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Miklós Szentkuthy

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Title: Miklós Szentkuthy  
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Subject: Hungarian literature, Funeral Sermon and Prayer, György Spiró, Ignotus, Ádám Bodor
Collection: 1908 Births, 1988 Deaths, Hungarian Writers, People from Budapest, Writers from Budapest
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Miklós Szentkuthy

Miklós Szentkuty (Photo: László Csigó)

Miklós Szentkuthy (1908–1988), born Miklós Pfisterer, was one of the most prolific Hungarian writers of the 20th century. He was born in Budapest on June 2, 1908 and died in the same city on July 18, 1988. Szentkuthy's works include numerous novels, essays, translations, and a voluminous diary spanning the years 1930–1988. As the author of masterpieces such as Prae, the epic 10-volume St. Orpheus’ Breviary, and Towards the One and Only Metaphor, he is recognized as one of the most significant Hungarian writers of the 20th century. To date, his works have been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovakian, and English.


  • Style 1
  • Works 2
  • Death 3
  • Legacy 4
  • Awards and honors 5
  • Bibliography 6
    • Works 6.1
    • Translations 6.2
    • Translations by Szentkuthy into Hungarian 6.3
    • Literary reviews 6.4
    • Monographs 6.5
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Szentkuthy composed an oeuvre both imposing and complex, centered on the conflict between art and life, or the aspiration for holiness and eroticism. It includes fictionalized biographies of musicians such as Prae to be a work that belonged to an avant-garde. […] When people pigeonholed the book with ‘surrealism’ and other ‘isms’ I felt a bit like Molière's Bourgeois Gentilhomme, who on being taught the difference between poetry and prose, exclaims in astonishment, 'Good Heavens! For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it!' It was also on the basis of an honorable misunderstanding of Prae that I was invited to the what was catalogued as the avant-garde “European School” – perhaps more to address them as a speaker than a proper member – and there I delivered talks on Dickens, Shakespeare, and a host of old classics, amply demonstrating that what the school fondly imagined were revolutionary innovations had also played a part, to a greater or lesser extent (better too), in the history of the arts."


Szentkuthy was only 26 when he published his debut novel Prae (1934), which he intended to be a panoramic description of European culture of the twenties. Containing little plot or dialogue, the novel consists mostly of philosophical reflections and descriptions of modern interiors. One of the formal innovations of Prae lies in the fragmentary structure of the text. The novel consists of numerous reflections, descriptions, and scenes that are only loosely connected. While in 1934 the novel was received with indifference, today it is recognised as the first fully modernist Hungarian novel.

Szentkuthy’s second book, Towards the One and Only Metaphor (1935), is a collection of short diary-like epigrams and reflections; it was intended as a literary experiment to follow the thinking self through the most delicate thoughts and impressions without imposing any direction on it. His next novel, Chapter on Love (1936), marks a shift in his style ― the quasi-scientific language of Prae gives way to a baroque prose typical of his later works.

After Chapter on Love, Szentkuthy developed an outline for his St. Orpheus's Breviary, a grandiose cycle of historical novels. Drawing on the tradition of great encyclopaedic narratives such as Balzac's The Human Comedy and Zola's Rougon-Macquart cycle, Szentkuthy aimed at depicting the totality of two thousand years of European culture. While there are clear parallels between this monumental work and Huysmans, Musil, and Robert Burton, and in ways it is parodic of St. Augustine, Zéno Bianu observed that its method is in part based on Karl Barth's exegetical work. "In 1938, Szentkuthy read the Römerbrief of the famous Protestant exegete Karl Barth, a commentary that is based on an analysis, phrase by phrase, even word by word, of the Epistle to the Romans. Literally enchanted by the effectiveness of this method – 'where, in his words, every epithet puts imagination in motion' – he decided to apply it on the spot to Casanova, which he had just annotated with gusto a German edition in six large volumes." In the years 1939–1942, Szentkuthy published the first six parts of the series: Marginalia on Casanova (1939), Black Renaissance (1939), Escorial (1940), Europa Minor (1941), Cynthia (1941), and Confession and Puppet Show (1942). In the period 1945–1972, due to Communist rule in Hungary, Szentkuthy could not continue Orpheus. Instead he wrote a series of pseudo-biographical novels on Mozart (1957), Haydn (1959), Goethe (1962), Dürer (1966), and Handel (1967) in which he mixed historical facts with elements of fiction and autobiography. He also wrote several historical novels during this time: Liberated Jerusalem, Chronicle Burgonde, Byzance, Wittenberg, in which he put, as he himself said, several micro-Orpheus’.

In 1972 Szentkuthy resumed the Orpheus cycle. Publication of the seventh volume, The Second Life of Sylvester II, turned out to be a success and marked the beginning of Szentkuthy’s renaissance. His translation of Joyce's Ulysses (1974) and the second edition of Prae (1980) was followed by the re-edition of his early works, which brought him widespread recognition in some European countries. Thereafter he wrote two more parts of the Orpheus cycle, Canonized Desperation (1974), and Bloody Donkey (1984). In 1988 he was awarded the Kossuth Prize and the last book that appeared in his lifetime was Frivolities and Confessions (1988), a series of interviews conducted by Lóránt Kabdebó in 1983.


Szentkuthy died in 1988, leaving the final part of Orpheus unfinished. Some fragments of it were published posthumously as In the Footsteps of Eurydice (1993).


In the twenty-first century, Szentkuthy is generally acknowledged as one of the major innovative Hungarian novelists of the 20th century. His influence has extended to many contemporary authors, such as Péter Esterházy and Péter Nádas, while some critics consider him a forerunner of postmodernism. At the same time, Szentkuthy’s oeuvre remains largely unknown to the wider English-speaking public, though a recent English translation and laudatory reviews in the Guardian,[1] the Los Angeles Review of Books,[2] and Tropes of Tenth Street[3] have considerably remedied that. Additionally, in December of 2013, Szentkuthy's Marginalia on Casanova was chosen by Nicholas Lezard of The Guardian as one of the best books of the year.[4] In Europe, Szentkuthy's work has received more widespread and consistent attention, and at least one or more of his works have been translated annually since 1990. Yet, with only one monograph (József J. Fekete, P.O.S.T) and two doctoral theses devoted to his works, he is one of the most under-researched Hungarian writers, but some critics in France and elsewhere regard him to be as significant as Marcel Proust.

The Petőfi Literary Museum in Budapest has an archive of Szentkuthy's manuscripts which contain unpublished work, including approximately 80–100 thousand pages of a sealed diary (1930s–1988). The first part of the diary (1930s–1947) will be open to researchers in 2013, the 25th anniversary of his death, and the second part (1948–1988) in 2038. Szentkuthy professed that the diary is his 'real' work, hence the opening of it should prove illuminating.

Awards and honors

  • Baumgarten Prize (1948)
  • Award of Excellence of the Publisher Europa (March 21, 1975 – for the translation of Ulysses)
  • Attila József Prize (1977)
  • Order of Labor Gold Degree (1978 – for his remarkable life-work, on the occ. of his 70th birthday)
  • Füst Milán Prize (1982)
  • Déry Tibor Prize (1984)
  • Award of Excellence from the Publisher Magvető (May 15, 1985 – for Vol. IV of St. Orpheus Breviary, Bloody Ass)
  • Kossuth Prize (April 4, 1988)
  • Award of Excellence from Hungarian Radio (June 28, 1988 – for the tr. of Ulysses)
  • Elected to be included in the Digitális Irodalmi Akadémia (2013)



Novels and novel-essays

  • Prae (1934; 1980; 2004)
  • Fejezet a szerelemről [A Chapter On Love] (1936; 1984)
  • Fekete Orpheus-füzetek [Black Orpheus Booklets]: 1. "Széljegyzetek Casanovához" [Marginalia on Casanova] (1939; 2008); 2. Fekete Reneszánsz [Black Renaissance] (1939); 3. Eszkoriál (1940); 4. Europa minor (1941); 5. Cynthia (1941); 6. Vallomás és bábjáték [Confession and Puppet Show] (1942). See also ‘Saint Orpheus’s Breviary’ 1972 et seq.
  • Divertimento. Változatok Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart életére [Variations on the Life of W. A. Mozart] (1957; 1976; 1998; 2006)
  • Doktor Haydn (1959; 1979; 2009)
  • Burgundi krónika [‘Burgundy Chronicle’] (1959; 1978)
  • Hitvita és nászinduló: Wittenberg, Bizánc [‘Religious Debate and Wedding March: Wittenberg and Byzantium’] (1960)
  • Arc és álarc [Face and Mask’] (1962; 1982)
  • Megszabadított Jeruzsálem [‘Jerusalem Liberated’] (1965)
  • Saturnus fia [Son of Saturn; novel about Albrecht Dürer] (1966; 1989)
  • Angyali Gigi [Angelic Gigi; novella] (1966)
  • Händel [George Frederick Handel] ( (1967; 1975)
  • Meghatározások és szerepek [Definitions and Roles] (1969)
  • II Szilveszter második élete [The Second Life of Sylvester II] (1972)
  • Szent Orpheus breviáriuma [Saint Orpheus’s Breviary’]:
    • Vol. 1 (1973) contains the first 4 volumes of the ‘Black Orpheus Part Books’
    • viz.: 1. Marginal Notes to Casanova 2. Black Renaissance 3. Eszkoriál and 4. Europa Minor
    • Vol. 2 (1973) contains 5. Cynthia 6. Confession and Puppet Show 7. Second Life of Silvester II
    • Vol. 3 (1974) contains 8. Kanonizált kétségbeesés [Canonized Desperation]
    • Vol. 4 (1984) contains 9. Véres szamár [Bloody Ass];
    • Vol. 5 (1993) contains 10. Euridiké nyomán [In the Footsteps of Eurydice]
  • Szárnyatlan oltárok: Burgundi krónika, Wittenberg [Wingless Altars: Burgundy Chronicle and Wittenberg’] (1978)
  • Iniciálék és ámenek [Initials and Amens (collection of shorter prose] (1987)

Posthumous editions

  • Cicero vándorévei (1990)
  • Barokk Róbert [Baroque Robert] (1991; 2002)
  • Bianca Lanza di Casalanza (1994)
  • Nárcisszus tükre [Narcissus’ Mirror] (written in 1933, first published in 1995)
  • Bezárult Európa [Europe Is Closed] (2000)
  • Pendragon és XIII. Apolló [Pendragon and Apollo XIII] (written 1946–1947, publ. 2008)


  • Maupassant egy mai író szemével [Maupassant in a Contemporary Writer’s Eyes] (1968)
  • Meghatározások és szerepek (Magvető, 1969)
  • Múzsák testamentuma [Testament of the Muses] (1985)

Short stories and other writings

  • Iniciálék és ámenek (Szépirodalmi, 1987).

Diary and memoirs

  • Az egyetlen metafora felé [Towards the One and Only Metaphor] (1935, 1985)
  • Frivolitások és hitvallások [Frivolities & Confessions] (1988)
  • Ágoston olvasás közben [While Reading Augustine] (1993)
  • Harmonikus tépett lélek [A Harmonious Ripped Soul] (1994)
  • Az alázat kalendáriuma [The Almanac of Humility] (1998)
  • Fájdalmok és titkok játéka [The Play of Pains and Secrets] (2001)
  • Az élet faggatottja (beszélgetések, riportok, interjúk Sz.M.-sal) [An Interrogator of Life: Conversations, Reports, and Interviews with Miklós Szenkuthy] (2006)


  • Reakitás és irrealitás viszonya Ben Jonson klasszikus naturalizmusában [The Relationship of Reality to Unreality in the Classical Naturalism of Ben Jonson’]; doctoral thesis (1931)
  • Égő katedra (Hamvas Intézet, 2001)
  • Örök közelség, ezer emlék (Szentkuthy Miklós válogatott dedikációi) [Immortal Proximity, a Thousand Memories (selected dedications by Miklós Szenkuthy] (2007)
  • Szentkuthy Miklós válogatott levelezése [Selected Correspondence of Miklós Szenkuthy] (2008)
  • Titkok játéka (P.I.M., 2009)


  • András Jeles, Arc és álarc (Budapest, 1986). A video interview conducted by Pál Réz. This is an excerpt from the original 12–15 hours of footage shot by Jeles. Arc és álarc aired on Hungarian TV, Channel No. 1, in 1991.
  • TV Portrait-film (1983)


The Miklós Szentkuthy Foundation Archive, held by the Petőfi Literary Museum, contains:

1) a 1986 video interview (the raw material comprises 12–15 hours); 2) a collection of photographs related to Szentkuthy's life (thousands of photos from his grandparent's generation to the death of the writer); 3) thousands of bibliographical items: book reviews, critiques, etc. (from 1931 to the present day); 4) approx. 200 hours of audio cassettes (1968–present) and VHS tapes (1982 to the present day).



  • Marginalia on Casanova: St. Orpheus Breviary Vol. I (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2012). Tr. by Tim Wilkinson
  • Towards the One and Only Metaphor (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2013). Tr. by Tim Wilkinson.
  • Prae (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2014). Tr. by Tim Wilkinson. Forthcoming.


  • Prae, tr. by Philippe Dôme, Pál Nagy, and Tibor Papp, D’Atelier, No. 6–7 (1974): 7–58. An excerpt of Szentkuthy's Prae.
  • Vers l’unique métaphore (Editions Jose Corti, 1991)
  • En marge de Casanova (Aux éditions Phébus, 1991)
  • Renaissance noire (Aux éditions Phébus, 1991)
  • Escorial (Aux éditions Phébus, 1993)
  • Chroniques burgondes (Aux Éditions du Seuil, 1996)
  • En lisant Augustin (Editions Jose Corti, 1996)
  • Le Calendrier de l’humilité (Editions Jose Corti, 1998)
  • Robert baroque (Editions Jose Corti, 1998)
  • Les Confessions frivoles (Aux éditions Phébus, 1999)
  • Europa Minor (Aux éditions Phébus, 2006)


  • „Weimarische Tragikomödie. Thomas Mann DOKTOR FAUSTUS. Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn erzählt von einem Freunde,” Übersetzt aus dem ungarischen von Ernst Kállai (Stockholm: Baumann-Fischer-Verlag, 1948).
  • "Thomas Manns Joseph-Geschichten," tr. by Pia Razgha, Sinn und Form (1965) 204–217. Essay on Thomas Mann's Joseph & His Brothers.
  • "Brevier des Sankt Orpheus," tr. by Géza Engl, Bücher aus Ungarn, 3. Heft (Juli-September 1974) 25–27. Auszug aus Kanonisierte Verzweiflung.
  • "Notizen zu einem Bildungsroman — Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull," tr. by Pia Razgha, Thomas Mann und Ungarn, Essays, Dokumente, Bibliographie (Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 1977) 155–164.
  • "Schlimmer Tag," tr. by György Sebestyén, Der Ort, an dem wir uns befinden, Ungarische Erzahler der Gegenwart (Wien: Bundersverlag, 1985) 51–64.
  • "Brevier des Sankt Orpheus," tr. by Petra Szabó-Kommerrell, Pannonia, Nummer 1 (1985) 18–20. Auszug aus Bekenntnis und Puppenspiel.
  • "Brevier des heiligen Orpheus, IV. Band, "Blutiger Eisel,” "Thomas de Villanova,” einleitende Hagiographie," tr. by Mátyás Esterházy, MA: Heute (Budapest: Corvina, 1988) 93–109. Also published in English and tr. by George F. Cushing, MA Today (1988) 87–101.
  • "On Wagner," Bayreuther Festspiele, Programmheft V, tr. by Mátyás Esterházy (1988), 87.
  • "Blumenmarkt," tr. by Jörg Buschmann, Moderne ungarische Erzählungen (München: Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag: 1999) 152–175.
  • Divertimento, tr. by Jörg Buschmann, Ein Lesebuch zur ungarischen Literatur, Ungarn Schwerpunkt der Frankfurther Buchmesse (Frankfurt: 1999) 9–23. Auszug.


  • Sz.O.B. Vallomás és bábjáték, Brewiarz Świętego Orfeusza. Część VI: Wyznanie i teatr Lalek., extract, tr. by Szczepan Woronowicz, Literatura na Świecie (Kwiecień, 1986), 3-77.


  • À Margem de Casanova (Editorial Teorema, 1992)
  • Escorial (Editorial Teorema, 1999)


  • Bianca Lanza di Casalanza (Bucuresti: Editura Univers, 1999)
  • Frivolitati si marturisiri, extract (Caiete Europene, 1998), 116, 146.


  • Prae, extract tr. by Imre Bori, Polja, 138 (Novi Sad: 1970)
  • "Makrokosmos" o Beli Bartoku, Savremena Madarska Knjizevnost (Delo, June 1985) 57-62.


  • Divertimento. Variacie na zivot Wolfganga Amadea Mozarta (Tatran, 1990)


  • A Proposito de Casanova (Ediciones Siruela, 2002)
  • Renacimiento Negro (Ediciones Siruela, 2007)
  • En lisant Augustin (Ediciones del Subsuelo, 2013). Forthcoming.


  • Marginalia on Casanova (Aylak Adam, 2014). Forthcoming.

Translations by Szentkuthy into Hungarian

  • Az angol irodalom kincsesháza (Budapest: Athenaeum, 1942) Szerk: Halász Gábor, Sz.M. ford: John Lyly, A szerelem veszélyei; Philip Sidney, A szerelem; John Donne, A halálról, és: Van-e Isten?; Sir Thomas Browne, Önmagáról [About Himself -- an excerpt from Religio Medici]; John Milton, Az „Areopagiticá”-ból
  • Jonathan Swift, Gulliver utazásai (Szépirodalmi, 1952)
  • Álszentek cselekedetei (Szépirodalmi, 1953)
  • Howard Fast, Spartacus (Szépirodalmi, 1953)
  • Howard Fast, Amerikai legenda (Szépirodalmi, 1954)
  • Charles Dickens, Twist Olivér (Új Magyar Könyvkiadó, 1955)
  • Halldór Laxness, Független emberek (Új Magyar Könyvkiadó, 1955)
  • Henry Lawson, A batyu románca (Új Magyar Könyvkiadó, 1956)
  • Békedíjas írók (Új Magyar kiadó,1956)
  • Mark Twain, Az egymillió fontos bankjegy (Európa, 1957)
  • Mark Twain, Emberevés a vonaton (Magvető, 1966)
  • Hagyomány és egyéniség (1967)
  • Autóbusz és iguána (Európa, 1968)
  • Mark Twain, Mennyei utazás (Európa, 1970)
  • James Joyce, Ulysses (Európa, 1974)
  • Mark Twain, Megszelídítem a kerékpárt (Európa, 1980)
  • Az erőd bevétele (Zrínyi kiadó, Bp. 1980). Válogatás a világirodalom legjobb katona-elbeszéléseiből, 1800–1945
  • Henry Lawson, Élhetetlen szerelmesek (Európa, 1984)
  • Poe és követői. Rémisztő történetek (Lazi kiadó, Szeged, 2002)
  • Odüsszeusztól Ulyssesig (Kriterion, Kolozsvár, 2006)

Literary reviews

  • Numéro spécial de la revue littéraire hongroise: „Magyar Műhely” consacré entière-ment à M.Szentkuthy (édité à Paris, 1973)
  • Numéro spécial de la revue littéraire hongroise: „Thélème”, consacré à Miklós Szentkuthy (Printemps 1988)
  • Numéro spécial de la revue littéraire hongroise: "Orpheus", consacré entièrement à M. Szentkuthy (1994)
  • Europe, No. 868–869. Un bloc sur Miklós Szentkuthy (Paris, 2001)
  • Numéro spécial de la revue littéraire hongroise: „Forrás”, consacré à Szentkuthy (Mars 2002)
  • Numéro spécial de la revue littéraire hongroise: «Prae», avec un bloc sur Szentkuthy (Décembre 2008)


  • Fekete J. József, Olvasat – Forum (Jugoszlávia: Újvidék, 1986)
  • Rugási Gyula, Szent Orpheus arcképe – esszékötet (Könyvkiadó: Pesti Szalon, 1992)
  • Fekete J. József, Olvasat II. Újabb esszék Szentkuthyról (Jugoszlávia: Sombor Informativni Centar, 1993)
  • Bálint Péter, Arcok és álarcok. Esszékötet – Felsőmagyarország kiadó, Miskolc, benne Sz.M.-ről: 79–167. old. (1994)
  • Fekete J. József, Széljegyzetek Szentkuthyhoz (Jugoszláviai Magyar Művelődési Társaság: Újvidék, 1998)
  • Nagy Pál, Az elérhetetlen szöveg. Prae-palimpszesz – tanulmányok (1999)
  • Szentkuthy Miklós: A mítosz mítosza – „In memoriam” sorozat (Rugási Gyula Nap kiadó, 2001)
  • Mária Tompa, Égő katedra – Visszaemlékezések Szentkuthy Miklósra – egykori tanítványok vallomásai (Hamvas Intézet, 2001)
  • Hegyi Katalin, Szentkuthy Miklós. – biográfia; „Élet-kép” sorozat (Elektra Kiadóház, 2001)
  • Molnár Márton, Napló és regény Szentkuthy Miklós műveiben – egyetemi szakdolgozat (Hamvas Intézet, 2003)
  • Bálint Péter, Szentkuthy álruhában. Közelítések egy gigantikus napló írójához (Széphalom Könyvműhely, 2003)
  • Fekete J. József, P.O.S.T. Szentkuthy Miklós és művei (Újvidék, 2005)
  • Parragi Márta, T.Nagy György, Szentkuthy Miklós könyvtára – tanulmány, katalógus, képanyag (PIM, 2008)
  • Fekete J. József, Elmélet helyett koreográfia. Újabb Szentkuthy-olvasatok (Nap-kút kiadó, 2010)
  • Sikorski Filip, A Genetic Analysis of Miklós Szentkuthy's "Prae" (Helsinki: Unigrafia, 2014),


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External links

  • Official Miklós Szentkuthy site
  • Miklós Szentkuthy Special Issue, Hyperion, Volume VIII, Issue 2, July 18, 2013
  • Rainer J. Hanshe, Quarterly Conversation," Ars Poetica"Entering the World Stage: Miklós Szentkuthy's (September 2, 2013)
  • : "Lectio (Saintly Reading)"Marginalia on Casanova
  • -- excerpt ITowards the One and Only Metaphor
  • -- excerpt IITowards the One and Only Metaphor
  • -- excerpt IPrae: Recollections of My Career
  • -- excerpt IIPrae: Recollections of My Career
  • St. Orpheus BreviaryThe Nile's Nymphes -- excerpt from
  • Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum
  • Litteraturehongroise Szentkuthy page
  • Editions Jose Corti Szentkuthy page
  • Zéno Bianu, "Boudoir & Theology"
  • , 30 July 2007Contre-feux, revue littéraireJoël Roussiez, "À propos du livre « Robert Baroque » de Miklos Szentkuthy,"
  • , 7.03.2008Hungarian Literature OnlineJózsef J. Fekete, "Szentkuthy, the Proteus of Hungarian literature,"
  • , 15 August 2008Le CourrierJose Antonio Garcia Simon, "Miklós Szentkuthy ou la quête de l'oeuvre absolue,"
  • , 4.09.2009Hungarian Literature OnlineAn excerpt from Miklós Szentkuthy's novel on Haydn,
  • , 5.01.2012Hungarian Literature OnlineFerenc Takács, "A comedy of ideas. Miklós Szentkuthy: Prae,"
  • , 21.03.2014Hungarian Literature OnlineDiana Vonnak: "The Gallery of Inner Life. Miklós Szentkuthy: Towards the One and Only Metaphor",
  • (radio broadcasts and more)Le Magazine LittéraireMiklós Szentkuthy: « Entendez-voir» au Petit Palais,
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