajos Nagy, on the grounds that “merely spitting in the face of society does not constitute art . . .” [17] Witness also the denunciation by György Lukács, delivered long after Osvát’s death; Lukács complained that those articles in which he had stated his social views too clearly were rejected by Osvát outright. [18] It is a pity, to be sure, that the two did not arrive at a higher opinion of one another.

14 Osvát Ernö összes irásai [The Complete Writings of Osvát], ed. Kálmán Osvát (Budapest: Nyugat, 1945), 189.

15 Quoted by Miklós Lackó, “Osvát Ernö,” Uj irás, 16 (1976): 95.

16 Zsigmond Móricz to Artur Elek, 15 February 1911 in Móricz Zsigmond levelei [Letters of Móricz], 104-105.

17 Pál Kardos, Nagy Lajos élete és müvei [The Life and Works of Nagy] (Budapest: Bibliotheca, 1958), 32. It seems to me Osvát never finished reading the manuscript—which was published later in a rival review, the Renaissance—for at the end of this long short story the capitalist “villain” relents.

18 Review of “Osvát Ernö osszes irasai” (1947), reprinted in Magyar irodalom—magyar kultura, 377.

Elements of this [revolutionary] vanguard had not only taken cognizance of the Nyugat movement in the Socialist press; many of them had actually contributed to the journal: Ervin Szabó (who, however, died just before the revolutions), Ernö Bresztovszky, Béla Révész, Zsigmond Kunfi, Pál Kéri, not to mention future militants of the party such as Lukács, Balázs, or Tibor Déry.

The leadership of the Hungarian Republic of Councils publicly recognized Ady and, to a lesser extent, the Nyugat, as its cultural mentor; so had the leaders of the previous revolutionary regime, the bourgeois radicals who had held power for a few months following October 1918. After all, to paraphrase Lenin, there was no Chinese wall separating the bourgeois-democratic revolution from the Socialist revolution. Otto Korvin, the chief of the political police of the Republic, was to pay his homage to literature in prison; having acquired a sanguinary reputation while in office, he became one of the victims and martyrs of the counterrevolution. During his days on death-row he found comfort in keeping a diary. This diary is filled with literary references, and includes an exalted litany to nature and to books, somewhat in the style of St. Francis of Assisi. Along with the names of Baudelaire, Tolstoy, Zola, Flaubert, Romain Rolland, Reiner [sic] Maria Rilke, and some others less familiar to the modern reader, Korvin itemizes:

I thank Endre Ady for every line he wrote: he was the first to find an echo in me. I thank Dezsö Szomory for his Isteni kert [Divine Garden], Kosztolányi for his Szegény kisgyermek panaszai [Lamentations of a Poor Child] and especially for his “Öszi koncert” [Autumn Concert], I thank Ignotus for his Tavaszi rügyek [Vernal Buds] ... I thank Karinthy for his “Martinovics” poem. . . . [55]

All these writers were part of the Nyugat; Korvin did not mention any who were not.

55 “"Korvin Ottó börtönnaplója” [The Prison Diary of Korvin], Kritika, 1975, No. 3, 5: and passim. The same diary and other documents pertaining to Korvin are reprinted in Otto Korvin “. . . a gondolat él. . .” [. . .the Idea Lives . . .], ed. András Simor (Budapest: Magvetö, 1976.

Szabó’s categories do not exhaust the range of accusations leveled at Nyugat; another widely accepted view, especially in clerical circles, was that there existed a declared or undeclared alliance between Nyugat and the Socialists; or even that the Nyugat writers were themselves crypto-Socialists. “These modern writers are all Socialists, yet they have a total disregard for those whom the Socialists intend to help, namely the people . . . ,” wrote a Protestant clergyman of Debrecen at the time of the first Nyugat “matinee” held in that city. [42] A prominent right-radical journalist who was to contribute, later, to the rise of native fascism spoke of “the community of interest of the capitalists and radicals” which had guided and encouraged Nyugat, while Nyugat supported them in turn. [43] There was scarcely a conservative critic who did not make an association between Socialism and the new literature. [44] Often the point of departure for these “charges” was Ady’s provocations of the Tisza regime and his genuine support of the Social Democrats, sufficient for the entire literary movement to become the target of “political fire.” [45] Even Frigyes Karinthy, the most brilliant wit in the Nyugat constellation, but one who deliberately abstained from any political involvement beyond pacifism, and who was among the very few to stay aloof from the Republic of Councils of 1919, was referred to as a “poor, idiotic Socialist” in the reactionary clerical press. [46]

42 Quoted by Pál Kardos, “A ‘Nyugat’ debreceni kapcsolatai,” in Acta Universitatis Debreceniensis de Ludovico Kossuth Nominate (1955), 99.

43 Cited in György Litván, 57.

44 A magyar irodalom története, 5: 34.

45 Aladár Schöpflin, A magyar irodalom története a XX. században (Budapest: Grill Károly, 1973), 131.

46 Review of Nyugat as periodical by Péter Nagy in Magyar Kultura, 3 (1915): 134.

Long before the war, and long before the famous “Fortissimo” case, Hungarian writers had been prosecuted for certain types of “misdemeanors”: Frigyes Karinthy, for instance, was charged with “antireligious agitation and blasphemy” (reminiscent of the type of charges leveled at the philosophes of the Enlightenment), as he revealed in a protest letter published in Nyugat (April 1909):

The censorship before the revolution would be more clement towards me if it understood that my satire is directed against anti-social tendencies. . . . It is incredible that I should have to bear the police in mind while writing, here, in a civilized country. . . . [59]

Nota bene, Karinthy did not bother to explain the source of his revolutionary vision; what could he have meant by “before the revolution” in 1909, ten years before the political revolution broke out?

59 Nyugat, 1 (1909): 448.

SOURCE: Fenyo, Mario D. Literature and Political Change: Budapest, 1908-1918. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1987. (Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 77, part 6, 1987) These excerpts: pp. 54-55, 118, 127, 130.

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

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

Georg Lukács’ The Destruction of Reason: Selected Bibliography

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


Ignác Martinovics - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Martinovics” par Frigyes Karinthy
(poem in French translation)

Martinovics” par Frigyes Karinthy
(du recueil Tout est autrement = Minden másképpen van)

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