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Franco-Hungarian Literary Relations in the Twentieth Century

1. Background, problems to be solved. Own research history

The starting point of the grant application is the recognition that exploring the international contact network of French and Hungarian writers and poets contributes significantly to the exploration of the lives of these persons, their social relations, promotes the understanding of their work, and it offers a good basis for presenting the history of relations between nations. The self-interpretations of authors manifested in the correspondence of French and Hungarian writers are the expressions of personality as well as the documents of social roles, the tools of representation and the indicators of their social evaluation all at the same time. They provide proof of literary currents of the day, and indicate the individual, family and national aspirations. The literary historical processing and evaluation can only be complete if it relies on the international correspondence of the studied writers as well.

One of the highlights of the centuries-old French-Hungarian literary relations is at the turn of the 19–20th centuries, when the ever-faster and cheaper travel and mailing possibilities started to encourage continuous and intense interpersonal relationships. Throughout the 20th century Hungarian literature, French contacts played an important role, starting for example with poetry inspired by the French avant-garde. However, French literature is more than inspiration only, as it is also a transmitter of Hungarian culture, having had a great influence on presenting Hungarians in Western Europe. The exploration, study and publication of documents capturing these relations is essential for understanding the literary processes at work.

The history of 20th-century Hungarian-French literary connections is only covered occasionally in literary historical research. Apart from a few exceptions, published documents presenting the writers’ foreign relations are absent. The most important work of special literature over the past one and a half decades is the volume of studies entitled „La N.R.F. et Nyugat: deux projects culturels à revisiter” [The N.R.F. and Nyugat: Two Cultural Projects to Revisit] edited by Judit Karafiáth in 2005, which reveals the connections of the two literary journals founded almost simultaneously: the Nyugat started in 1908 and the Nouvelle Revue Française launched in 1909. Due to technological circumstances this work could not yet rely on the results of digital philology which has evolved since.

My work of exploring the literary legacy in the Illyés Gyula Archives between 2007-2013 provides a good starting point towards a deeper understanding of the 20th-century French-Hungarian literary connections. In my book published in Paris in Autumn 2015 (Christophe Dauphin – Anna Tüskés, Les Orphées du Danube: Jean Rousselot, Gyula Illyés et Ladislas Gara. Suivi de Lettres à Gyula Illyés, par Jean Rousselot, Rafael de Surtis/Editinter, 2015, 464 p.) I published not only more than one hundred letters written by Rousselot to Illyés, but also the letters of the French poet adressed to other Hungarian authors and literary historians (László Dobossy, László Gara, Ferenc Jankovich, Gábor Lipták, István Tóth).

The correspondence between Illyés and Rousselot lasting almost three decades (1956-1983) highlighted the stages of the cooperation fruitful for both French and Hungarian culture, especially the prominent role of literary translations within that. Illyés has become an extremely meticulous and conscious artist to a large extent through his poetry translations. Beyond literary translations, this friendship resulted in new works in all three major genres of literature. The exploration of further literary correspondence will probably nuance the innovative endeavors revealed in connection with the Illyés-Rousselot friendship.

The correspondences preserved in private and public collections are essential documents of the relationship between two cultures and of the personal networks. Both the scientific and public importance of a systematically processed monograph and the digital publishing of sources of the entire corpus is unquestionable.

My previous research has shown that the thorough understanding of intercultural relations is also essential for the interpretation of several pieces of literature. For example, the interpretation of the three poems that Rousselot wrote under the influence of the news the French poet received about the Hungarian October Revolution (end of 1956 and beginning of 1957), is impossible without knowing his visit to Budapest at the end of September 1956, the circumstances and motives of which we know from his letters written to Illyés. Through his visit to Hungary and his new contacts, the relationship to the political system of the formerly clearly communist Rousselot has changed, of which we are informed from his letters and poems as well. Through László Gara and Gyula Illyés Rousselot got acquainted with many works of Hungarian literature, and he got to like and introduce them to the French public.

2. The objectives of the project

The main objective of the project is (1) the analysis and digital publishing of source groups kept in three public and one private collection, and (2) writing a monograph.

2.1 The approximately 1300 French letters kept in the Manuscript Department of the Petőfi Museum of Literature are related mainly to four Hungarian and two French authors: Pál A. Löffler (1901–1979), László Dormándi (1898–1967), Romain Rolland (1866–1944), György Bölöni (1882–1959), Lázár Endre Bajomi (1914–1987) and Aurélien Sauvageot (1897–1988). Pál A. Löffler (Paul Adolphe Loffler) writer, journalist, literary translator, who lived in Paris from 1924 and received French citizenship in 1947. He was member of the Paris Circle of Friends of Hungarian Language and Culture, and permanent employee of the newspaper Franciaországi Magyar Szó [Hungarian Word in France]. He was in close friendship with French “populist” writers. He published a biography of Petőfi in French (La vie ďAlexandre Petőfi, Rodez, 1953), and a volume on Hungarian folktales. His approximately one hundred letters, memoirs and diary are valuable sources of working class literature in France and the Hungarian emigration in Paris. Romain Rolland had correspondence mainly with the writer, literary historian and translator Marcell Benedek (1885–1969) and literary and cultural historian Ferenc Hugai (1884–1955). The seventeen years spent in Paris tied Endre Bajomi Lázár fundamentally to French culture. After his return to Hungary he was a respected transmitter of French culture. All his books and other publications are related to French topics. During his significant activity as literary translator he adapted contemporary French prosaists and playwrighters to Hungarian. In 1946, he published a study in France about the Hungarians who took part in the resistance. The approximately twenty letters kept in the Museum reflect his French relations in the 1960s and 1970s.

2.2 The legacy of Zoltán Ambrus and his wife is kept in the Manuscript Department of the Széchényi National Library. The total scope if the legacy is approximately ninety manuscript depository boxes with their contents disordered. Procesing of the material revealed that mixed documents, prints and manuscripts can be found in it. As Zoltán Ambrus studied in the Collège de France and at the Sorbonne as well, and later he translated French authors, he is one of the representatives of the French-Hungarian relations around the turn of the 20th century. The notes on his French language readings can also be found in his legacy. Although a volume of his correspondence has been published, the number of his unpublished letters is significant as well. Beyond the history of international relations, the study of this disordered material offers indications for understanding the works.

2.3 In the part of the literary legacy of Gyula Illyés which is not kept in the Manuscript Department of the Library and Information Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, many so far unpublished documents are related to Gyula Illyés’ French mission in 1947, and to his cultural diplomacy activities conducted during his previous journey in 1946-1947. The analysis of these materials will give a more nuanced picture about Illyés’ French relations - both personal and also those represented in his works.

2.4 The correspondence (by István Sőtér, András Martinkó, Gy. Mihály Vajda and others) of the International Comparative Literature Association (Association Internationale de Littérature Comparée) from the period between 1964–1975 about the organisation of the conference in Tours, and that of the congresses in Montreal, Budapest and Bordeaux, which is kept in the host institution of my project, the Archive of the Institute for Literary Studies of Research Center for the Humanities of Hungarian Academy of Sciences, could give science-historical additions to Franco-Hungarian relations of the period.

Provided a successful outcome of the application I will publish the discovered sources in an Internet database as well.

3. Presumable Results

The analysis, monographic exploration and publication of the French related sources kept in the Petőfi Museum of Literature, the Széchényi National Library, the private section of the literary legacy of Gyula Illyés and the Institute for Literary Studies of Research Center for the Humanities of Hungarian Academy of Sciences give a solid basis for understanding the works and to the relationship history between nations. The outstanding literary-, art- and cultural-historical importance of digital publishing of writers’ correspondence is unquestionable.

Some extracts of the correspondences

"Édes Ernőm, ezuttal még egy versen kivül mást nem tudok küldeni. Egyébként megfogadtam Fenyő tanácsát: nem politizálok. Ellenben küldök novellát, figyelőt stb. Az önéletrajz szükséges? Kérlek, nem kaptam meg a legújabb Nyugatot. Címem : 92, rue de Lévis. Szóval a réges-régi. Ide kérek lapot, pénzt. Ölel mindőtöket Ady"

Dear Ernő, I can not send anything other than a poem. Otherwise, I took Fenyő's advice: I do not politicize. However I'm sending a story, a lookout, and so on. Is the CV necessary? Please, I did not get the latest Nyugat [West]. My address: 92, rue de Lévis. So the very old. Send the journal and the money here. Your affectionately Ady
Endre Ady to Ernő Osvát, 25th February 1909

"...je suis sûr que les poètes italiens trouveront plus vite un éditeur que leurs compagnons hongrois."

[I am sure that the Italian poets will find a publisher more quickly than their Hungarian companions.]
Prof. P. Vomasin to Joseph Kiss, 6th March 1920

"A votre première question sur la relation entre la politique et la littérature je répondrai très catégoriquement que la politique ne doit pas, bien entendu, diriger la littérature : l’art, haute émanation de l’esprit humain doit être libre. Mais il est absolument impossible à notre époque à la littérature si elle veut jouer son rôle d’éclairement sur les choses et sur les idées, de se désintéresser des grands problèmes politiques. Cela s’est passé et était peut être bien fondé à d’autres époques, mais actuellement les crises sévissant sur les ensembles humains, les grandes nécessités de réorganisation collective ont pris une importance vitale et l’homme de lettre ne peut pas passer à côté de cela sans abdiquer toute la noblesse de son rôle et sans réduire celui-ci à n’être qu’une industrie de distraction et d’amusement."

[To your first question on the relationship between politics and literature I answer very categorically that politics must not, of course, direct literature: art, the high emanation of the human mind must be free. But it is absolutely impossible in our age for literature if it wants to play its role of illumination on things and ideas, to lose interest in the great political problems. This has happened and may have been well founded at other times, but at the present time the crises on human settlements, the great necessities of collective reorganization have taken on a vital importance and the man of letters can not ignore without abdicating all the nobility of his role and without reducing it to being an industry of entertainment and amusement.]
Henri Barbusse to unknown person, 27th May 1925

"Je suis content que l’Annonciatrice m’ait permis de passer ces derniers mois en une sorte d’entretien secret avec vous. Je crains bien que le volume qui suit n’ait beaucoup de peine à paraître. En Allemagne, il n’en est pas question, d’ici à un temps assez long (pas plus, d’ailleurs, que pour l’Annonciatrice) : car mon dernier volume sera tout à fait « unpleasant » pour une partie de l’Europe, à commencer par celle du Duce et celle du Führer."

[I am glad that L'Annonciatrice has allowed me to spend the last few months in a sort of secret conversation with you. I am afraid that the volume which follows will have much difficulty in appearing. In Germany, there is no question of it, in a rather long time (no more, moreover, than for L'Annonciatrice): for my last volume will be quite "unpleasant" for a part of the Europe, beginning with that of the Duce and that of the Führer.]
Romain Rolland to Marcell Benedek, 15th April 1933

"[...] ha van még egy hely a világon, ahol jó élni, az csak Páris lehet. Az élet persze igen drága – azt hiszem Páris ma a világ legdrágább városa – de amikor az ember negyedéves bölcsész, szégyen volna erre gondolni."

[...if there is another place in the world where it is good to live, it can only be Paris. Life is, of course, very expensive - I think Paris is the most expensive city in the world today - but when you're a fourth year student of liberal arts, it would be a shame to think about it.]
István Lajti to Marcell Benedek, 29th September 1934

"Durant les deux mois de mon séjour en U.R.S.S., je n’ai eu personnellement à me plaindre de rien. Mon voyage a été on ne peut plus agréable, d’un bout à l’autre. J’ai rencontré partout l’accueil le plus empressé, le plus cordial, le plus charmant. De tout cela je garde le souvenir le meilleur. Il est vrai que ce que j’ai vu là-bas ne m’a pas toujours satisfait. Mais, plutôt que de me prêter des propos fantaisistes et de prétendues déclarations, mieux vaudrait attendre de lire mon livre Retour de l’U.R.S.S., qui vient de paraître, où j’expose mes critiques et mes craintes avec une complète sincérité."

[During the two months of my stay in U.S.S.R., I had personally to complain about nothing. My journey was most agreeable, from one end to the other. I have met everywhere the most eager, the most cordial, the most charming. Of all this I keep the best memory. It is true that what I saw there did not always satisfy me. But, rather than lend me fanciful words and pretended declarations, it would be better to wait to read my newly published book, "The Return from the U.S.S.R.", where I expose my criticisms and my fears with complete sincerity.]
André Gide, 17th November 1936

"Je ne sais pas, si vous avez appris que j’ai été condamné à 9 mois de prison pour avoir traduit votre Retour... Je viens de sortir de prison et je vous écris pour vous demander de me venir en aide. [...] Depuis le 18 oct. le jour du verdict tous mes moyens d’existence et de travail ont été subitement coupés. [...] Depuis, les maisons d’édition n’osent me donner du travail, les journaux et revues ne publient plus mes écrits. Pour comble, je suis juif. Il faut vous dire encore que tout les condamnés politiques sont surveillés déjà par la police.On pourra et d’un jour à l’autre me mettre sans jugement dans un camp de concentration, tout semblable à ceux que vous devez connaître déjà de réputation."

[I do not know if you have learned that I was sentenced to 9 months in prison for translating your Return... I just got out of prison and I am writing to ask you to help me. [...] Since October 18, the day of the verdict, all my means of existence and work have been suddenly cut off. [...] Since then, the publishing houses do not dare to give me work, the newspapers and magazines no longer publish my writings. To make matters worse, I am Jewish. We must also tell you that all the political prisoners are already under surveillance by the police. From one day to the next I may be put without trial in a concentration camp, very similar to those you must already know of reputation.]
Tibor Déry, in 1938 or first half of 1939

"Je dois faire attention à ne pas « franciser » ce qui est votre poésie propre."

[I have to be careful not to "francise" what is your own poetry.]
Pierre Seghers to Gyula Illyés, 8th August 1955

"la clique de Kados n’a pas permis au meilleurs pianistes d’entrer au finales, ayant peur de perdre les chanches par ceux, qui étaient décidées au prix – bien avant. Voilà ! C’est la vérité du I Concours International Fr. Liszt ! C’est bien domage, qu’on a dépensé tant des Forrints pour faire une mauvaise propagande pour Hongrie à l’étranger."

[The Kados clique did not allow the best pianists to enter the finals, being afraid of losing the chanches by those who were determined at the price - well before. There we are! This is the truth of the 1st International Competition of Fr. Liszt! It is very damaging to have spent so many Forints to do bad propaganda for Hungary abroad.]
A. Domaszowski to unknown person in the redaction of Irodalmi Újság [Literary Newspaper], Budapest

"Qu’est-il ce présent ? c’est le présent des révolutions, le présent des guerres, le présent des camps, le présent des prisons, le présent des tortures, le présent de l’oppression, de la parole humaine et de l’effort intérieur et partout, Mesdames et Messieurs, le présent de la peur installé dans la racine de l’être de la peur de dire. Mesdames et Messieurs, Kirsanov, tout à l’heure – hier, c’est tout à l’heure – nous a parlé de l’absence du rideau de fer qu’en survolant les nuages de la poésie, les nuages heureux de la poésie, il n’avait pas vu, certes c’est bien possible, mais le vrai rideau de fer, il n’est pas là, il est à l’intérieur de nous-même, c’est le rideau de fer qui fait qu’il nous est permis de tout dire, sauf cela précisément, le tabou contre lequel nous ne pouvons parler."

[What is this present? It is the present of revolutions, the present of wars, the present of the camps, the present of prisons, the present of tortures, the present of oppression, of human speech and of internal and everywhere effort, Ladies and Gentlemen, the present of the fear installed in the root of being the fear of saying. Ladies and gentlemen, yesterday, Kirsanov told us about the absence of the iron curtain by flying over the clouds of poetry, the happy clouds of poetry. He had not seen, certainly it is possible, but the real iron curtain, it is not there, it is inside of ourselves, it is the iron curtain which makes that we are allowed to say everything, except that precisely, the taboo against which we can not speak.]
Speech by Mr. Pierre Emmanuel, IV International Poetry Biennale, Knokke-Le Zoute, 3-7 September 1959

"Tes poèmes me poursuivent en rêve. Après les Belles de Budapest les succubes de la poésie hongroise. Que de bâtards nés de ces enfantements. Malheureux parrain que tu es. [...] Je t’embrasse en Karinthy et en Batsányi pour ce soir."

[Your poems pursue me in dreams. After the beautiful Budapest, the succubes of the Hungarian poetry. How many bastards born of these births. Unfortunate godfather that you are. [...] Greeting with Karinthy and Batsányi for tonight.]
François Gachot to Ladislas Gara, around 1960

"Je ne te dirai pas combien d’heures j’ai passé sur le Radnoti. Tout l’or de la Hongrie (et l’uranium) ne suffiraient pas à me payer."

[I will not tell you how many hours I spent on the Radnoti. All the gold (and uranium) of Hungary would not be enough to pay me.]
François Gachot to Ladislas Gara, around 1960

"Je souhaite, vous le savez, un grand succès à votre oeuvre qui tend des ponts de l’une à l’autre rive : ce dont nous avons le plus besoin."

[I wish you, as you know, a great success to your work, which bridges from one side to the other: what we need most.]
Robert Sabatier to Ladislas Gara, around 1960

"En effet l’anthologie telle qu’elle se présente aujourd’hui peut éveiller beaucoup de susceptibilités parmi nos poètes. [...] On aurait préféré également une préface écrite par un poète français et non pas un Hongrois émigré."

[Indeed the anthology as it is presented today can arouse many susceptibilities among our poets. [...] We would also have preferred a preface written by a French poet and not a Hungarian emigre.]
Béla Köpeczi to Paul Flamand (Editions du Seuil), 26th April 1962

"Je ne cesse pas de relire vos traductions. Savez-vous que cet Horribles Temps – si touchant par le fait qu’il était le dernier – n’est pas assez « travaillé » en hongrois ? Or, en français c’est parfait. Il m’a donné un frisson que je n’ai jamais senti – à cause de l’imperfection prosodique – en hongrois."

[I do not stop to re-read your translations. Do you know that this Horrible Time (Szörnyű idő / A time of fear by Petőfi - so touching by the fact that it was his last poem - is not enough "worked" in Hungarian? Now, in French it is perfect. It gave me a thrill that I never felt in Hungarian because of the prosodic imperfection.]
Gyula Illyés to Jean Rousselot, 27th May 1962

"...je suis un prolétaire des lettres."

[I am a proletarian of letters]
Endre Bajomi Lázár to Aurelien Sauvageot, 13th May 1963

"Eh bien, ce qui se dit d’être la traduction de ma nouvelle, c’est sa caricature, ce n’est pas mon texte que je retrouve, mais sa transposition en lecture pour jeunes filles, un compte rendu plat de ce que j’ai écrit."

[Well, what is said to be the translation of my story is its caricature, it is not my text that I find, but its transposition in reading for girls, a flat account of what I wrote.]
Tibor Déry to Nadeau, 17th January 1964

"...bardes du Danubes..."

[bards of the Danube]
Lucien Feuillade to Ladislas Gara, 14th March 1966

"Nous sommes dans un pays où le laisser-aller triomphe sur toute la ligue. Les gens se foutent perpétuellement de tout ce qui n’est pas la bouffe ou le moyen de tirer de plus en plus d’argent de partout où c’est possible – exception faite quand il s’agit de leurs voitures."

[We are in a country where "let go" triumph over the whole league. People are perpetually fucking about anything that is not food or the way to get more and more money from wherever possible - except when it comes to their cars.]
Francois Gachot to Endre Bajomi Lázár, 6th April 1976

"Quant à la pénétration de la littérature hongroise en France au 19° siècle, il me semble qu’elle a souvent eu un arrière-plan extra-littéraire."

[As for the penetration of Hungarian literature into France in the 19th century, it seems to me that it has often had an extra-literary background.]
Jenő Bencze to Endre Bajomi Lázár, 23rd August 1976