Friends of England – Cultural and Political Sympathies on the Eve of the War

This is a fairly academic article about the views of Hungarians towards Britain prior to the Second World War. I thought this worth of publishing on the blog as it rhymes with a lot of what Paddy tells us in Between the Woods and the Water, and he of course gets a mention.

First published in the Hungarian Quarterly.

In a Hungary on the threshold of war, committed to Hitler’s side, “Pro-English: by 1939, at the latest by 1940, this adjective would encompass many things: liberal, democratic, humanist, pro-Jewish, even Catholic on occcasion, anti-Nazi in every case.”1 Those who sympathized with the English had other characteristics in common, such as a respect for tradition and disdain for demagoguery of all kinds. Between the wars, sympathy for England was palpable especially in the aristocracy, in the upper middle classes and amongst the educated. Sympathy for English traits and behaviour offers an explanation, as does what was felt for Shakespeare, English literature and English culture in general.

There was also a remote historical parallel, occasionally stressed by the post-1919 counter-revolutionary regime: the near contemporaneity of Hungary’s Golden Bull (1222), the East European document resembling England’s Magna Carta (1215), the crown as an institution, and the role of the aristocracy. Needless to say, scant heed was paid to such matters in England by politicians or public opinion. They were curious at most. Hungary was a small and distant country. However, in Hungary this sympathy was deep and widespread, showing itself, among others, in the reception given to some contemporary English fiction, such as the novels of Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley, which enjoyed an extraordinary popularity here at the end of the thirties. The reasons were not purely literary, though. Sándor Hunyadi, a writer, wondered why in an article, and many readers wrote in to say they were fond of Maugham because they liked the English. Not the writer, or his works, but the English. In Hunyadi’s words: “Surely a good many British passports could be issued to people who are not British subjects, perhaps they cannot even speak English but, deep down inside, they sympathize with the English.”2 This sympathy is all the more noteworthy since, by the end of the thirties, the economic and military might of Nazi Germany had made its mark abroad, and the openly fascist Arrow Cross had made its presence felt in Hungarian politics. Against this, Great Britain was seen as the paradigm of parliamentary democracy, liberal and masonic ideals, and the City of London was believed to embody the power of partially Jewish capital. Centuries old institutions, along with British traditions, stood for the past, for all that which was said not to be modern or “of our time.”

Nevertheless, numerous intellectuals and politicians, in Hungary and all over Europe, saw British parliamentary democracy, the slowness and complexity of its operation, as proof positive of decadence. This included some who had, once, been friendly to England. Pierre Drieu la Rochelle said in February 1938: “Why do you think that this people who are falling back before Mussolini and before the Japanese, would help us stop Hitler?”3 In August 1940, Pierre Laval, at that time Minister of State and Deputy Prime Minister under Pétain, met the writer-diplomatist Paul Morand. Morand told him that Britain would hold out to the bitter end, that there would be no invasion. Laval answered: “It’s possible, but this doesn’t mean that the English haven’t missed their chance.”4

English ways of thinking looked equally illogical and incomprehensible to a fair number of Hungarians. “Impermeable,” as László Cs. Szabó, the Anglophile essayist, who lived in England from 1951 to his death in 1984, aptly put it in his Doveri átkelés Dover Crossing) published in 1937. The obvious reasons were well-established German cultural traditions in Hungary, Germany’s proximity, an educational system on the German pattern, and growing German economic and intellectual influence east of the River Leitha in the thirties. There were others too, such as the memory of the Great War, of the German-Austro-Hungarian alliance. English ways of thinking differed considerably from the Prussian, which enjoyed great currency in Hungary. It was typical not only of Churchill and other British statesmen like the Earl of Halifax, the Foreign Secretary, but of the English in general that they sought to adjust their ideas to circumstances and never vice versa. Abroad, they called this hypocrisy, and spoke of perfide Albion.

Those, however, who felt sympathy for England respected tradition, gentlemanly conduct and fair play, currencies common enough in the value system of the Hungarian aristocracy. “Gossip, cigar-smoke and Anglophilia floated in the air.” This is how Patrick Leigh Fermor sums up the mood of the nobility in the last years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.5 Magnates frequently passed through England on their travels and were enchanted by the life they found there. They appreciated that the sports they enjoyed—tennis, racing, sailing—had their origins there. This had been in their blood for generations. The overwhelming majority of Hungarian peers despised the brutality of National Socialism. They honestly believed that an England that seemed weak in several respects could effectively counterbalance German discipline, efficiency and tremendous military power, and not only because of the seemingly inexhaustible resources of the Empire. This conviction was expressed by Count Antal Sigray, who supported a Habsburg restoration in Hungary, in a letter to Churchill. He assured Churchill that Hungarians believed in the victory of Great Britain and the Allies, and claimed that it was only a British victory that could assure peace and freedom to Europe and the world, an eventuality which would allow Hungarians a say in the shaping of their own future.6 Sigray wrote this in October 1940, in England’s darkest hour, when, without allies, she faced a Germany which had conquered wherever she had attacked. The aristocracy’s Anglophilia was helped by their mastery of English, which they read and wrote in addition to French and German. They subscribed to English journals and bought English books, in wartime they listened to the BBC. Their tailors followed English fashions, and they modelled their manners on those of an English gentleman.

When Count Kuno Klebelsberg was Minister of Education (1922–31), English was compulsory in the upper classes of thirty secondary schools, most of them Protestant. English history has been taught at the University in Pest since 1777 and the English language since 1806. An English department was established at the University of Budapest in 1886, and a second, at the University of Debrecen, in 1938.

The upper middle-classes’ feelings about England were the same as much as the aristocracy’s. Among this group of Anglophiles were outstanding Hungarian diplomatists, such as György Barcza, Hungarian Minister in London between 1938 and 1941, who had been trained at the Konsularakademie in Vienna in Austro-Hungarian times, and who came into senior posts after the First World War. They were conservative liberals, who would have no truck with extremism of either the Left or the Right. Amongst them were Barcza’s predecessor, Szilárd Masirevich and János Pelényi, en poste in Washington between 1933 and 1940. Aristocrats too were to be found in diplomacy and politics, like Baron Iván Rubido-Zichy, Baron Gábor Apor, Baron György Bakách-Bessenyei, and Count Sándor Khuen-Héderváry.7 It was amongst men like those that Counts István Bethlen and Miklós Kállay, both former Prime Ministers, recruited negotiators for a separate peace with the Western Allies, later in the Second World War. It was they who had confronted the semi-educated, nationalist, narrow-minded creatures of thirties’ Hungary, they who believed in a British victory at a time when British politicians were amongst the doubters.8

Writers, newspapermen and artists also had their importance in Anglo-Hungarian relations. Generally it was penpushers of a liberal inclination, with democratic ideals which they propagated, frequently but not exclusively of Jewish parentage, who stood closest to all that England meant, that is a functioning parliamentary democracy, minority rights versus majority domination, and especially an unfettered spirit and the dignity of the individual. But Germanophile did not necessarily mean identification with National Socialism, and there were democrats who cared little for England. Nevertheless, the dominant trend was that England appeared as the paradigm of social progress to liberal writers, journalists, scholars, economists and financial wizards. English-mindedness was represented by the writers and poets grouped around the journal Nyugat (1908–1941, continued under another name until 1944).

In 1927 the poet and novelist Dezső Kosztolányi reported on a journey to London in a series of eight articles. A special article was devoted to Shakespeare, whose Romeo & Juliet, King Lear and A Winter’s Tale he had translated.

Walking these streets, it is he who I am looking for everywhere. Why otherwise should I wander restlessly in this alien land? Its politics, institutions and organizations are of moderate interest to me. […] Whatever I see or hear, I refer to him. This is the language in which he thought and wrote. The Black Man who passed in front of me reminded me that Juliet “hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.” His vision changed the world, me too. Every one of his metaphors and his figures is alive still. I kept on hoping that I would run into him.9

Kosztolányi met John Galsworthy, H.G. Wells, Norman Angel, and Lord Haldane, the first Labour Lord Chancellor. As well as Shakespeare, he also translated poems by Shelley, Keats, Tennyson, Browning, Swinburne, Oscar Wilde and Yeats. He returned to London at the end of 1931 and, as President of the Hungarian PEN Club, he met the press baron Lord Rothermere. In the summer of 1927 Rothermere had started the campaign, Justice for Hungary, supporting a revision of the Treaty of Trianon. Rothermere offered an annual prize of Ł1000 for the best Hungarian literary work published that year. Gyula Krúdy and Zsigmond Móricz shared it early in 1932. To quote Kosztolányi’s letter to his wife: “Rothermere gave me an hour-long informal and very surprising audience in his house. I gave him my Nero, “with my humblest tributes” (Kosztolányi’s own English). As soon as I spoke about the sorry state of our writers, he jumped up, struck the table, and offered Ł500 to reward the best work published in 1931. Then he changed his mind and offered Ł1000. My eyes were filled with tears.”10 Two editions of Kosztolányi’s Nero appeared, in 1927 and 1928, with a preface by Thomas Mann.

Shakespeare, of course, had been popular in Hungary, with the three greatest 19th-century poets, Petőfi, Arany and Vörösmarty, producing translations used to this day. The Nyugat poets, however, launched a veritable renaissance of translations, poets such as Mihály Babits, Milán Füst, Lőrinc Szabó, Miklós Radnóti, István Vas, Lajos Áprily and György Rónay produced new versions.

Eight Shakespeare cycles were arranged at the Budapest National Theatre while Sándor Hevesi was the director (1922–32). There were times when nineteen productions of Shakespeare plays were in the repertory.11 Hevesi regularly wrote on Shakespeare in Nyugat and Pesti Napló and also published a book, Az igazi Shakespeare (The True Shakespeare) in 1920.

G.B. Shaw had a mixed press in Hungary. In 1926, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday, he received both plaudits and brickbats. Shaw’s reception reflects the divisions of the Hungarian intelligentsia between friends of England and Germany. There was an unfortunate intermezzo, Shaw’s letter to Karel CŠapek on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the Czechoslovak Republic, which was published by Lidové noviny of Prague. Shaw also compared the politics of Hungary and Czechoslovakia and put it on record that he would prefer to be a Hungarian subject in the Czechoslovak Republic than a Czech or Slovak living under Hungarian rule. As a result, he was banished from Hungarian stages for two years, the National Theatre in Szeged being the only exception.12 The Daily Mail, owned by Lord Rothermere of the Justice for Hungary campaign, used its Letters to the Editor page to attack Shaw. Ferenc Kiss, the London correspondent of the Budapest daily Az Est, wrote to Shaw asking for an explanation. Shaw pointed out that he too objected to the Trianon arrangements but that the Hungarian political system of the time was the most reactionary feudalism in the whole of Europe. He expressed his astonishment that in Hungary they reacted to the truths he expressed about the Horthy regime by presenting him as the enemy of treaty revision and of Hungarians, in this way willy-nillly serving the interests of the opponents of any revision of the treaty.13

Just as Nyugat was the mouthpiece of Anglophile writers and poets, so the radical bourgeois journal Századunk was that of like-minded social scientists. In just about every issue, particularly from the mid-thirties, British democracy was contrasted with National Socialism and Bolshevism. Századunk paid close attention to the image of Hungary which prevailed in Britain. When the Hungarophile Scotch historian C.A. Macartney’s Hungary appeared in 1934, the editor, Imre Csécsy, welcomed it as an objective picture as, “at long last, after all the Rothermere chatter, serious speech from Britain addressed to European Hungarians.”14

In 1938 a government decree suspended publication of Századunk together with that of a number of leftist publications. Csécsy then established a publishing firm under the same name. In 1939 he brought out a collection of lectures and adresses by Stanley Baldwin, in his own translation, under the title Mi angolok (This Torch of Freedom). In his preface the bourgeois radical Csécsy wrote:

Conservativism—at least in England—means above all tolerance, understanding even of the point of view of the opponent, the avoidance of violence, if possible, whether it presents itself as revolution, arbitrary rule or war. The Conservative Party which, with brief interruptions, has been in power in the U.K. since the early twenties, has tried at all costs to apply this principle not only at home but also in international relations. How successful it has been—particularly in foreign affairs, is of course another question.15

Toleration, understanding, the rejection of violence—not only Csécsy and his fellow bourgeois radicals but many intellectuals of different hues adhered to these principles. They looked to England which, for them, embodied these principles, with respect and uncertain expectations.

As was to be expected, English literary works were more widely read in Hungary than the speeches of politicians. Of contemporary writers Shaw, Maugham, H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley were the best known. Wells was translated by Frigyes Karinthy, Huxley by László Cs. Szabó and later by Antal Szerb, who was to be a young victim of the Holocaust. Brave New World appeared in Hungarian within two years of its English publication in 1932, to great public acclaim.The critics, at least at first, turned up their noses: Andor Németh, in Nyugat, called it “cheap-skate and pretty vulgar mental gymnastics.” In Válasz Ferenc (the later François) Fejtő accused Huxley of “emotional poverty”. Only Cs. Szabó in Nyugat, in 1937, was truly appreciative. He wrote an enthusiastic preface to Eyeless in Gaza, which appeared in Hungarian in 1936. Wells and Huxley, along with Maugham, D.H. Lawrence and Katherine Mansfield, figured in Mai angol dekameron (New English Decameron) selected and edited by Vernon Duckworth Barker and issued by the Nyugat Publishing House in 1935.

Cs. Szabó returned to England, when the prestigious 3000 pengő Baumgarten Prize footed the bill. Dover Crossing (1937), referred to above, is an account of the journey. London enchanted him. He went as far as Richmond, crossed the river to Battersea, visited Broadcasting House and even went to see the ballet. He pencilled his conversation with someone on the Economist who, speaking of the 1919–1920 peace treaties and the impotence of the democracies and the League of Nations, suddenly burst out: “The hour will strike when England will no longer beat a retreat before Rome, Berlin and Tokyo.”16 He took his emotional leave of England at Westminster Abbey. Some forty years later, in a 1978 interview, Cs. Szabó, by then resident in London since 1951, looked back on his book with a critical eye. Cs. Szabó and those close to him, like the poets Mihály Babits, Lőrinc Szabó and István Vas and the writers Gábor Halász and Antal Szerb with their essays did a great deal to popularize English verse, albeit the outstanding anthology of English metaphysical poetry, selected, translated and introduced by István Vas only appeared in a bilingual edition in 1946. The poet Lőrinc Szabó produced a brilliant version of Shakespeare‘s Sonnets (1921) that remains standard in spite of numerous new translations. Besides five of Shakespeare‘s plays, including Macbeth, As You Like It and Twelfth Night, he also translated The Ancient Mariner and a huge number of English lyrical poems from medieval to modern, which were included in his two-volume Örök barátaink (Our Eternal Friends, 1941), which has run many editions since. Babits once quipped to someone that the most beautiful Hungarian poem was “Ode to the West Wind” in Árpád Tóth’s translation. István Vas recalls in his memoirs and articles on

T.S. Eliot, that it was Babits who, in the early thirties, called his attention to the poet and also gave him a copy of Criterion. In 1942, when Britain and Hungary were already at war, Cs. Szabó published Három költő (Three Poets), an anthology of Hungarian translations of poems by Byron, Shelley and Keats, with a major introductory essay. It could be described as a gesture of protest and it enjoyed a deserved success. English children’s classics were also translated, Alice in Wonderland by Kosztolányi, Mary Poppins and A Christmas Carrol by the literary historian Marcell Benedek. Many English-speaking readers of Karinthy’s versions of Winnie the Pooh would swear that they even surpass the original in the charm of their puns and the effortless clumsiness of the verses, which every child would happily recite by heart.

Az angol irodalom kis tükre (A Brief Account of English Literature) by Antal Szerb (1901–1945) was published in 1929, something of a sketch for his three-volume major work, A világirodalom története (History of World Literature), which was published and followed by a history of Hungarian literature twelve years later. Antal Szerb produced an outstanding translation of Maugham’s Theatre (he translated extensively from French and Italian, too). Szerb compared the two master prosodists, the “intellectual poets” Babits and Swinburne and wrote on Babits’s Swinburne translations.17 In 1928 he wrote an essay on Blake, still an authoritative work. Szerb spent some time in Great Britain in 1920, financed by a scholarship, when he was still very young, and who knows, he may well have passed through the bizarre scenes of his Pendragon legenda (The Pendragon Legend), a novel, which is part detective story and part cultural history and of a kindred inspiration to that of Umberto Eco.18 His English sympathies are also evident in his extraordinarily successful anthology Száz vers (A Hundred Poems).

László Németh (1901–1975), the most high-powered and erudite among the essayists in the interwar period, whose messianistic and utopian nationalism had a wide following among the younger intellectuals, published a brilliant essay on Keats in his famous 1940 collection, The Revolution of Quality, under the title, “Keats’ ‘Hyperion’ and the Revolution of Quality”.

“When I close my eyes and utter the word: ‘poet’—I think of Keats,” he writes.

Have there been greater poets than he? He is the only one I can use as an idea though he was a person. All other poets were different: they were freedom fighters, actors, philosophers, eccentrics, mystics, men of letters; Keats was a poet and nothing else but a poet, his greatness was fed by a single source: his poetry.

He then goes on to discuss the plot of “Hyperion” in detail, and concludes by envisaging the missing parts of the fragment, in which the Titans of Saturn and Hyperion are about to reconquer the sky, while Quality and the muse Mnemosyne are in quiet conversation somewhere on an uninhabited island. A revolution of quality was Németh’s utopian didactic concept, explained in a dozen books, in which he thought to revitalize every aspect of the truncated nation’s life in the aftermath of the Trianon treaty and in the face of dominating foreign influence.

Not only classics and contemporary authors were discussed. So were the barely known and now long forgotten, if they seemed interesting for some reason. Thus The Source by Charles Morgan, theatre critic of The Times and The New York Times. Aladár Schöpflin, the respected Nyugat editor and critic, wrote the preface to it in which he praised it as an outstanding work. Antal Szerb, by not even mentioning it in the History of World Literature, proved closer to English critical opinion. Morgan’s early high reputation on the Continent still puzzles elderly gentlemen in England. The young have never heard of him.

There was nothing in England to compare with the reception of English literature in Hungary, for obvious linguistic reasons. The publication now and then of an outstanding work, such as Kosztolányi’s Nero, Imre Madách’s play The Tragedy of Man in 1933, or Frigyes Karinthy’s autobiographical Journey Around my Skull in 1939, were flashes in a pan. The success of Ferenc Molnár’s plays is the exception.

The Hungarian Quarterly, the predecessor of this journal—corresponding in English to the Nouvelle Revue de Hongrie—was founded in 1936 by The Hungarian Quarterly Society, headed by Count István Bethlen, a former Prime Minister. The money was provided by the government and industrialists and financiers of Anglo-American orientation, who were Bethlen’s friends, including Ferenc Chorin, Móric Kornfeld, Róbert Szurday and Jenő Weiss. József Balogh, a classical scholar, was appointed editor, assisted by Owen Rutter in England. A segment from Mihály Babits’s novel Halálfiai (The Sons of Death) was published in the 1938 Autumn issue (pp. 546–48), followed by a forgettable short story by Countess Margit Bethlen in the Winter of 1938/39. The emphasis was on history, Hungarian, British or American. The political aim was to persuade men of influence in Britain and America of the necessity of a peaceful revision of the provisions of the Treaty of Trianon, and also to send implicit signals that there were men who counted in Hungarian society, politics and intellectual life and who did not support the German line.19

Memoirs, principally by Britons who had been en poste in Hungary, or who had visited the country, were a prominent feature. Contributors included Lord Davies, President of the New Commonwealth Society, Sir Thomas Hohler, lately British Minister in Budapest, the historians C.A. Macartney and G.P. Gooch (editor of the Contemporary Review, Sir Thomas Cunningham, British Military Attaché in Vienna and in Prague in the early twenties, and Admiral Usborne, lately Chief Intelligence Officer at the Admiralty, Vernon Duckworth Barker, István Gál, a noted student of Anglo-Hungarian relations and also a frequent contributor, up to his death, to The New Hungarian Quarterly, Antal Szerb, mentioned earlier, and the poet Gyula Illyés. András Frey, the foreign editor of the daily Magyarság and later of Magyar Nemzet, another daily, had a column headed Danube Chronicle, in which he reported on current political and economic issues in the Danubian states. An English edition of the authoritative history of Hungary by Bálint Hóman and Gyula Szekfű was a major project, which, how-ever, came to nought, chiefly because of personal differences between Balogh and Szekfű, and because of growing political differences between the two authors after 1938. Hóman moved to the far Right and Szekfű stayed staunchly conservative. A book did appear in London in 1939, however, with the support of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The History of Hungary, a translation of Otto Zarek’s Die Geschichte Ungarns, was a far cry from the standard of the Hóman–Szekfű history.

Informal, personal contacts played a far from insignificant role. As the interest of British skiers extended beyond Switzerland to Austria in the twenties, so interest in neighbouring Hungary grew too. Budapest and the puszta all had their exotic charm. As the diplomat György Barcza, Hungarian Minister in London, wrote: “I won’t deny it, those who know our history appreciate us and especially those who had been to Budapest and had been enchanted by Budapest life, Margaret Island nights, the waves in the Gellért Bath, the beautiful Hungarian women, all that romantic Hungarian business, they even like us.”20 The two trips to Hungary in 1935 by the then Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, made a big difference both as regards personal English attitudes to Hungary and vice versa.

In December 1933, the eighteen-year old Patrick Leigh Fermor set off on foot for Constantinople, via Hungary. Forty years later he started to set down what he remembered, and now, another twenty-five later, he is still at it. Two volumes, A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986)21 have appeared so far. He met Hungarians north of the Danube, crossed the bridge at Esztergom, walked to Budapest, and rode a horse, lent to him by a Hungarian aristocrat, across the Great Plain, the Alföld, to the border, moving on into Transylvania. After Budapest he was armed by letters of introduction given by Count Pál Teleki, geographer, Foreign Minister, and Prime Minister between 1939 and 1941, “whose alert pointed face behind horn-rimmed spectacles, lit by a quick, witty and enthusiastic manner, had an almost Chinese look.”22

Lady Listowel (née Judit Márffy-Mantuano), a kinswoman of Teleki’s, was well connected in England through her politician husband. Barcza, who knew her well, described her as an “intelligent creature keen to play a role.” From time to time Teleki entrusted his kinswoman with various semiofficial or unofficial messages, Barcza was only informed after the event, if at all.23

As Lady Listowel did with the Hungarian legation in London, so Princess Károly Odescalchi (née Comptesse Klára Andrássy), maintained contacts with the British legation in Budapest. An elegant, clever woman, the writer and editor Balázs Lengyel, the husband of the poet Ágnes Nemes Nagy, remembered her decades later. Radical writers, journalists and populist writers of the left, including Imre Kovács, Péter Veres, József Darvas, Ferenc Erdei, Zoltán Szabó, István Bibó, Dezső Keresztury, and Iván Boldizsár were regular guests in her beautiful townhouse on the Buda Embankment facing the Danube and the Chain Bridge. “She gave a soirée which was attended not only by the minister but by practically the entire English colony, including several young men of my age or thereabouts.” (This was towards the end of 1940 or the beginning of 1941, after the Hitler–Stalin pact, the partitioning of Poland, the invasion of Holland, Belgium and Denmark, the defeat of France; England alone was at war with Germany.)24 Princess Odescalchi and her friend, Countess Erzsébet Szapáry, were both active in aid for Polish refugees in Hungary. She was killed in an Italian air-raid on Dubrovnik in April 1941. The British officer, in whose company she was, found letters of introduction to the British authorities in her luggage.

The unshakeably Hungarophile Sir William Goode was a one-man istitution rather than a defining personality in Hungaro–British relations. The Hungarian government paid him Ł8000 in April 1941, for services rendered as unofficial adviser. The fee was meant as a friendly gesture towards Britain precisely at this time, but it did not affect essentials, as diplomatic relations were broken off.25 No British declaration of war followed, among other factors, due to Churchill’s understanding and goodwill for Hungary. He stood for a delay of the declaration of war, which was hold up until December 1941. From that time on the political and social weight of Anglophile Hungarian politicians, writers, public faces gradually declined.

By 1942 many of the writers who did so much to mediate between English literature and Hungarian were called up for periods of compulsory labour service with increasing frequency.

In that fatal year Vas started to take a serious interest in translating English metaphysical poetry. This produced a change in his own poems too. Vas’s first major study on the subject appeared in 1943.

The first clear impetus grasped by my mind came from Gábor Halász. Five years earlier he had published an outstanding essay on John Donne—until then practically unknown in Hungary—in Argonauták. Szentkuthy too spoke to me about the metaphysical poets. In his own way he featured both Donne and Andrew Marvell in his Orpheus cahiers, which started publication at that time. I managed to get a copy of Donne’s and Marvell’s works, reading the other metaphysicals in anthologies. I need not add, I am sure, how the union of passion and intellect which I found in them, engaged my interest and ambition. As Eliot put it, they felt their thoughts as immediately as the odour of a rose.26

For Radnóti, Szerb and Halász, 1945 was the year of death marches and mass graves. After the war, Németh had to recant. Though opposed to fascism and German domination, and not a racist or overt anti-Semite, his concept of Hungary as “a nation that is a minority in its own homeland” had been used by the far right.

During the three years following the war, while formally democracy reigned, English cultural influence continued unabated. The public, eager to make up for the later war years when English and American films were scant, flocked to see whatever was shown. Waterloo Bridge, one of the classic tear-jerker war films, was such a hit that “Auld Lang Syne”, its theme song, could be heard as the “Candle-light Waltz” all over Budapest, in cafés, espressos, bars, pubs and restaurants. It was a strange and enlightening experience for Hungarians to get a glimpse of the other, the victorious side of the war. The same was also true of the theatre. Publishing houses, still private, brought out much of the latest fiction in hasty translations, and some work by modern English poets, like Eliot, Auden, Spender, et al., caught the eye of Hungarian poets, ever on the lookout for what is new and exciting abroad, poets like Lőrinc Szabó, István Vas, Géza Képes and many others, who translated and published it in magazines and their own books, also reflecting on it in essays and reviews. Business as usual, one could say, up to the point when, in 1948, “the Year of Change” in Communist parlance, another dark epoch of the country’s history suddenly and cruelly began.

But that is another story.
1 John Lukacs: The Last European War, September 1939–December 1941. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, p. 386.
2 Quoted by Miklós Hornyik: “English Lawn.” in Angol pázsit. Balkáni néprajzi kalauz (English Lawn: An ethnographic guide to the Balkans). Budapest, Kortárs, 1996, p. 530.
3 Pierre Drieu la Rochelle: Chronique politique. Paris, p. 109. Quoted by John Lukacs, op cit..p. 407.
4 France During the German Occupation, 1940– 1944: A Collection of 292 Statements on the Government of Maréchal Pétain and Pierre Laval. Vols. 1–3. Transl. from the French by Philip W. Whitcomb. Stanford, 1958–1959. Quoted by Lukacs, op.cit. p. 407.
5 Foreword by Patrick Leigh Fermor, in: Miklós Bánffy: They Were Counted, London, Arcadia Books, 1998, p. VI.
6 Letter from Count Antal Sigray to Winston Churchill, dated October 12th, 1940. Public Record Office. London. FO 371/24. 428.
7 Personal Communication from Jenő Thassy, who was told by Bakách-Bessenyei.
8 What I have in mind is differences of opinion between Churchill and Halifax, in the summer of 1940, following Dunkirk.
9 Dezső Kosztolányi: “London Letters: Shakespeare.” Pesti Hirlap. September 28th 1927.
10 Dezső Kosztolányi’s letter to his wife, dated Nov. 4th 1931 in: Dezső Kosztolányi: Levelek–Naplók (Letters–Journals). Collected, edited and annotated by Pál Réz. The 1933–1934 journal ed. by Ágnes Kelevéz and Ida Kovács. Budapest, Osiris, 199
11 Jolán Kádár-Pukánszky: A Nemzeti Színház százéves története (The Hundred Years of the National Theatre). Budapest, 1940, Vol. 1, pp. 468–469.
12 See István Pálffy: George Bernard Shaw Magyarországon (1904–1956) (George Bernard Shaw in Hungary [1904–1952]), Budapest, 1987, Akadémiai.
13 Az Est. Dec. 2nd 1928. Quoted by Pálffy, op. cit., pp. 149–150.
14 Imre Csécsy: “Magyarország angol szemmel” (Hungary—through English Eyes), Századunk, No. 10, 1934, p. 398.
15 Imre Csécsy: Preface to Stanley Baldwin: Mi angolok (This Torch of Freedom), Budapest, Századunk, 1939, p. 6.
16 László Cs. Szabó: Doveri átkelés. Nyugateurópai helyzetkép (Dover Crossing. The Situation in Western Europe), p. 110.
17 Antal Szerb: “Az intellektuális költoý” (The Intellectual Poet), in: Esszépanoráma 1900–1944 (Essay Panorama, 1900–1944) Selected, edited and annotated by Zoltán Kenyeres. Budapest, Szépirodalmi, 1978, pp. 504–527.
18 English edition: Antal Szerb: The Pendragon Legend, Budapest, Corvina Books, 1963.
19 Tibor Frank: “Editing as Politics: József Balogh and The Hungarian Quarterly”. The HQ, Spring 1993, No. 129, pp. 5–13.
20 György Barcza: Fragments from a Journal. Entry for June 27th 1938, introduced and edited by András D. Bán in: 2000, March 1996, p. 38.
21 Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Time of Gifts (1977), Between the Woods and the Water (1986). Both London, John Murray. Between the Woods and the Water is still recommended by The Times to all those travelling to Hungary. See “Cosmopolitan Cocktail”. The Times, July 5th 1997.
22 Patrick Leigh Fermor: Between the Woods and the Water, London, John Murray, 1986, p. 40.
23 Barcza: op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 265.
24 Balázs Lengyel: “Angol tanú” (The English Witness), in Újhold-Évkönyv 1987/2 (Újhold Yearbook 1987) and published as “Stranger in a Strange Land” in The NHQ 121, pp. 83–98.
25 See Barcza’s letter to Sir Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Undersecretary in the Foreign Office.
26 idem., p. 385.
András D. Bán is a historian whose special field is Anglo-Hungarian diplomatic relations. The above is a somewhat edited chapter from Illúziók és csalódások. Nagy-Britannia és Magyarország 1938–1941 (Illusions and Disappointments. Great Britain and Hungary. 1938–1941) Budapest, Osiris, 1998.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.