Marginalia on Casanova is the first book of the epic ten volume St.
Orpheus Breviary which, as Csaba Sík noted, “represents the greatest
enterprise in scope, in worth? – undertaken in the Hungarian novel.”
As Szentkuthy’s Virgil, St. Orpheus is an omniscient poet who guides
us not through hell, but through all of recorded history, myth,
religion, and literature, albeit reimagined as St. Orpheus
metamorphosizes himself into kings, popes, saints, tyrants, and
At once pagan and Christian, Greek and Hebrew, Asian and European, St.
Orpheus is a mosaic of history and mankind in one supra-person and
veil, an endless series of masks and personae, humanity in its
protean, futural shape, an always changing function of discourse,
text, myth, and mentalité.
Through St. Orpheus’ method, disparate moments of history become
synchronic, are juggled to reveal, paradoxically, mutual difference
and essential similarity. “Orpheus wandering in the infernal regions,”
says Szentkuthy, “is the perennial symbol of the mind lost amid the
enigmas of reality. The aim of the work is, on the one hand, to
represent the reality of history with the utmost possible precision,
and on the other, to show, through the mutations of the European
spirit, all the uncertainties of contemplative man, the transiency of
emotions, and the sterility of philosophical systems.”
Marginalia on Casanova relives the despiritualization of the main
protagonist’s sensual adventures, though it is less his sex life and
more his intellectual mission, the sole determinant of his being,
which is the focus of this mesmeric book. Through his own glittering
associations and broadly spanning array of metaphors, Szentkuthy
analyses and views the 18th century and its notion of homogeneity from
the vantage point of the 20th century, with the full armor of someone
who was, perhaps, one of the last Hungarian Europeans. While a
commentary on Casanova’s memoirs, it is also Szentkuthy’s very own
philosophy of love.
Passion, playfulness, irony, and a whole gamut of protean
metamorphoses are what characterize Marginalia on Casanova, a work in
which readers will experience both profundity and a taking to wing of
essay-writing that is intellectually radiant and as sensual and
provocative as a gondola ride with Casanova.
Featuring an introduction by Zéno Bianu , an afterword by Maria Tompa,
the literary executor of the Szentkuthy Estate, and an original cover
design by renowned Hungarian artist István Orosz. The text was typeset
and made into pages by Alessandro Segalini.
Szentkuthy is hailed by many as the Hungarian equivalent of Joyce,
Proust, and Musil and, to date, his works have already been translated
into French, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovakian, and Spanish. With this
translation by Tim Wilkinson, Szentkuthy is brought for the very first
time into English, and it should prove to be one of the most momentous
if not even historic releases of the decade.
This publication has been aided by a grant from the Petofi Literary
Museum of Budapest.
For further details on the book:
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Miklós Szentkuthy (1908-1988) is the author of masterpieces such as
Prae, the St. Orpheus Breviary, Testament of the Muses, and Towards
the One and Only Metaphor, and is recognized as one of the most
significant and prolific Hungarian writers of the 20th century.
Szentkuthy composed an oeuvre both imposing and complex, centered on
the conflict between art and life, or the aspiration for holiness and
eroticism. In addition to his many novels, essays, short stories, and
memoire-interviews, he also translated numerous texts into Hungarian
including Joyce’s Ulysses, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Dickens’ Oliver
Twist, and works by Twain, Poe, and many others.
Tim Wilkinson has translated a number of substantial works on
Hungarian history and culture including Éva Balázs, Hungary and the
Habsburgs 1765-1800 (1997), Domokos Kosáry, Hungary and International
Politics in 1848-1849 (2003), and others. In the literary field, he
has translated works by Imre Kertész and many other contemporary prose
writers. The US edition of his tr. of Fatelessness was awarded the PEN
American Center’s PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (2005).
His tr. of Kertesz’s Fiasco was a finalist for Three Percent’s Best
Translated Book Award (2012).
“Miklós Szentkuthy is one of the most (if not the most) remarkable
figures of 20th century Hungarian prose.” — András Nagy
“The outlines of Szentkuthy’s philosophy of history take shape in the
debaucheries of his visionary imagination. The ordering principle of
his monumental work is not just the captivating vision of an
extraordinary personality, but also an incisive critique, indeed a
parody, of civilization. It is a summation of Europe and a farewell to
Europe at one and the same time. In each of his historical novels, for
which the term ‘pseudo-historical’ may be more appropriate, Szenkuthy
offers erudite evocations of an historical epoch. Yet, each of his
heroes—whether it be Mozart, Cicero, Dürer, Haydn, Handel or
Goethe—enables Szentkuthy to bring his own life and his own
obsessions, his Protean blend of sensuality and mysticism into play. ”
— Pal Rez
“It is not just that Szentkuthy has not written down the word
‘Hungary,’ but the name of not one Hungarian book, person, or event
crops up in this work. Homelessness, as we have seen, is one of his
main distinguishing marks, as compared with kindred Western writers. I
sense that homelessness to be a higher form of protection of the
mind.” — László Németh