Author's page

Kálmán MIKSZÁTH
( 1847 - 1910 )

Biography

1847 born in Szklabonya (now Slabiòa, Slovakia)
1863 begins to write as a student in the school of Selmec és Bélabánya (Banská ©tiavnica)
1866 studies Law at the University of Budapest
1871 without finishing his studies returns home and begins to work as a mayor's counsellor
1873 moves to Budapest, secretly marries Ilona Mauks
1875-76 total financial disaster, Mikszáth forces his wife to divorce
1877 works as a journalist
1882 after two successful books, an acclaimed writer, remarries his former wife
1892 works as an MP until his death
1896 President of the Journalist's Association
1910 national celebration in honour of Mikszáth; he dies shortly afterwards (28th May)

Slovak Kinsmen
1881

1881 Tót atyafiak (Slovak Kinsmen) After years of futile attempts to achieve critical acclaim and financial success, Mikszáth finally gained attention with this short story collection. Readers loved him, and writers in particular appreciated the subtleties of his style. The stories are about Palócföld, his favourite land, and its inhabitants, peasants and romantic outsiders, whose behaviour is coarse, but always just. The book contains four stories and shows traces of Dickens influence.

The Good Palots
1882

1882 A jó palócok (The Good Palots) This book of fifteen short stories, or “sketches” as Mikszáth calls them, established his reputation as a writer (and stabilised him financially, especially after he became a political correspondent and member of parliament). The stories are mindful of tales, anecdotes and ballads, embellished with an ironical use of gossip.

Saint Peter s Umbrella
1895

1895 Szent Péter esernyője (Saint Peter s Umbrella) Mikszáth s oeuvre is considered a meeting point of Romanticism and Realism, the emphasis most often falling on the latter. This novel, though, is more romantic than realistic, the basis of it being a legend and a love story. The writer s delicate irony and humour overlie bleak facts and tragic happenings, but the tone is always cheerful and forgiving. Precise detail and psychological honesty are combined with masterly use of anecdotes and gossip. Veronka Bélyi, a little girl, is orphaned and has no other relative than her much older brother, who has just been appointed priest in a poor and remote village. The child is thus transported to him by cart and dropped off in front of the vicarage. The young priest is so confused by her arrival and the bad news of their parents deaths that he leaves her there and enters the church to pray for celestial help. Meanwhile, there is a sudden downpour and someone covers the little girl with a big red umbrella. As no one knows the identity of the benefactor; legend soon has it that Saint Peter himself came down to help the child, and the umbrella soon becomes a ritual object, bringing wealth and happiness to the priest and his sister. Little by little, the reader is introduced to the real story of the umbrella. Originally it had been the property of Pál Gregorics, a man of enormous wealth. In his youth, he had used the empty grip of the umbrella to dispatch messages in the Hungarian War of Independence. He never married, but had an illegitimate child with his maid, whom he loved with all of his heart. When he discovered that his family eagerly awaited his death to get hold of the fortune, he began to fear for the child, Gyuri Wibra, turning all his possessions into bonds and hiding them in the umbrella. Unfortunately he died before he could tell his son what he had been up to, and the umbrella was discarded as a useless object. It was bought by an old Jew, who later in his wanderings saw Veronka in the rain and covered her with the old umbrella. Gyuri Wibra grows to be a famous lawyer. After a time, he discovers the secret of his father s lost fortune and starts a search for the umbrella. He accidentally meets the beautiful Veronka and begins to fall in love with her, and when he finds out that she is connected to the umbrella, he decides to ask for her hand to be his wife. After a few adventures he very romantically he proposes to her, and both Veronka and her brother agree. Veronka, however, soon overhears his words about his true intentions and flees from him. Meanwhile, Gyuri discovers what has happened to the umbrella: it has a brand new handle, and the old one has been burned. This is the moment he understands that he still wants Veronka, much more than the lost money. He hurries to find her, and after telling her everything about the truth of the legend, asks her again to marry him. She agrees and they live, well, happily ever after.

The Siege of Beszterce
1896

1896 Beszterce ostroma (The Siege of Beszterce) Unlike in his previous volumes, Mikszáth now writes about aristocrats and the gentry. The story was based partly on real events. The hero, Count Pongrácz, is a tragicomic figure, somewhat like Don Quixote, who buries himself in the past and behaves as a tyrant from the Middle Ages, but sometimes shows tenderness and even passion, especially in his private siege of a town, and proves better than his contemporaries not so lost in the past. Mikszáth shows himself to be not only a master of the description of a pathological mind, but also shows superb craftsmanship.

Gentlemen
1897

1897 Gavallérok (Gentlemen) The novella gives a thorough portrayal of the Hungarian gentry, a class without an economic base which still behaves as if it were rich and influential. By general agreement, they exhibit hollow values, living by borrowing and trying to pretend that their ideals are still alive.

Strange Marriage
1900

1900 Különös házasság (Strange Marriage) Count Butler and Piroska Horváth are in love, but their happiness is constantly delayed by rigid community morals and ecclesiastical laws in a country where feudal tradition is still alive. The world is based on individual interest, and moral justice is very different from legal justice, as in Dickens Bleak House. The ending of the story is open to both joyful and tragic interpretations.

The Case of Noszty with Mari Tóth
1906

1906 A Noszty fiú esete Tóth Marival (The Case of Noszty with Mari Tóth) Mikszáth often based his writings on real happenings, usually read in the newspapers. This novel is a long but straightforward story: a young man, the ambitious Noszty, tries to seduce the kind and naïve Mari Tóth, the daughter of a rich merchant, only in pursuit of her wealth, but the merchant realises the nature of Noszty and his family s real aim and upsets their calculations. The novel is about the ever-widening gap between hard-working and charitable citizens and the machinations of the gentry.

The Black City
1911

The Black City (A fekete város) (1911) Mikszáth deals with the figure of the eccentric man in a number of his novels and short stories: he is interested in the personality who will not acknowledge limitations but, as the possessor of authority, may make quite dangerous decisions. Pál Görgey, the sub-prefect of Szepes county, is just this sort of peculiar character. He is recklessly passionate and intemperate, but his rage can disappear as quickly as it materialises. The reason for this lies in the past: when his beloved wife died in childbirth (ten years before the time of the novel), the sub-prefect took it masochistically into his head that not even his daughter was his own, since his brother used to have a similar baby that died. What if everyone was tactfully withholding the truth from him? They are much too fond of ‘his’ daughter Rozalia anyway. Görgey self-reproachingly (and often comically) seeks to find proof and witnesses. (In the end he is dissuaded from his false belief.) The short-tempered baron commits murder on a hunting expedition: his enemy, the magistrate of Lőcse, shoots at Görgey’s favourite dog, at which he cries out, “A dog for a dog!” and shoots him dead. (Mikszáth built the story on a legend, placing it into a historic era he was fond of.) With this grave act, the realistic texture of the novel takes on a romantic turn: the town of Lőcse swears revenge, and Görgey, who naturally struggles with his own conscience, must die at the end of the book, but until so, the town dwellers are forced to go on mourning. The fight of the sub-prefect and the town has a tragic victim in the person of Görgey’s daughter, Rozalia, who falls in love with the future magistrate of Lőcse, who will not let the spirit of revenge die—he ensures that Görgey will be beheaded. Mikszáth is a great storyteller: for him, the ambience of the era, the people and the scenes depicted and the details—together with the simple joy of narrating—are just as important as the plot. Besides the romantic story of love and revenge, the novel has several short-story-like, at times fabulous, elements. For instance one character leads a double life, secretly being a pseudo-Turkish pasha (long after the Turkish occupation). Another tries to give up the sub-prefect first to Rákóczi then to the Habsburg emperor, but both rulers find Görgey innocent in the same ambiguous decision, and the traitor falls out of favour with both of them. There is an interesting contrast between these fabulous solutions and the facts. Mikszáth thoroughly examined the era, the first decade of the 18th century, the history of the Görgeys and of Szepes county, as well as town life in Upper Hungary. On occasion he even applies footnotes to support his claims about the town or the county. He has a fine sense for the absurdities of history, and his footnotes often substantiate otherwise unbelievable facts. (For instance, that in the towns of the Szepesség ruled by the Polish, it was compulsory to teach Hungarian, whereas in those belonging to Hungary, they did not teach it at all.) True to its title, Mikszáth’s last novel depicts a more sombre picture of the present as portrayed in the past, of the confrontation of the generous and noteworthy with the mediocre, which rendered his humour blacker. This memorable reading was adapted to film by Éva Zsurzs in 1971.

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