Author's page

Zsigmond MÓRICZ
( 1879 - 1942 )

Biography

1879 born in Tiszcsécse, a small village in the Hungarian Great Plains
1899 studies in Theology in Debrecen
1900 studies in Law and Humanities at the University of Budapest
1908 first short story appears in the literary journal Nyugat
1910 war correspondent, journalist
1923-33 co-editor of Nyugat
1939-1942 editor of the literary review Kelet Népe (People of the East)
1942 dies in Leányfalu, a village near Budapest

Gold and Mud
1910

Sárany (1910, Gold and Mud) His first novel is about Dani Turi, an almost mythical character of boisterous energy and sexual prowess, a peasant Don Juan, who could be the leader of his community in their fight for land, but instead is driven to kill the landowner for the sake of a woman. The hero and his background are described with naturalistic excess and bitter realism, showing the rigidity of social structure and the potential and dangers of unexplored primitive strength.

Back of God s Country, or 1917, Mr. Bovary
1911

Az Isten háta mögött (1911, Back of God s Country, or 1917, Mr. Bovary) The novella takes place in the God-forsaken provincial town Ilosva, where nothing in the world ever happens except for the country fairs. Only a few people appear to be more ambitious than the average: the school teacher s young and beautiful wife, the town magistrate and a sensitive and idealistic student. The central character, however, is unbearably boring school teacher, Pál Veres, who is incapable of understanding why one of his wife s admirers calls him Mr. Bovary. The entire male population of the town is in love with his wife, yet he does not even take notice. Mrs. Veres is, of course, unhappy, sexually frustrated and neurotic, her thoughts not something that could be called extraordinary ( She had primitive and narrow thoughts, but an exceptional physical sensuality. ), yet she is not satisfied with the narrow confines of her existence and the limitations of her fate. She tries to escape this fate by seducing the magistrate, but their passionate kiss is interrupted by the student, a teenage boy who is also madly in love with her. The magistrate quickly takes leave and the woman wishes to seduce the boy. This, however, is prevented by the arrival of her stupid husband who is blind to all such circumstances. The following day, she hears the sad news of the grotesque accident suffered by the magistrate who died after jumping out of the window of another unhappy wife he had spent the night with. In her hysterical despair, she follows his example, but lands unhurt on her behind. The town is immediately swarming with gossip, but her obtuse husband fails to hear it and returns home to his loving wife . And life goes on as before just as dull and horrible as before.

The Torch
1917

A fáklya (1917, The Torch) The protagonist of the novel is an idealistic Calvinist minister performing his task in the debilitating Hungarian countryside; his vocation is faced with ignorance and class egotism. Reverend Matolcsy, “the torch,” fails to save the soul of his people, but manages to save a few lives instead. The novel ends with an all-consuming fire and the death of the protagonist who still argues with God because “everything has come to an end, yet nothing has been resolved.”

Be Faithful Onto Death
1920

Be Faithful Onto Death (Légy jó mindhalálig) (1920) In this autobiographical novel Móricz treated the years he spent in the famous College of Debrecen. Be Faithful Onto Death belongs to the best Hungarian juvenile novels (such as Ferenc Molnár’s Boys of Pál Street, Frigyes Karinthy’s Please, Sir! or Ferenc Móra’s The Treasure-Hunting Smock) and it is a compulsory reading for children of 14, yet it is a great classic novel as well that, with its subtle devices and sense of humour, can show the adult reader much more about the age and the human soul. It may be more closely related to Géza Ottlik’s novel, School at the Frontier. Móricz does not only portray the shy and honest boy, Misi Nyilas from the inside, but describes college life, the many kinds of relationship between the children, the horror and boredom of classes, together with the citizens of turn-of-century Debrecen. Be Faithful Onto Death is a novel about self-esteem. Misi Nyilas gradually finds his place in college life, learning how to defend himself against his fellow students, and even managing to make friends. At the beginning of the story, in autumn 1892, he is a scared and very poor child counting his money: by purchasing the Csokonai-volume (which contains something written on the poet instead of his poetry) and the writing sheets he bought and had bounded with great ambition, he has spent most of his money and cannot pay the laundry-woman. But soon he receives two jobs, twice a week he has to read out for an old and blind civil servant and he coaches a lazy and dull boy in Latin and Maths. The monthly income of the two jobs is not much but is more than what his family can send him for Christmas (as they cannot afford to buy him the train ticket home). Anxious about the poverty of those at home, Misi sends back twice as much. Yet it is money that gets him into trouble. The blind civil servant orders him to bet the numbers he had dreamt of on the lottery, but the small boy blabs it out to people. When the following week the old man’s number are drawn, the child cannot find the receipt. He tries to keep it in secret but in vain. The thief is a distant acquaintance, Mr. Jancsi, a gentry dandy, who, with Misi’s unintentional help, seduces a likeable and naive young girl who has no prospects for the future. The man orders the boy to do some humiliating task for him, but Misi evades him and will not receive money either. But Mr. Jancsi smuggles it into his pocket only to blame him later with having sold him the receipt. In the last chapters of the novel, the teachers’ committee of the college is interrogating the boy, asking him humiliating questions, and Misi, the boy that used to be proud of this college, now decides to leave it for good. He wants to teach all human kind, to become a poet. With this, he expresses Móricz’s creed.

Relatives
1932

Relatives (Rokonok) (1932) This utterly bitter novel of Móricz’s is set in a small town, around the great depression of 1929, showing the state of rural Hungary in the 1930s through the fate of a self-torturing intellectual. A strongly sociographical work about the small town’s life, it sheds light on the corrupt state of county world, on the panamas of the mayor’s office, of regional banks, shareholders and enterprises, and even on the illusory work of the parliament and the opposition. In the town of Zsarátnok, a new public prosecutor is being elected, as his predecessor lined his pockets more than generally accepted, crossing other people’s interests. A harmless candidate is sought so as to be bribed from the first moment in a way that by the time he can realize it, he should be entangled in the affairs beyond measure. The middle-aged István Kopjáss is somewhat more sensible and quicker-witted than the average – if not more scrupulous. Originally a man of social sensitivity, as a cultural councillor he used to hand in petitions for schools, naturally in vain. In his new position, he tries to get informed and soon realizes that his predecessor got into trouble in connection with the Pig-Farm Share Company near the town, but he does not suspect the proportions of the scandal. Meanwhile he is warmly encouraged by the mayor and the manager of the savings bank. Soon it turns out that he needs a bigger family house for his new career. Naturally, he is granted credit: twenty times as much as his family has put by. Kopjáss is happily married, and with his beautiful wife they can decently raise their two student sons. Although they have two rooms only, thanks to the woman’s sober economizing, they never went into debt even under the depression. They do not communicate much with their relatives, but when they learn of Kopjáss’s promotion, they turn up one by one – here Móricz lets his satirical vision loose. Wishing to help them all, Kopjáss immediately thinks of good jobs in the city for his brothers. But the real danger arrives in the person of an uncle infamous of his suspicious deals, who proposes to transport coal to the city, offering 20 percent of the profit. His nephew does not pry into how legal this is, and does not suspect the danger which naturally leads to his decline. In the short span between his promotion and his fall, Kopjáss starts an investigation about the Pig Farm. He learns that the main share-holders involved in the panama are the heads of the town, the mayor and the manager of the savings bank. Naively he deludes himself to be able to eliminate the corruption by turning to the public. But while he is on a reception, his office is broken into, all of his suspicious papers are taken, and the following day the mayor cynically makes him face the corruptness of his own plans about helping his relatives and the fraud of his uncle’s coal-transportation. Cards act as a crucial motive in the novel. The last scene suggests that no-one can look into the other’s hand. While Kopjáss is committing suicide with a revolver left on his desk, next door to him the mayor, who had devised it all, is convincing the manager of the savings bank that such a congenial man, who will now be very easy to handle, must be involved in their plans, as someone knowing so much cannot be left out. “He must be saved,” he says but goes on to speak about offering money “to the widow”. Through the struggle of the intellectual learning to lie to himself, Móricz wrote a critique of the upper classes, the gentries and the roots of the crisis of the Hungarian society. The novel has been adapted to the screen twice, in 1954 it was directed by Félix Máriássy, starring Klári Tolnay and László Ungvári and in 2006 by István Szabó, starring Sándor Csányi and Ildikó Tóth.

Journals, 1924-1925
2010

One of the greatest literary sensations to sweep Hungary in recent months also firmly occupies the realm of documentary literature: a volume bringing together never-before published journal excerpts and personal notes from the great early-twentieth-century writer Zsigmond Móricz (1879–1942). For Móricz, who literally wrote through his entire life (“Has the Lord created me for this? As long as I can stand it, I will do that which I cannot avoid in any case: write.”), the years 1924 and 1925 were especially decisive. In 1924, as his marriage turned hopeless once and for all, he began a stormy affair with a new lover, and after they had a falling out, he entered yet another secret relationship. Móricz then bounced about in spirit and in space between the three women—that is, until the suicide of his tormented wife. This may be but one intriguing aspect of Journals (Naplók), but it is its most passionate and existential one. All the while, Móricz is writing day and night, and chronicling his creative torments and suppressed anxieties in the letter-like texts that comprise his journals. More than once he writes about the compulsion to write. Exceptionally researched and edited, Journals 1924–1925 is but the first volume comprising the author’s journals and notes that is planned for the coming years by its publisher. What is already clear, however, is this: These writings not only help us better understand Móricz’s psyche, but allow us to draw new meaning from the literature he was meanwhile creating. Writing, after all, occupied both the hinterland and the frontlines of his life.

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