Literary and Cultural Relations

Ireland, Hungary and Central and Eastern Europe

by Maria Kurdi (Volume editor)
©2009 Monographs CCLXXVI, 12 Pages
Series: Carysfort Press Ltd., Volume 214


The lively, informative and incisive collection of essays sheds fascinating new light on the literary interrelations between Ireland, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Czech Republic. It charts a hitherto under-explored history of the reception of modern Irish culture in Central and Eastern Europe and also investigates how key authors have been translated, performed, and adapted. The work of Jonathan Swift, John Millington Synge, Flann O'Brien, Samuel Beckett, Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon and Martin McDonagh, it is indicated, has particularly inspired writers, directors, and translators. The searching analyses presented here illuminatingly reflect on the far-reaching political and social import of multicultural exchange. It is shown to be a process that is at best mutually defining and that raises questions about received forms of identity, the semiotics of genre and the possibilities and limits of linguistic translation. In addition, the histories compiled here of critical commentary on Irish literature in Hungary or of the staging of contemporary Irish plays in Hungary and in the Czech Republic, for example, uncover the haphazardness of intercultural exchange and the extent to which it is vulnerable to political ideology, social fashion, and the vagaries of state funding. The revealing explorations undertaken in this volume of a wide array of Irish dramatic and literary texts, ranging from Gulliver's Travels to Translations and The Pillowman, tease out the subtly altered nuances that they acquire in a Central European context. By the same token, it is demonstrated that Ireland has been changed by the recent migration of workers from Eastern Europe and that consequently projections of the figure of the emigrant or asylum seeker in current drama warrant scrutiny. This original and combative collection demonstrates, not only that literary exchange between Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and Ireland has been prolonged, multifaceted and, above all, enriching, but also that it exposes blind-spots, and forces confrontation with issues of racism, failure of empathy and cultural misprision.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Drama and Theatre
  • 1 | All We Say is ‘Life is Crazy’: Central and Eastern Europe and the Irish Stage
  • 2 | Samuel Beckett Comes to Transylvania: the ‘Absurdoid’ Plays of Géza Páskándi
  • 3 | Body Politics in a Fictitious East European Dictatorship: Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman
  • 4 | ‘Suitably Relevant’: Irish Drama and Theatre in the Czech Republic, 2000-2007
  • 5 | Brian Friel Performances in Hungarian Theatres: Problems in Theatrical Adaptation
  • 6 | Irishness or Otherness: Two Irish Versions of Uncle Vanya
  • Crosscultural Dialogue and Translation
  • 7 | Lajos Kossuth and Michael Davitt, Turin, 1885
  • 8 | A Congenial Race: Irish Literature and National Character in the Hungarian Literary Journal Nyugat
  • 9 | Gulliver’s Umpteenth Voyage in Hungary: the Most Recent Sequels
  • 10 | Venturing onto Licensed Premises. Translating Flann O’Brien’s
  • 11 | The Polishing of Heaney.
  • 12 | The Uses of a Disused Shed: Mahon’s Poem in Hungarian
  • Bibliography
  • Contributors
  • Index



Mária Kurdi

The papers collected in this book were originally given at the first conference of the Hungarian Society for Irish Studies (HUSIS), a small but dedicated body of scholars, which took place at the University of Pécs in September 2007. The theme of the conference, the same as the title of the present volume, was chosen with great care by those members who attended the annual meeting of HUSIS in late 2006. That meeting was generously hosted by the Embassy of Ireland, Budapest. We tried to make its topics as broad as possible to show relationships with Ireland. Fortunately, the conference managed to attract not only Irish and Hungarian scholars but also scholars from countries like the Czech Republic, Romania, France, Sweden, and the United States.

In October 2005 an unprecedented event called ‘Forum on the Future of Irish Studies’ was held at the European University Institute of Florence. It brought together over fifty scholars from Ireland and a range of European countries, the United States, Brazil, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and proved to be a uniquely fruitful opportunity to discuss ideas pertaining to the present fate and the future endeavours of Irish Studies worldwide. The plenary lectures were later published in an elegant little volume alongside reports about the sessions, in which one can read about the need for addressing topics in Irish Studies on a comparative basis in order to reshape critical paradigms and allow ←1 | 2→approaches to become more inclusive through the recognition of transnational parallels with non-Anglophone countries. Luke Gibbons, for instance, claims that ‘Cross-cultural and comparativist perspectives are vital to bring Irish Studies out of centuries-old stereotypes of the insular Celts.’ To this end, he explains, ‘it is necessary to expand the range of reference to throw new light not just on Ireland, but on wider contemporary debates…’1

In a sense, the HUSIS Conference, representing scholarship concerned with relations among Ireland, Hungary, Central- and Eastern Europe, took its cue and drew encouragement from the above as well as from the realization that cross-cultural explorations lead to new insights about all countries involved. The present book is structured in two parts, each containing six papers. ‘Drama and Theatre’, the subtitle of the first section, demonstrates that the diversity of Irish dramatic achievements and the complex traditions of Ireland’s theatre inspire a significant proportion of Irish Studies scholarship in the international context. The essays here are headed by Patrick Lonergan’s ‘All We Say is “Life is Crazy”: Central and Eastern Europe and the Irish Stage’, originally delivered as a plenary lecture at the HUSIS conference and illustrated by some well-chosen images while discussing both a delicate and far-reaching subject. Lonergan’s starting point is that in recent years, especially during the Abbey centenary year, 2004, Irish theatre has been conspicuously enriched by guest performances of companies from Central and Eastern Europe. These productions, he argues, stage characters and issues in a way that, although suggesting difference from the Irish experience, can encourage the audience to feel that they face problems equally relevant to their own society in the age of globalization. Moreover, Lonergan discusses in more general terms the status of international work and multiculturalism in the Irish theatre while considering why the significance of this presence has not been better recorded so far. His argument is underpinned by references to several Irish plays, companies, and productions in Ireland which feature immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe, among others, and highlights the diversity of Irish responses to them.

A different approach is provided by Donald E. Morse’s paper, which inquires into the impact of the Irish theatre abroad, namely ←2 | 3→the influence of the Beckettian Absurd on the Transylvanian-Hungarian writer and philosopher Géza Páskándi’s dramaturgy. The discussion includes an analysis of Páskándi’s Todogar jaur Kvárna [They Are Waiting for Godot to Come Again], in which the Gogo and Didi figures make covert references to the plight of the Hungarian ethnic minority in Romania who tried to resist cultural assimilation under the dictatorial regime before 1990. Morse also points to the differences in terms of dramatic strategy between the Absurd in Western and Eastern Europe because of respective cultural contexts. He stresses that the Páskándi play’s focus is not so much on metaphysical issues as on the defeat of individuality and personal integrity under despotism. Péter P. Müller’s paper complements Morse’s as it briefly addresses two Central European Absurdist plays by Slawomir Mrożek and the Hungarian István Eörsi. This time the contrast is with Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. In the latter the setting, although also evoking the mechanism of totalitarian police states, remains rather abstract and undefined. Müller emphasizes the multilevel, self-reflexive character of The Pillowman as opposed to the two other plays, and notes that McDonagh foregrounds body politics through the parental mistreatment of children and child abuse. They bring the play closer to the contemporary trend of new brutalism than to the revival of political theatre.

McDonagh also stands out as an important author in Ondřej Pilný’s survey of Irish drama and theatre in the Czech Republic during 2000-2007, since his entire dramatic oeuvre has been translated and staged in the country. Within the period under consideration over sixty professional productions of Irish plays from Oscar Wilde to Marina Carr were mounted by the Czech theatres, a huge number in a relatively small country. Pilný, himself the translator of several Irish plays, also comments about the audience and critical reception of Irish drama in the Czech Republic in relation to cultural endeavours and events, at home and abroad, which promote the internationalisation of Irish theatre. Interestingly, the author remarks, despite the affinities between the histories of the two countries in terms of colonial/-semi-colonial subjugation, the critical analysis of Irish drama by Czech critics rarely focuses on the plays as the product of a nation. Part of the reason may be, the argument runs, that the Czechs did ←3 | 4→not lose their language although they suffered long-term Habsburg dominance and their aristocracy tended to use German. Not even the production of Friel’s Translations in 1997 elicited Czech views about the play’s relevance to the Czech audience in a postcolonial sense.

The postcolonial aspect finds an echo in Csilla Bertha’s paper about performances of Friel in the Hungarian theatres. Translations, Bertha reports, has never been produced by any professional theatre in present-day Hungary; the Hungarian audience were allowed to see it only when a student group performed it in English at the University of Debrecen (1996) and when the Abbey Theatre took it to Budapest on its tour of the region (2001). However, two ethnic Hungarian theatres in Romania did venture to produce it. Bertha discusses the significance of these events in the context that after the abolition of the dictatorship, minorities there experienced a kind of decolonizing process more so than the population of the mother country, since they were engaged in reclaiming their right to use their mother-tongue and to call attention to their distinctive culture. Bertha herself helps this process by having translated, with Donald E. Morse, a number of Transylvanian-Hungarian plays into English.2 The larger framework of Bertha’s paper is the question of theatre adaptation with an eye to the fortunes of Friel’s plays on the Hungarian stage. Friel performances in Hungary, Bertha claims, invite one to see them against present-day cultural-ideological divisions in Hungarian intellectual life, a kind of post-imperial situation after the collapse of communism. With examples, the paper then focuses on the problems of some of the Friel productions in Hungary since 1990, which, according to the author, largely derive from the inability to retain the quality and complexity of the original material in balance with the innovations of staging.

Zsuzsa Csikai’s paper, where one of the Irish playwrights in analysis is also Brian Friel, while the other is Frank McGuinness, considers the reverse situation. Aware of theories of translation and cultural appropriation with the domesticating/foreignizing differentiation as a core issue, Csikai looks at the divergent linguistic strategies that the two Irish playwrights deploy in their respective renderings of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. The two versions ←4 | 5→are also treated as largely part of (the Friel text) or in a way contestatory of (the McGuinness text) the practice that Nicholas Grene, referring to transpositions of Chekhov to the Irish stage, describes as follows: ‘Turn-of-the-century Russia is matched by turn-of-the-century Ireland: the crumbling country houses, the frustrated artistic ambitions, the melancholy and ennui. We are on home ground in Russia’.3

The second section of the book contains articles which inquire into historical affinities and cultural dialogue as well as translation, this time of prose and poetry. Carla King, in her paper about Michael Davitt and Lajos Kossuth traces similarities between the ideas of the two politicians who were contemporaries and met each other during the years of Kossuth’s exile from Hungary after the defeat of the Hungarian revolution and war of independence, 18481849. King points out that in both their thinking nationalism was combined with liberalism, yet their approaches to nationalism also diverged, in King’s analysis, due to the different social and political milieux in which they worked. Kossuth organized the anti-Habsburg revolution in a country with many nationalities whose interests were not always recognized and integrated by the Hungarians, while in Davitt’s Ireland the population was far more ethnically homogeneous, but the land question equally called for solution. In the reception of the two politicians, there is a parallel again. King concludes that the evaluation of Kossuth’s work divides historians, whereas Davitt’s radical thought, internationalism, and attention to class and gender were overlooked until a few recent studies – with King’s book among them, let us add.4

The essay by Gabriella Vöő describes the Hungarian reception of Irish literature in the literary periodical Nyugat [West] (1908-1941), the lifespan of which indicates that history loomed large in the background. According to Vöő, there were two major ways in which Nyugat reflected on Irish literature and culture in interwar Hungary: it strove to generate a vivid interest in literary Modernism, while it also engaged in a kind of positive national stereotyping. On the one hand, as a promoter of high modernist principles, it familiarized readers with Irish writers like Wilde and Yeats alongside other European modernists through high quality translations and criticism. On the other hand, especially after the Trianon peace accord, as a result of which millions of Hungarians ←5 | 6→became an ethnic minority outside the borders of the dwarfed country, there was a tendency among Hungarian literati to interpret the divergence of Irish culture and literary discourse from the English using the terms ‘national’ or ‘racial’. Vöő discusses this phenomenon citing from the reviews published by Nyugat of European writings about the issues of nation and race. From the early 1930s, witnessing the growth of fascist ideology and politics in Germany, Hungarian authors and critics abandoned the use of ‘race’ as a contaminated term. With this the perception of Irish culture as distinct from the English one suffered, and, the essay points out, made the reception of Irish literature, for example, of Joyce’s Ulysses, rather one-sided and deprived of appropriate context for decades.

Reception as rewriting is the focus of Gabriella Hartvig’s paper. The author of an essay about early-and mid-twentieth-century Swift imitations in Hungary,5 Hartvig's contribution to the present book is a kind of sequel to that work since now she writes about a handful of contemporary Hungarian novels which are inspired by the apparently evergreen Gulliver theme and the form of the imaginary voyage. Diverse as their approaches are, the Gulliver character in them is usually led to a totalitarian or post-communist country, often recognizably Hungary or like Hungary, to be confronted with certain negative phenomena and processes in political and social life. Thus highly politicized, the new versions borrow elements of twentieth-century genres like science fiction and dystopia, which show parallels with the strategies of their usually apolitical predecessors. By way of formal novelty, a couple of the recent books display features that link them to the self-reflexive nature of postmodern fiction. Self-reflexivity, stylistic parody, and intertextuality are the sophisticated techniques that make the translation of a novel using them so difficult, as is demonstrated by Erika Mihálycsa’s paper about the risks of rendering Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds into Hungarian. The difficulty is confirmed by the fact that its translation has been just recently accomplished; other works by the writer are already available to the Hungarian-speaking public. As the paper elaborates, the genesis of this translation could hardly be more congenial to the spirit of the Irish author and his linguistic bravura. First of all, it is the result of the fusion of two people’s efforts: one ←6 | 7→of them, Erika Mihálycsa, the author of the paper, is an ethnic Hungarian citizen of Romania, while the other, Gábor Csizmadia, lives in Hungary. Mihálycsa, who is responsible for the final shape of the translation, provides an account of how they selected idioms from the variants and registers of the Hungarian language as well as from the treasury of classical Hungarian literature, poetry especially, in their attempt to invent an eclectic, hybridized language as the best possible vehicle of Flann O’Brien’s work. Besides translation theories, Mihálycsa consulted the existing Romanian and German translations of At Swim-Two-Birds, and also Joyce translations into Hungarian in tandem with recent critical material on the translatability of Joyce.

The two essays which close the volume address aspects of the reception of Seamus Heaney and Mahon, sharing the strategy that both write about poets and poetry in their homelands, Poland and Hungary. They show how the changing political situation in the second half of the twentieth century influenced literary production. ‘The Polishing of Heaney: Seamus Heaney’s Poetry in Poland: Translations, Reception, Impact’ by Jerzy Jarniewicz looks at approaches to the translation of the Irish poet in Poland and introduces two directions as represented by two major poets. In the bulk of the paper Jarniewicz focuses on the differences between them with regard to selection, interpretation, technique, and the perception of Irish-Polish affinities. Jarniewicz also elaborates on Heaney's contribution to the internationalisation of Polish literature though his collaboration with Stanisław Barańczak in the translation of Jan Kochanowski’s sixteenth-century sequence of elegiac poems under the title Laments (1995). István D. Rácz's paper about other international aspects of Heaney also under a punning title, ‘Heaneys of the Mind’,6 this time addresses the journey of Irish poetry in Hungary in ‘The Uses of a Disused Shed: Mahon’s Poem in Hungarian’. In the comparative analysis and evaluation of the choices Derek Mahon’s Hungarian translators make, Rácz works on the assumption that a translated poem reflects the cross-cultural ‘liminality’ of the text in the sense of bringing the process of translation into focus rather than allowing the reader to view the result as something finished and complete. Not unlike the discovery of two distinct directions in the Polish translation of Heaney by Jarniewicz, Rácz finds that András ←7 | 8→Fodor’s Mahon appears to be a traditional poet whose verse displays affinities with his own, whereas Eszter Tábor’s translation of Mahon calls attention to the experimental features in ‘A Disused Shed’, which in turn seem to influence her own work. The introduction of Mahon to the Hungarian-speaking readers proves to be, thus, a many-sided journey.

As editor, I hope that readers will find a great many more links among the papers and their subjects, which implicitly argue for the validity of informed and enriched comparative approaches in literary and cultural studies and remind us of the artificiality of all kinds of divisions. In gratitude I warmly thank the twelve authors who have made the volume possible by writing their works in consideration of its main goal, to strengthen the growth of a relatively new but certainly rewarding line in Irish Studies.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2020 (February)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2009. XII, 276 pp., 2 fig. col

Biographical notes

Maria Kurdi (Volume editor)

Mária Kurdi is professor emerita in the Institute of English Studies at the University of Pécs, Hungary. Her main research areas are modern Irish literature, English-speaking drama and comparative studies. So far she has published six books in these areas and edited or co-edited several essay collections. Her own books include Codes and Masks (Peter Lang, 2000), Representations of Gender and Female Subjectivity in Contemporary Irish Drama by Women (Edwin Mellen Press, 2010) and Approaches to Irish Theatre through a Hungarian’s Lens: Essays and Review Articles (Pécs: University Pécs, Institute of English Studies, 2018). Her edited volumes include Literary and Cultural Relations: Ireland, Hungary, and Central and Eastern Europe and Radical Contemporary Theatre Practices by Women in Ireland (co-edited with Miriam Haughton), published by Carysfort Press of Dublin in 2009 and 2015 respectively. Mária Kurdi also publishes scholarly articles in both English and Hungarian journals and essay collections regularly. Currently she is working on several projects, including a themed block of essays dealing with aging and ageism in literature and theatre for the spring 2020 issue of Hungarian Journal of English Literary and Cultural Studies as well as a collection of essays The Theatre of Deirdre Kinahan co-edited with Lisa Fitzpatrick, to be published by Peter Lang and Carysfort Press in 2021.


Title: Literary and Cultural Relations
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
290 pages