Author's page

Biography

1887 born József Brenner, in Szabadka (now Subotica, Serbia)
1895 his mother dies
1902- 1904 receives several school prizes for his literary papers
1903 his first writings appear in the journal Bácskai Hírlap
1904 after an unsuccessful entrance exam to the academy of music, he enrols in the Medical School of Budapest
1909 works as a medical assistant in the Moravcsik Institute of Psychiatry
1909-1912 musical reviewer for journals
1910 first experiences with morphine
1913 beginning of addiction to morphine; marries Olga Jónás; works as a physician in Palics spa
1914 joins the army and serves on the Eastern Front
1914 exempted from service and works again as a doctor
1919 unsuccessful detoxication
1919 shoots and kills his wife and commits suicide

The Magician's Garden
1908

As a doctor and writer Csáth's main interest was to describe the workings of the human soul. In his first stories decadent symbolism is still present - it was some time before he left behind these parables for the sake of accurate description. Instead of accepting the style of naturalism, he used allegory and anecdote. The stories here are sometimes lyrical, sometimes objective; the narrator is sometimes part of the story, other times not. Broken harmony is at their core, but only those characters strong both mentally and physically can cope with the world they are in - the others descend into madness or die. Dreams and mystical tales, childhood fantasies show a world very different from everyday life.

The Subordinate Judge and His Folks, and Other Short Stories
1909

Only five short stories are included in this thin volume. It failed to arouse interest when first published, especially as two of the stories had already been published in the previous collection. The other three stories are simple and impressive. In the first, a man goes to fetch and bury his deceased father’s skeleton, which has been used at a clinic. In the second, a middle-class woman has a fever and is kissed by her doctor; when gossip spreads in town, the wise husband declares the story untrue in a public advertisement. In the third, a boy tells the story of his pocket knife. These sharp, ironic, almost humorous stories are told from the perspective of the observant physician.

Ash Wednesday
1911

Csáth termed Hamvazószerda (Ash Wednesday) a marionette play, because, as he wrote, "[I]t is a lyrical presentation of a feeling, together with all connecting images, memories and thoughts. I wrote melodramatic music to accompany it, mingling music and play to increase the symbolical effect of the action." Together with his other play, Janika, it has provoked admiration together with fierce criticism.

The Psychic Mechanism of Mental Disorders
1911

Csáth, working at the time at the Institute of Psychiatry, learnt about the ideas of Sigmund Freud and was tempted to work out his own theory. This experiment presented now to the reader is, to the best of my knowledge, the first detailed and thoroughly processed analysis of paranoia Csáth gives a detailed study of the reasons responsible for the neurosis of his patient, Miss G. A. He was especially insterested in this particular case because the patient herself was a writer who discussed in treatises the nature of a mystic force governing her actions.

Composers' Portraits
1911

Csáth was a talented painter and excellent violin player. As a journalist he was among the first to praise the works of Bartók and Kodály. This collection of essays is the culmination of his career as a music critic.

Afternoon Dream
1911

A collection of 12 short stories written between 1907 and 1911, dedicated to different colleagues and friends. Some of the stories are told by the same narrator (often resembling Csáth himself) in the manner of a tragi-comical anecdote. This narrator is a medical doctor or a child or youngster called Józsi (Csáth's original name was József Brenner). The stories are analytical descriptions of the workings of the human soul: sometimes cruel, sometimes dreamy, sometimes crazy, sometimes banal. The title story is purposely placed at the beginning: it describes the narrator's dream, dreamt in an interval of only a quarter hour (showing how much real and fictitious time differ). The dream is about a mute countess, who lives somewhere in the fantasy land of the Arabian Nights. She is pale and beautiful, but is unable to cry, and therefore to love. The narrator falls in love with this doomed woman, who suffers because of a curse - she can only be saved by her own child, who's death might lead the woman to cry, and thus to love. They marry but are unhappy, until their saviour is born, and dies. They bury the child, the countess' tears flow freely, and she can love freely - they appear saved. The other stories of the collection also show that only dreams and childhood recollections can save us from dull reality, together with drugs (see the short story Opium), as all of these manipulate time and create parallel worlds. The second story, "Anyagyilkosság" (Matricide) is Csáth's most famous text (adapted for the screen by the Hungarian director János Szász). It relates the story of a murder, and shows the terrifyingly straightforward way in which two half-orphan boys end up killing their mother without any remorse. Childhood here is the terrain of wild and unbridled instincts: the boys play with pain and vivisect animals, to saturate their curiosity and immature sexual drives. When they visit a prostitute and discover the thrilling pleasure of torturing her, the young woman asks them to bring her something in return. They try to rob their mother, but when she wakes up, they murder her in cold blood, and give her jewels to the prostitute. Then they go to school and calmly wait to be called home when their mother's body is found. The remaining stories are about childhood (Józsika, Nagy Balázs - Kis Balázs), children possessing a fantasy world of their own; commonplace, naïve women who are ridiculous in their banal tragedies (Johanna), seduction (Pista), or a meticulous, wonderful description of a Budapest square seen through the eyes of a child (A Kálvin téren). The final story (Hegyszoros) repeats the opening motif and tells a tale, or rather a parable, of life and death, and the impossibility of redemption. Readers are tempted to read the stories of the collection as a whole, as a continuous story about one and the same person. The style is that of a Freudian observer, an objective observer who still thirsts for wonders.

The Honeybread-maker Schmith
1912

The first, title story reflects on the nature of fiction itself. The narrator invents a medieval story simply in order to evoke the interest of his audience, a lady. Although this particular story ends with the terrible death of the Honeybread-maker Schmith, the others have more or less happy endings, though each carries a tragical potential. Their happy endings are due to the heroes renouncing their great desires and seeking satisfaction in what life has bestowed on them.

Musicians
1913

The volume contains six stories, three of which count as the first analytic Hungarian short stories. The reader, like the author, knows everything, learns even about those things that remain hidden or incomprehensible for the characters themselves. However, the reader has to come to a conclusion of his own—sometimes against the point of the ironic author. From the fourth short story on, the narration becomes more personal and the results of the analyses seem more doubtful.

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