HUNGARIAN SHORT STORIES
(19th and 20th Centuries)
INTRODUCTION by István Sőtér
MÓR JÓKAI - The Two Willows by the Bridge (István Farkas) KÁROLY EÖTVÖS - The Evangelist of the Hermit‟s Cave (Éva Rácz)
KÁLMÁN MIKSZÁTH - Prakovszky, the Deaf Blacksmith (Sára Karig) SÁNDOR BRÓDY - The Jest (István Farkas)
ISTVÁN TÖMÖRKÉNY - Men on the Dam (István Farkas) JENŐ HELTAI - Sisters Three (István Farkas)
GYULA KRÚDY - Death and the Journalist (Sára Karig) FERENC MOLNÁR - Coal Thieves (Fabienne Russo)
FERENC MÓRA - A September Reminiscence (Mihály J. Pásztor) ZSIGMOND MÓRICZ - Seven Pennies (István Farkas)
Barbarians (Gyula Gulyás)
MARGIT KAFFKA - Smouldering Crisis (Sára Karig) LAJOS NAGY - An Afternoon with Mr. Grün, Solicitor (István Farkas) ANDOR GÁBOR - Better to Die (József Hatvany)
DEZSŐ KOSZTOLÁNYI - A Holiday Swim (Zsuzsa Madarassy-Beck) GÉZA CSÁTH - The Red-Haired Girl (Fabienne Russo) FRIGYES KARINTHY - The Circus (György Welsburg) SÁNDOR HUNYADY-Adventure in Uniform (Zsuzsa Madarassy-Beck) ANDOR ENDRE GELLÉRI - With the Movers (István Farkas)
Hungarian literature, one of the least known literatures in Europe, has produced works of international literary rank mainly in the realm of poetry. The traditions of Hungarian verse date back to the sixteenth century, to the first great Hungarian lyricist, Bálint Balassi. He voiced not only the exuberance of the Hungarian Renaissance, but his boisterousness and sentimentality, his choice of themes dealing with the warrior‟s life, with love and religious fervour, made him a model for subsequent generations of Hungarian poets. From the beginning of the nineteenth century to the present day, Hungarian literature has been a triumphal march of lyric poetry - each generation saw the emergence of great lyricists, who have, however, remained almost completely unknown to people abroad and to international literary opinion. The reason? Perhaps that the language of Hungarian poetry has always been refreshed from folklore and the archaic sources of Hungarian literature, so that the faithful reproduction of the hues of its idiom would have required extraordinary gifts and poetic power on the part of the translators. But the isolation, the unfamiliarity of Hungarian poetry and of Hungarian literature generally, may also be explained by the fact that in the last century, the chief concern of our authors was with the establishment of a national character. This concern overruled another - that of speaking to Europe, to mankind at large, and with it the requirement of contents that would transcend national limitations.
While Hungarian poetry was able, by the end of the eighteenth century, to boast of several great poets, narrative prose remained in its naive, archaic state. The novel, this most bourgeois product of European bourgeois development, was even as late as the first half of the nineteenth century only in an incipient stage in this country. Yet there had been quite a few spontaneous and characteristic manifestations of narrative art in earlier Hungarian prose. The parables of mediaeval codices, some of the dramatic passages in seventeenth-century memoirs, portions of the correspondence of Transylvanian princes and aristocrats, and, of course, the treasure trove of Hungarian folk tales - all these were important precursors of later Hungarian narrative writing.
In the first half of the nineteenth century it was the imitation of Eugène Sue and Walter Scott that set off the development of the Hungarian novel. The “mysteries” of the former were somewhat alien to the environment of the provincial Hungarian towns into which they were transplanted - the historical atmosphere of the latter was far better suited to the subjects and characters of Hungarian history. It was after such preliminaries that the Hungarian novel was born in the works of Mór (Maurus) Jókai, at the middle of the last century. Jókai established the national form of the Hungarian novel - in his picturesque and romantic manner he portrayed the personalities of the period preceding the revolution of 1848 - of the then recent past - the heroes of the Hungarian independence movements, the morals, customs and scenes of the vanishing feudal-patriarchal Hungary. The charm of Jókai‟s works is due to the nostalgic colouring of the recent past and his emotional, melancholic farewell to an old and familiar world. This nostalgia and emotion may also be felt in his short stories. The writers of the second half of the century - particularly Mikszáth, who in many respects followed Jókai and may, next to him, be regarded as the most significant author of the period - sang the swan song of the developing bourgeois Hungary to the old, intimate, patriarchal Hungary. In the short stories and novels of Jókai and Mikszáth the old world is clad in fairy hues; amid the conditions of capitalist Hungary, the epoch whose termination was marked, by 1848 suddenly came to seem humane and pleasant, heroic and interesting, though it had in fact
been tainted by Hapsburg tyranny, feudal conditions and semi-colonial subservience to the Austrian empire. In this manner, Jókai and Mikszáth established a lyrical approach to the recent past. They saw heroes and eccentrics in the Hungary of yore, and both types equally require the descriptive art of romanticism and of realism to portray them. With Jókai and Mikszáth the Hungarian towns and country manors became populated with strange and unique characters and personalities. The art of these writers harbours a peculiar confession - that the second half of the century looked with emotion and pain upon the hopes and aims that had preceded 1848. The defeat of the revolution and of the struggle for freedom had thwarted the fulfilment of these aims and the hopes remained unrequited. Jókai and Mikszáth voiced the feelings of the „„better half” of the nation -
capitalist Hungary looked back on the Hungary of the pre-1848 period, as upon its own better part. Or, as a mature and disillusioned man, upon the happy, magnanimous, youthful period of great expectations, bold ventures and selfless heroism. It was Jókai and Mikszáth who gave birth to modern Hungarian short-story writing. These short stories were a development of the anecdote, itself the favoured literary form of the old, patriarchal Hungary. These full-flavoured anecdotal short stories, built up round a point, are in many ways different from Maupassant‟s type of short story. The characters of these short stories are heroes or eccentrics. The anecdote is suitable for the portrayal of both types. Its kindly, humorous savour deprives heroism of its poignancy, and eccentricity of the painful feeling of backwardness. The faithful heir, tender and cultivator of the anecdotal art of Jókai and Mikszáth was Károly Eötvös. End-of-the-century Hungary awoke from its romanticism. In our country this romanticism had a longer after-life than anywhere else in the world. The cult of the recent past entertained by the period of capitalism, could only be maintained amid the forms of romanticism. But the young generation of writers at the end of the century had no reminiscences of this pre-1848 fairyland. Their experiences were simpler and more bitter. A truly urban Hungary had come into being, which saw even the village differently than the patriarchal mid-century generation. This period turned its attention to the unsolved, unsettled social problems of its day - and the breath of a new revolution may be felt in the passion with which the young generation drew attention to the destitution of the peasantry, the defencelessness of simple people and the depravity of the gentry. One of the leading figures of this new literature - a special kind of littérature
engagée that was permeated with a sense of responsibility - was Sándor Bródy. And in his immediate vicinity, István Tömörkény provides an example of the philanthropic, sympathetic view of the people entertained by the urban intelligentsia. Tömörkény made a veritable discovery of the peasant world which the heirs of romanticism had so far only presented on the scenes of bucolic plays and sentimental short stories, in an idealized, syrupy setting. His short stories are sometimes rendered cumbersome by their ethnographic descriptions - inventories of customs, implements and the peculiarities of various trades. Zsigmond Móricz, with his rich knowledge of the peasantry, thought Tömörkény‟s short stories were “ethnographic museums.” Yet there was need for this “inventory” to be made, because the world which Tömörkény described was as unknown to the educated classes as the life of an African tribe. More or less contemporaneously with the poor of the farmsteads on the pusztas, this period also discovered the urban
poor, the proletarians. Ferenc Molnár was the first, before he undertook his more celebrated but also more superficial ventures in stagecraft, to take note of the urban poor and to discover the bitter-sweet poetry of their life.
The generation of short-story writers who emerged at the turn of the century, played only the overture to the great poetic revolution that developed in this country between 1905
and 1919. This was intrinsically a revolutionary period, throughout Europe. The unallayed, defeated Hungarian revolution of 1848-1849 came to life again in the bourgeois revolution of 1918 and the proletarian revolution of 1919, undertaking to complete the work that had been left unfinished in 1849. As in Petőfi‟s age, literature at
the beginning of the century again became one of the sources of inspiration for this revolutionary fervour. In the lyrical field, the soaring poetry of Endre Ady was a portent of the great storm to come. Ady‟s companion in prose was Zsigmond Móricz. The revolutionary forces maturing in the peasantry were so strikingly voiced in the work of Móricz as though his were the words of a belated participant in the Hungarian peasant revolution of the sixteenth century. But Móricz was a belated author in other respects too. It was through his artistic portrayal of reality that Hungarian prose made up for the omissions of the long-lived post-romanticism of the nineteenth century. This post-romanticism had prevented Hungarian novels from presenting a picture of society that was of similar value, or a portrayal of the characteristic types of the period that was of similar richness to that achieved by European novels from Balzac to Tolstoy. Perhaps it was this belatedness that made the medium of Móricz‟ work so crowded and dense -
perhaps it was this that lent his art so synthetic a character. For the synthesis of Móricz includes the concise and sombre tradition of the Hungarian folk ballads - the “Barbárok”
(Barbarians) and “Hét krajcár” (Seven Pennies) themselves preserve something of this tradition - the linguistic splendour of the seventeenth-century memorials, and also the procedures of the modern, analytical character-study novel. Móricz‟s life work reflected
the profound crisis of Hungarian society after the defeat of the 1919 revolution, as it did the ruin of the peasantry, the decay of country squiredom and the slow, threatening disintegration of the Hungarian bourgeoisie. For this very reason, Móricz established a grandiose, pan-national art of novel writing, and with him the Hungarian novel attained the heights which in poetry had already been achieved in the previous century. The short stories of Móricz are alternately concerned with idyllic and tragic events. The idyll and tragedy are, of course, the two extreme characteristic forms of the feelings entertained in the period about 1919. By the time of the First World War, Hungarian literature - and naturally the short story too - were in a highly differentiated condition. The requirement for romanticism, for poesy, again surged to the fore and after the naturalism of the fin de siècle generation, by way of a reaction, the new art that used the
tools of impressionism also appeared in Hungarian short-story writing. The requirement for idyllic writing became but deeper, under a firmament of social tragedies. The humour and charm of Jenő Heltai is as much a satisfaction of the requirement for the idyllic, as is the fairy world of Gyula Krúdy. The nostalgic feelings of Jókai and Mikszáth appear with renewed intensity, in highly decorative and stylized forms with Krúdy. It is with him that the poetry of the “recent past” gained complete fulfilment - the old Hungary whose
figures he presents, is transformed into a fairyland of imagination and romanticism. It is obvious that Krúdy is a fugitive from his own period, and this escape into the land of
dreams parallels to some extent all that world literature also attempted to do in the 1920‟s.
The national form of the Hungarian novel may be regarded as having been evolved by the first decades of the twentieth century. The novels of Móricz, Margit Kaffka and Mihály Babits mark the conclusion of this process. And nevertheless it seems as though the lyrical inclinations of Hungarian literature were manifested in the fact that the ideal of the perfect form was found in the genre of the short story, instead of large-scale
compositions. The treasury of Hungarian short stories contains more masterpieces than that of the Hungarian novel. Margit Kaffka, who in her novel “Színek és évek” (Sights and Seasons) sang the swan song of the Hungarian country squires, in her short stories
also depicts the crisis of the former leading class in Hungary. In the 1920‟s Hungarian literature became increasingly gloomy. The first signs of this gloom are apparent in the short stories of Andor Gábor. Under the firmament of the counter-revolutionary period, escape was offered either by dreams such as Krúdy‟s, or by a yearning for the purity and humaneness of the peasants‟ world, like that expressed by Ferenc Móra. Several of the latter‟s contemporaries, in fact, exaggerated the idealization of the archaic peasant life and created a peasant myth. Móra, however, remained immune to this kind of peasant romanticism and contrasted his own age, that of the inter-war years, the age of the new barbarism, with the pure humanism of the poor people‟s world, the memories of his own childhood.
The period around the First World War may also be regarded as a golden age of Hungarian short-story writing. Heltai, Krúdy, Kaffka and Móra were not alone in representing the generation of authors who replaced the anecdotal style of the previous century with a new art of short-story writing, one that seems both lyrical and philosophical. Short stories played a more important part in the lifework of Dezső Kosztolányi, Géza Csáth and Frigyes Karinthy than in that of any of their contemporaries. Among the writings of Karinthy, permeated with humour and wisdom, his short stories occupy a singular position - they are his means for expounding and illustrating one or other of his paradoxes. Karinthy‟s embittered playfulness conceals the moralist‟s lack of illusions - for the post-war generation, morals signified what illusion used to mean for their predecessors. In the first period of Kosztolányi, Csáth and Karinthy the paradox, improvisation and playfulness were dominant. Their strange stories are too speculative in character, the idea is too obvious in them. Kosztolányi was led to a recognition of the startling dramas of the human soul by Freudism, thus to achieve the newly defined morality which was manifested in an emotive, sympathetic love and compassion for erring man. Kosztolányi and his companions - including Géza Csáth - undertook to portray the tragedies of everyday life. The excentrics and heroes of the short stories of the last century, the barbaric peasants of Móricz‟ stories, were in the inter-war period replaced by nameless ordinary folk, the humble victims of modern civilization, the undistinguished pariahs of the cities. The majority of Kosztolányi‟s stories are about these moving and senseless lives.
Bewilderment at the tragedy and senselessness of life was an attitude characteristic of most short-story writers between the two wars. The most prominent representative of these wise and disillusioned authors was Sándor Hunyady. In an age that brought the disruption of forms into fashion he adhered to strict, classically simple form. Hunyady did not believe in ideals or devote himself to any particular faith. The way he stands outside, his impersonal observer‟s vigilance nevertheless express the same moral attitude as that of Kosztolányi or Karinthy. The Hungarian literature of the inter-war years may well be called a literature of diseased times. The moral approach of the period could be most faithfully expressed by the view that the writer‟s main task is to report to his fellow-
men on his own forebodings of danger.
The works of the two most significant short-story writers of the period, Andor Endre Gelléri and Lajos Nagy, are in fact suffused with reports of similar purport. Both expressed the same disquiet, the same feeling of danger - yet how different their methods were. Gelléri recorded the realities of the first part of the thirties - the years of the great economic slump. In his short stories we may discover the specific conception of life entertained at the time - the bitter mixture of hopelessness and the urge to live, of pain and joy that then filled the hearts of decent men. Gelléri‟s short stories are poetic
confessions about a remote age, and beyond the apparent playfulness of these confessions, lies the latent threat of tragedy.
The unrequited demands of Hungarian history emerged with renewed urgency. These unsolved problems had been left as a heritage to the 1930‟s by the defeated revolutions of 1848 and 1919. In the period preceding the Second World War, Hungarian short stories heralded the need for change through their terse and precise statement of the gravity of the existing situation, the diagnosis and declaration of the phenomena of desintegration and crisis. The great master of this diagnostic, terse and objective art was Lajos Nagy. His writings are very often gloomy and tenebrous, their satire is embittered and ruthless, their tone acrid and severe. His lifework showed almost the whole world as hopeless and devoid of prospects. Yet it is actually not misanthropy, but a heightened, humanistic sense of love that is expressed in his short stories, which by showing the untenable conditions are themselves an argument for something better and more humane. The development and fruition of the Hungarian short story has been the work of about a century and a half. This literary form has acquired an importance similar to that of lyric poetry in Hungarian literature, because it has achieved a fortunate harmony of the inspirations derived from national and international sources. The anecdotal short stories of post-romanticism were superseded at the end of the century, under the influence of the short stories of Maupassant and Chekhov, by the modern type of short story, which had attained to a position of hegemony in world literature. Through Móricz the Hungarian short stories that had developed according to the Western form were enlivened by the influence of Hungarian folklore, and in the 1920‟s and 1930‟s a path similar to that of Western surrealism was adopted by Krúdy, while surrealism also exerted a direct influence on Gelléri.
The Hungarian short story thus itself underwent the process which was also the most important process of the whole of Hungarian literature - it succeeded in expressing its specifically Hungarian message in such forms and by such techniques that have rendered the unique, the national, the particularly Hungarian features comprehensible to a wider international reading public.
At one time called “Hungary‟s greatest story-teller,” Jókai is still undoubtedly one of her
most popular writers of fiction. Several of his novels were in his lifetime translated into German, French, English, Russian, Polish and Czech. His patriotic or adventure stories and novels or romances, whether excursions into Hungary‟s past history or laid in a contemporary setting, have been favourite reading among several generations. The son of a lawyer, he was intended to join the profession. For some time before the 1848 War of Independence he had been one of the coterie which gathered around the poet Sándor (Alexander) Petőfi as its principal moving spirit, and, like his great friend, he too played a part - if a more cautious one - in those momentous events. Following the débacle, he was compelled to go into hiding, for a régime of ruthless oppression held the country in its sway. As soon as an easing of absolutist terror made this possible, he came out of hiding and returned to Pest. More historical novels followed. Jókai tried to keep alive his countrymen‟s spirit of defiance in the face of their present humiliation by reminding them of the grandeur of their national past. Before long, he became tremendously popular. An extremely prolific writer, Jókai published one novel (sometimes two novels) each year. His historical novels - Egy magyar nábob (A
Hungarian Nabob), Kárpáthy Zoltán, Erdély aranykora (Midst the Wild Carpathians), Törökvilág Magyarországon (The Slaves of the Padishah), A kőszívű ember fiai (The
Baron’s Sons) - drew on Hungarian history and revived the traditions of national courage and independence struggles in the face of the invaders. Novels of manners - Az
aranyember (Timár’s Two Worlds), Fekete gyémántok (Black Diamonds), etc. - and the
Utopian phantasy A jövő század regénye (A Novel of the Coming Century) enhanced
his reputation and increased his popularity. Towards the end of the century, Jókai was the uncrowned prince of Hungarian letters; and, despite his faults, which drew the censure of critics (loosely-knit and rambling plots and romantically rough-sketched characters that are either of angelic goodness or unmitigated scoundrels) his books were eagerly read, and for a long time he was the most popular writer in Hungary. The strong appeal of his writings springs no doubt from his excellence as a spinner of yarn. In his great talent for plot-hatching he is a close neighbour of the great French romanticists, above all Victor Hugo. His unmatched, poetic fancy conjured up images of distant worlds for the public of a backward Hungary. His intimate knowledge of detail, of the many little phenomena of life, gives authenticity to his novels and stories. Romanticism and realism, patriotism and the beauty of the tale are all blended in Jókai‟s lifework.
THE TWO WILLOWS BY THE BRIDGE
Between Felvinc and Nagyenyed, a small mountain brooklet, now spanned by a permanent stone bridge, crosses the road. On either side of the bridge, at the water‟s edge,
stands an enormous willow: and there is a historical event connected with those two willows. Seven generations have seen them grow, and their story has been handed down from father to son and is remembered to this day as if it had happened in our lifetime.
1It is now just a hundred and fifty years since the Kuruts-Labants war was à la mode,
with the Kuruts forces setting the rules at Nagyenyed one day, and the Labants fighters
taking over the next. As the former went out at one end of town, the latter came in at the other.
The citizens of Nagyenyed could not get it out of their heads that it would have been far, far better if these good people had gone to see one another instead of calling on them; but
their visitors were worldly-wise gentlemen who had some notion of the strategic ruse according to which one way to beat an enemy is to strip the countryside of its victuals. It was this concept which they put into practice.
2For while the regular armies of the Prince - the cream of the nobility, with their banners,
stalwart hussars with wolves‟s skins slung over their backs, picked heyducks, and guardsmen, in their red-and-blue uniforms - were fighting pitched battles against the main body of the imperial forces, composed of shining cavalry, mail-clad and crested, of dragoons in embroidered buff-hides, and sharp-shooting musketeers, while all this was 3going on over there in Hungary, idle soldiers of fortune roamed the countryside, so very much alike in their looks that it was impossible to tell the Kuruts from the Labants.
They were, for the most part, people who had themselves been ruined by the war and whom despair, destitution and a thirst for revenge had left no other choice than to take up their scythes or pickaxes and join either the Kuruts or the Labants camp, according to
whose soldiers had made them destitute.
Bands of these vagrants went from town to town, extorting money and looting wherever they met with submissive inhabitants; indulging in arson, where their anger was roused, and taking to flight as soon as they were scared. They could hardly be called enthusiastic fighters; and the vanquished would as a rule go over to the side of the victors, so that, on 4Mihály Cserei‟s evidence, there were men who had been on and off the Kuruts side four
or five times and as many times in and out of the Labants camp.
Such frequent alterations of quality must have been a serious obstacle in the quest for glory; for if you had made a good name for yourself, you could never be sure that, if your entire host happened to go over to the other side one day, the enemy might not see fit to spare them all and to hang you, as the most highly prized object of his revenge.
1 Anti-Hapsburg war of independence in the 18th century,
Kuruts = the anti-Hapsburg forces.
Labants = the pro-Hapsburg forces.
2 Prince Ferenc II Rákóczi (1676-1735), leader of the anti-Hapsburg war of independence. 3 Nagyenyed being in Transylvania, then an independent principality.
4 A historian from Transylvania (1667-1756).
However, a way out of this predicament was found by assuming false names, by a practice mainly cultivated by the Labants fighters, who strove to find aliases for
themselves over which those Kuruts nincompoops would twist their tongues - names
which more often than not were corrupted German words that they themselves did not understand.
The Kuruts “pashas,” on the other hand, sought to assume Wallachian names.
At that time, the most ominous menace that hung over Nagyenyed and the towns of the neighbourhood was represented, on the one hand, by the Kuruts leader Balika, who had
taken up his abode in a cavern in Torda Gorge, still referred to as “Balika‟s Fort,” and 5on the other, by the two Labants chiefs who had their quarters in the Mezőség, and one
of whom bore the queer name of “Traitzigfritzig,” while the other was more romantically
Such were their assumed names, such, too, were those who bore them - fellows, now clumsy, now ruthless, half facetious, half sanguinary, of whom many amusing stories - and no fewer horrible ones - were bruited about, and whose names on the lips of nurses served as bugbears for frightening naughty children and in the mouths of roguish Nagyenyed students as epithets for jeering at each other.
Oh, those students! They were peculiar young fellows, those students of Nagyenyed! As soon as a Calvinist lad had learned the art of making quill-pens out of goose-feathers, his mother would fill up a haversack with scones for him, and his father would buy him a pair of top-boots and take him to Nagyenyed, where, having put him down in the quadrangle of the college, having boxed his ears and given him his blessings, he would leave the boy to his own devices. Thereafter, it was up to the lad whether he would become a minister or a professor, King‟s Magistrate, Chief Warden, or councillor; and
the father‟s worries about his son would be over. The lad grew up, acquired whiskers, became stout, crammed as he was with food and knowledge, was sealed off hermetically from all worldly temptation, had both body and soul taken care of, was educated in faith and good health, and made a clergyman, professor, King‟s Magistrate, Chief Warden, or councillor - in line with his mental faculties or his good luck, without causing the least concern to his father and mother. The College became his mother.
This respectable matron had some five or six hundred foster sons and an income of several hundred thousand forints to pay for their education; it possessed the most learned professors, products of foreign universities; a world-famous library and all kinds of endowments, which, while stimulating the youths to diligence, soon enough instilled in them the salutary consciousness of having learnt to earn their own livelihood, modest though it was, according to their deserts.
The Rector of Nagyenyed College was at that time the Right Honourable Master Gerson Szabó of Torda, a great scholar, an exceptionally peaceable gentleman and a tireless upholder of virtuous ways.
For, once he had established himself among his monstrous folios, he became so utterly absorbed in them that he would often ask his wife whether he had had his dinner, yet to his pupils he was an oracle. His inclinations drew him only towards such quiet and peaceful sciences as astronomy and mechanics, while he had a dislike for history as a science which - in his words - taught nothing but the names of men and women who excelled in slaying their fellow beings, praised the exploits of the sinful, the sanguinary
5 District in Transylvania.
and the ruthless and filled its boundless expanse with lies, instead of improving posterity through upholding the example of pious men, of benefactors of mankind, and of sages. In his repugnance to particular historical personages, he even did not hesitate to falsify the past for the spiritual welfare of his students, enjoining the professor of history to depict Cleopatra, Semiramis and other such shameless hussies, as ugly, detestable monsters, the very thought of whom should be enough to fill one with loathing. Never were the students allowed to cast their eyes upon a female shape; dancing, the sound of the fiddle and other vain diversions, were banished once and for all from their midst; even in church, to keep them from ogling the girls, a space behind the pews was partitioned off for the older students, who sat there on trimmed fir trunks, to keep their heads lower than the elbow-rests of the pews in front of them. For the right honourable rector professed the rockfast principle that a young man yet unable to marry, that is, while he was still prosecuting his studies and could not afford a well-feathered nest of his own, had no need to know a woman, and whatever happened in the meantime was vanity and would lead to nothing good.
It need hardly be said that this was the most unpopular view one could proclaim for the sake of the public weal, and that it found the fewest adherents among those most concerned - the students of Nagyenyed. After all, one could not help seeing a female figure once in a while, and any woman seems beautiful to a young man between fourteen and twenty years of age.
A particular difficulty in applying Master Gerson‟s educational maxim was the circumstance that he himself had a daughter, and she was so beautiful that you might go picking and choosing through the town for half a year and yet come back to her in the end.
All the students who happened to behold this girl invariably fell in love with her; but their love was wasted, because it would be easier for one of the damned to flee back across the Styx than for a student to come within twenty steps of Klárika - for that was the beautiful maiden‟s name.
Master Gerson had a one-storied house next to the college, with his own chambers on the ground floor, and his daughter‟s rooms occupying the first. A grill barred the passage to the stairs, so that it was out of the question for some young man, on his way to see the professor, to stray into Klárika‟s vicinity. And anyhow he would have done so in vain for the good girl had been brought up in such fear of both God and students she would surely have fled at the sight of the young man.
Nor did any simple mortal have free access to the learned professor‟s house; but for tried and tested personages his door was thrown open.
Two such tried and tested personages were the young students of the humanities, Joseph Zetelaky and Aaron Karassiay.
The former was a handsome youth of seventeen with the face of a virgin. He was a special favourite of Master Gerson‟s, who believed him to have confined his spirit among the books of science more securely than if he had put it behind bars or preserved it in alcohol. He always held first honours and wrote all manner of verse on any subject, making use with equal dexterity of hexameters, pentameters or alexandrines, or of Sapphic, Alcaic, or Anacreontic lines. It goes without saying that there were no love poems among these compositions, which sang of Winter, Spring, the Harvest, Lightning and similar lofty subjects. In addition, he spoke fluent Greek, Latin, Hebrew and French;