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Erzsébet GALGÓCZI
( 1930 - 1989 )

» Let it Hurt (1969)
» The Chapel of St. Christopher (1971)
» Within the Law (1980)
» Otter Trap (1984)

Biography

1930 born in the village of Ménfőcsanak
1950 wins first prize in a short story competition
1953 first collection of short stories published
1950-55 studies Dramaturgy in Budapest; works as a reporter
1959 becomes a freelance writer
1981-85 Member of Parliament
1989 dies in Ménfőcsanak

Major Prizes:
1962, 1969, 1976 Attila József Prize; 1978 Kossuth Prize

Let it Hurt
1969

Erzsébet Galgóczi wanted as a writer to give a true portrayal of her era, one of the harshest in Hungarian history. She was acquainted with the problems of the various classes of society, as she originated from a Hungarian village but then went on to live in the city. Through her stints as a lathe worker, journalist and social worker, she was also acquainted with problems of the various regions of the country. Galgóczi’s short stories focus primarily on existential and ethical problems. Her protagonists are suffering, defenceless people destined to struggle day after day with death and alcohol. With sociological precision she shows the lives of the poor villagers and urban intelligentsia, all of whom are completely at the mercy of the whims of politics. Some of her short stories are inspired by ballads; in “A nagymama” (The Granny), for example, a woman becomes an accomplice in the murder of her husband and her whole family suffers the consequences. One of Galgóczi’s central themes is the role of the mother in the family.

The Chapel of St. Christopher
1971

Zsófia Tűű, the main character of this novella, is a typical Galgóczian heroine: a lonely and depressed thirty-something woman, who strives to find an escape from this hopeless state in art, work and sincere human relationships. Similar to the protagonist in the novel Vidravas, Zsófia is a painter whose career was broken at its zenith, and as a result, she is doomed to mere restoration in the place of creative work. Zsófia seeks solace in alcohol, as is so often the case in the intelligentsia of her age. Erzsébet Galgóczi later admitted that Zsófia s figure is in many respects a self-portrait, a presentation of her own unhappy youth. The novel begins as Zsófia arrives in a small village where she is to restore the altar painting of the chapel, the figure of St. Christopher. As she becomes acquainted with the residents of the little village (especially the woman where she will be staying, a woman who has been caring for her paralyzed husband for years), slowly but surely her pain subsides and alcohol becomes less and less vital for her being. In the course of a confidential conversation with the kind elderly parish priest, she divulges her secret that she had been in love with a high-ranking public official, who had only regarded her as one of his many mistresses. The old clergyman confides in her his secret as well; the treasures of the Church of Győr had been hidden in the chapel crypt for 30 years, since 1949, and since he was the last living soul to know about this, he thought it high time for the treasures to be brought to light. On the day of the great celebration, many politicians arrive for the event, among them, the Minister of Education, Zsófia s former lover. They meet secretly in the chapel garden, but the young woman is no longer prepared to return to her unhappy life in Budapest. Instead she takes on the job of the church s full-scale restoration. In this, she has found her life s goal.

Within the Law
1980

Inquiring into taboos, Galgóczy’s novella takes place at the end of the 1950s, in the years following the 1956 Revolution. A young woman called Éva Szalánczky is shot dead illegally trying to cross the green border, and the patrol leader, Lieutenant Marosi, recognises her as his one-time longed-for love. Marosi goes on leave to track down the story of Szalánczky’s life, he talks to colleagues and friends and, getting hold of her notes from her tenant, he slowly learns about the suicidal motives of her illegal crossing. A self-made intellectual, she had been pushed to the periphery of society because of her relentless search for truth and her confessed lesbian identity. Although she has not taken part in the Revolution, almost all of her friends are in prison or have fled abroad. Szalánczky’s first-rate documentary articles never get published in the journal where she works, most of her colleagues make their compromises and, almost without exception, escape into alcoholism, leaving her alone to face the circumstances, as her tortured notes prove. Szalánczky’s private life has reached a dramatic turn as well. She has fallen in love with a colleague, a married woman uncertain of what she wants of people. Although this woman herself provoked the affair, she prefers to stay within the norms of society, even if she is unable to love her husband. She has a relationship with her boss, making both her husband and Szalánczky jealous. When she breaks up with Éva, the latter travels to the border. At the same time, the jealous husband takes a pistol-shot at his wife. Several signs indicate that the political atmosphere in Hungary did not change significantly after 1956. The two women’s relationship is under the observation not only by the waiters in the café, but by the vice squad as well. There is an agent constantly informing on Éva, someone who used to ask her advice for how to avoid being forced into doing just that. (Galgóczy’s alter-ego offers a solution to this as early as 1980: one has to apply for an audience from the Minister of Justice.) Yet the woman goes on with her activity as an agent, blackmailed into it by the year she spent in prison and her lesbianism; moreover, she is likely hiding a morphine addiction. Pursuing his private investigation, even lieutenant Marosi is threatened by state security. It is Éva Szalánczky alone who could not be blackmailed. “I write my most secret thoughts for the papers; and it hurts me the most when they won’t publish them,” her acquaintance-the-agent quotes her. But she is forced by society to commit suicide for her moral and biological inclinations. In the literary history of the time, the real topic of the book went unmentioned. In 1982, Károly Makk adapted Galgóczy’s novella (as Egymásra nézve, Another Way) to the screen, winning the film critics’ prize at the Cannes Film Festival. (In the film, the two women’s more unambiguously returned love is given more emphasis than Marosi’s investigation in the book.) With its brave approach to its topic, this book still deserves attention, well after the change of system. “If one wishes to be familiar with the history of the people of Hungary between 1950 and 1980, it is worth reading Galgóczi, for she is exceptional in showing the life of the peasants and the life of first-generation intellectuals.” -Pál Réz

Otter Trap
1984

Galgóczi s last and most famous novel makes an attempt to finally speak out and expose the crimes of Communism. The book focuses on one of the political trials of the terrible Fifties, in which a geologist was sentenced to lifelong imprisonment and his wife deported to an isolated village. The protagonist, Orsolya Rév, is a young painter who had been expelled from the academy for political reasons and has since moved to the village to be with her parents. At first, the girl is committed to Communist ideology, but the newcomer to the village, the geologist s wife, slowly convinces her of the truth, and Orsolya also comes to understand that the geologist is innocent. After the woman s death, Orsolya begins to write forged letters to her imprisoned husband (the geologist) to give him the impression that his wife is still alive and to spare him the awful truth. The story ends in the summer of 1956.

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