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Author's page

( 1908 - 1988 )

» Robert Baroque (1927 / 1991 )
» Prae (1934 )
» The Breviary of St. Orpheus (1939/1993)


1908 born in Budapest
1931 degree in English at the University of Budapest
1928 travels around Europe
1931-32, 1948 studies in Britain
1949-58 works as a teacher
1988 dies in Budapest

His prizes include:
1948 Baumgarten Prize, 1977 Attila József Prize, 1982 Milán Füst Prize, 1988 Kossuth Prize

Robert Baroque
1927 / 1991

Szentkuthy wrote this novel at the age of 19, and it was only published posthumously in 1991. The theme of the book corresponds to the problems the author himself faced at the time of writing; the title hero is a young man preparing for his final high school exams. If his early novel, Prae, is the Hungarian Ulysses, this novel is comparable to James Joyce s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, for it also deals with the relationship of a talented youth to his family, culture and religion and his quest to create his own character and language. The novel begins at a theatre (a constant metaphor in Szentkuthy s art). The play ended, Robert heads home, alone in the Budapest night. He is a hyper-sensitive young man, vain and egotistical, toying with picturesque fantasies, secretly preparing for his great collage of a book entitled Creta Polycolor, a colourful procession of dreamy, escapist tales. Art, however, constantly clashes with reality: Robert has to return to his dull, middle-class existence, and must attend school, which he finds boring, despite being a brilliant student. He is an only child, spoiled to the extreme, the apple of his parents eye. In the gloom of their three-room apartment they live in relative peace and harmony, but the world outside is fraught with danger (the elegant surface of the novel is from time to time rippled by realistic scenes of the street: a prostitute, a dying workman on the pavement, a passionately kissing couple seen from the window). Robert is deeply religious, but is constantly troubled by erotic fantasies and has problems with coming to terms with the fact of growing up. The novel is full of erotic visions and fervent soul-searching. In his religious frenzy he thinks he is a terrible sinner; he examines his conscience for hours and then goes to church and confesses to a simple-minded priest who can hardly understand his complex problems. Confession alone cannot cure his anguish; he returns home and prays to the Holy Mary to save his tormented soul and finds consolation in lonely prayer. The next day, however, he flees from the Holy Communion, for he cannot resist the temptation to stare at a beautiful girl. The novel which is in fact Robert s diary ends on a note of optimism: the young man discovers the beauty of nature and hopes that true love will replace his desperate longings. Still, the final paragraph, written in the name of the author himself, reflects on the writer s irony: The things I had planned were completely different.


The greatest master of Hungarian experimental fiction, Miklós Szentkuthy became a writer at an early age, after being confronted with and enchanted by the new trends in Hungarian and world literature. His exceptional sensibility and almost ecstatic religious interest at the time made him turn against his own bourgeois environment and choose his lifelong vocation against the wishes of his parents. His early writings were for a long time either unpublished or neglected. His first great novel, in spite of instant critical acclaim, had to be sold in second-hand bookshops by the author himself until it became legendary and was republished. Prae has often been compared to Joyce s Ulysses (the more so since Szentkuthy himself translated Ulysses into Hungarian). The book breaks with tradition and classical structure, replacing it with linguistic and intellectual associations, ideas about art and philosophy, trying to introduce synchronicity as a compositional technique. Joyce and Szentkuthy had a corresponding frame of mind; they were both aiming for a grand mythological structure comprising mathematics, theology, biology, psychology, architecture, etc., building up a whole pseudo-world of their own.

The Breviary of St. Orpheus

The peak of his historico-philosophical works is his monumental novel of five volumes, a satire and travesty of the whole European culture, a colourful cavalcade of Roman, Renaissance and Baroque scenes and characters, of bishops, popes, artists, politicians, saints and lascivious women, expressing the writer s disbelief in historical progress. Orpheus is the mythical Everyman, or rather the spirit of mankind, submerging into the cultures of the ages. This grotesque, humorous, erotic and religious adventure annihilates the borders between fact and fiction. It is an eternal theatre, the dizzying opera of humanity, a catalogue and imitation of human foibles, a precise but at the same time a circus-like game of art and language.

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