Author's page

Biography

1887 born in Budapest
1893 mother dies
1906 never finishes gymnasium; first writings published in various newspapers
1908 begins to write for Nyugat
1912 first satiric collections published
1931 lectures at various conferences
1938 dies in Siófok

That's How YOU Write
1912

Literary parodies. With this volume, Karinthy reformed the genre of satire; he deeply influenced Budapest humour, some of his lines becoming proverbial. This book . . . has remained devilishly entertaining, and it also manages to be a penetrating critical study; indeed, it is the best stylistic analysis of the entire Nyugat generation. Instead of making its points in pompous academic jargon, it reflects the rich folklore of the city of Budapest, replete with puns, nonsense words, and all the associations that can only come from truly knowing a field from within. Countless anecdotes are still being told today, recounting the verbal wit that was fired across the marble tables of the famous Café New York in Budapest, where Karinthy and Kosztolányi used to meet, regularly surrounded by colleagues and younger admirers. -László Cs. Szabó

A Travel to Faremido
1915

A fictitious travelogue in the satiric style of Swift, emphasizing Karinthy s pacifism. In this novel, Karinthy envisions a less absurd, irrational and cruel world; here, Gulliver escapes the bloody battlefields of World War I and is brought to an uncharted fantasy-land, Faremido. Instead of the bloody and ulcerous concoction of organic life [Karinthy creates] a fuller life of sizzling electricity, of machine-men made of steel...whose speech is music, and whose brains are a mixture of quicksilver and minerals. -Dezső Kosztolányi The next volume, Capillária (Capillaria, 1921) is a sequel to Faremido. Also a science fiction novel this time in the vein of H.G. Wells Capillaria is about a land populated exclusively by females, a satiric account of the sexual contract between man and woman, which demonstrates the inevitable misunderstandings: How could man and woman understand each other? They want entirely different things: men want women and women want men.

Please, Sir!
1916

In his early novel, Please, Sir!, Karinthy evokes his school years with humour and empathy. In the opening chapter, the author, late for class, creeps onto the bench next to his fellow student he has arrived to this true, relevant life from his adulthood as if awoken from some bad dream or misunderstanding. From here, we experience the average day in a student s life: its anxieties and veritable horrors, and its moments of uproarious laughter. The greatest horror is found in the danger of getting asked questions in front of the class, as the claim, please, sir, I did come prepared, is rarely convincing. One must question whether it is worth rising in the morning at all, except that, wickedly enough, oversleeping triggers its own punishment in the form of nightmares ( At Seven in the Morning ). The likelihood of getting asked questions is, for instance, not great, but Fröhlich, the teacher, is an unstable man of unreliable character with a weak willpower, who may have believed last time that he would go on explaining, but now, suddenly, almost unconsciously, he starts to ask his questions. At the bottom of the human soul there are these pathological symptoms one has to count on ( I Arrived Late ). And of course, before one s parents, one must explain his way out of a bad school report ( I Am Explaining My Report ). More familiar but fresh examples from Please, Sir!: good and bad students responding in class to teacher s questions; likewise, good and a bad compositions (these texts are akin to Karinthy s excellent parodies of style from his famous instruction book , That s How YOU Write); money in short supply one young man fails in his attempt to unload his old natural history textbook when it is discovered that one page is missing, and that his scribbling of a handlebar moustache cannot be erased from the image of the face of a walrus of course with Karinthy, the good student is always a disagreeable teacher s pet, whereas the bad one, struggling honestly, will be likeable ( Test in Literature ); bored and keyed-up adolescents, easily cracking into one waving abdominal wall of laughter. Yet however great the irony, Karinthy is portraying his teenage-self; it is obvious from his book that nothing is valid or true except romantic desires, and it is only youth and yearning for everything that counts. Please, Sir! has been translated to many languages and adapted to the screen by Frigyes Mamcserov in 1956, starring some of the best actors of the time.

A Journey Round My Skull
1937

In 1936, Karinthy endured brain surgery under local anaesthesia, and this documentary novel is an account of his illness and treatment by the world-famous Swedish surgeon, Professor Olivecrona. His unconquerable sense of humour shows in the handling of his own life-and-death struggle, which he lost one year later: ( [I] went from humorist to tumourist, he said.) Behind the walls of my skull something was happening. What it was I knew less than anyone. Even the others could do no more than guess. Those walls enclosed a soft, rubber-like mass the convulsions and yellowish-white colour of which are so strikingly similar to the kernel of a walnut as almost to convey a warning. At one particular point in this mass a process of some kind was beginning. For the moment it was impossible to say where it started. (an excerpt from the book, translated by Vernon Duckworth Barker) To this day Karinthy remains the most serious and the most popular of twentieth-century Hungarian authors. He produced plays, poems, short stories, novels, essays and newspaper articles, as well as parodies and grotesque pieces. Yet even Karinthy s most amusing works reflect the cautious realism of a wise humanitarian. (from the jacket of A Journey Round My Skull)

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