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Literary and Cultural Relations

Ireland, Hungary and Central and Eastern Europe

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Edited By Maria Kurdi

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.

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8 | A Congenial Race: Irish Literature and National Character in the Hungarian Literary Journal Nyugat

8 |   A Congenial Race: Irish Literature and National Character in the Hungarian Literary Journal Nyugat1

Extract

Gabriella Vöő

A short sketch by Antal Szerb entitled ‘Századvég’ [Fin-de-siècle], published in 1934, features four young literati doing the pub circuit in end-of-the-century London. Three of them, Lionel Johnson, Ernest Dowson, and John Davidson are real-life figures, members of the Rhymers’ Club, but the last one, laconically referred to as Tyrconnel, is a thinly veiled disguise for Yeats. Szerb captured the atmosphere of the place and the time: rambling interests, refined taste and witty literary small talk, iconic artists like Wilde and George Russell making their brief appearance to crack aphorisms or drop Cabbalistic cards. The characters’ portrayal is parodic but appealing, each of them impersonating artists’ attitudes characteristic of early modernism – infatuation with art, spleen, indefinite yearning – as well as popular national stereotypes. Davidson is a snobbish symbolist and a calculating Scotsman, Johnson a highly cultivated, but ascetic English Catholic, and Dowson a reserved Englishman who keeps his artist’s vocation secret and keeps up the appearance of being in the flax and hemp business. The character of Tyrconnel is the roundest and the most fondly drawn: he is restless, extravagant and meddlesome, his ‘Irish soul eager and desirous to make trouble’; an ‘ambitious dreamer’; a poet who wrote a symbolist poem about Manannán the sea deity; is lovelorn, dejected, and has not the remotest idea that ←139 | 140→he would once be awarded the Nobel Prize.2 Szerb’s sketch captures the two major notes of Hungarian reflections on Irish literature and culture in...

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