Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi (1924, translated by Richard Aczel, 2010)

I wish to express my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read Skylark.

"Kosztolanyi does not seek his own face.  He continually lives through role and is close to classical decadence.  The dandy is the last flowering of heroism in our age of decline, says the great dandyologist Baudlieire.  Kosztolanyi is a classical dandy, strict and severe". By Peter Esterhazy in his introduction to Skylark.

Skylark by Dezso Kosztolanyi is set in a fictional small town, 1899, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In the present day it would be in Serbia.   I have of late been getting more and more into the literature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Writers like Stefan Zweig, Joseph Roth, Gregor von Rezzori,  Franz Kafka, and Hermann Broch are all on my read all I can list.  (Which means translated into English and available as an E Book.)  For sure Dezso Kosztolanyi belongs in this company.  Sadly it appears Skylark is his only work currently available for me to read.

My prepurchase research on Skylark gave me very high expectations for the novel, I was expecting a masterpiece and Kosztolanyi more than lived up to my hopes.  It focuses on a couple in their late fifties, married a very long time, whose lives center around their daughter, an only child, Skylark.  It took me a few chapters to feel the power of the novel but at midpoint I was very much overpowered by Skylark.  it is at least as good as it is claimed to be.

There is a much better post on Skylark than I could ever dream of writing by Deborah Eisenberg which you can read HERE.

The last few chapters of Skylark are just amazing.  The portrait of the thirty five year old marriage is beyond praise, the parental dynamics are brilliantly done.  The father worked as a civil servant all his working years and now does genealogy research as a hobby.  The day to day life in the small town is viscerally real.  The food in The Lord of Hungary restaurant made me wish I was a patron.  

I am so glad I read Skylark.

I am increasingly fascinated by the figure of the dandy in European literature and I found the comments of Peter Esterhazy in his well done introduction very interesting.

Dezső Kosztolányi (1885-1936) was born in Subotica, a provincial Austro-Hungarian city (located in present-day Serbia) that would serve as the model for the fictional town in which he later set several novels, including Skylark. His father was the headmaster of the local gymnasium, which he attended until he was expelled for insubordination. Kosztolányi spent three years studying Hungarian and German at the University of Budapest, but quit in 1906 to go into journalism. In 1908 he was among the first contributors to the legendary literary journal Nyugat; in 1910, the publication of his second collection of poems, The Complaints of a Poor Little Child, caused a literary sensation. Kosztolányi turned from poetry to fiction in the 1920s, when he wrote the novels Nero, the Bloody Poet (to which Thomas Mann contributed a preface); Skylark; and Anna Edès. An influential critic and, in 1931, the first president of the Hungarian PEN Club, Kosztolányi was also celebrated as the translator of such varied writers as Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, Oscar Wilde, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Goethe, and Rilke, as well as for his anthology of Chinese and Japanese poetry. He was married to the actress Ilona Harmos and had one son.  From the webpage of The New York Review of Books

I have just formally begun a new permanent reading project, literature of the Austro-Humgarian Empire

Mel u


scott g.f.bailey said...

I bought a copy of this last Friday! I look forward to reading it. Funnily enough, I find myself reading a lot of Austrian literature recently, too.

Anonymous said...

I`m also very interested in this genre from the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I`ll be reading several selections for for the month of March and plan to continue reading books from this area for several more months.


Mel u said...

Scott g. F. Bailey. I hope you enjoy it. I look forward to your reaction to Skylark

Jody - Thanks for your comment. Do you have a blog?