Marginalia on Casanova

I am, as readers of this blog will know, not the most ardent consumer of novels, for questions of time & form. But from time to time a book in novel form comes along that does grab my attention. Here is one, a rare thing, something to be pointed to & out, to be shown, thus a  monstrum, a monster of a book — coming out soon, but the available extracts have convinced me:

Forthcoming very soon from Contra Mundum Press:

Miklós Szentkuthy’s

Translated by Tim Wilkinson for the very first time into English from the original Hungarian, this publication, which has already received an award from the Petofi Literary Museum, may prove to be one of the most momentous releases of the decade.

Szentkuthy is hailed by many as the Hungarian equivalent of Joyce, Proust, and Musil and, to date, his works have been translated into French, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovakian, and Spanish. Marginalia on Casanova is the first book of Szentkuthy’s epic ten volume St. Orpheus Breviary which, as Csaba Sík noted, “represents the greatest enterprise in scope, in worth? – undertaken in the Hungarian novel.”

Marginalia on Casanova is the first volume of the St. Orpheus Breviary, Miklós Szentkuthy’s synthesis of 2,000 years of European culture. As Szentkuthy’s Virgil, St. Orpheus is an omniscient poet who guides us not through hell, but through all of recorded history, myth, religion, and literature, albeit reimagined as St. Orpheus metamorphosizes himself into kings, popes, saints, tyrants, and artists. At once pagan and Christian, Greek and Hebrew, Asian and European, St. Orpheus is a mosaic of history and mankind in one supra-person and veil, an endless series of masks and personae, humanity in its protean, futural shape, an always changing function of discourse, text, myth, and mentalité.

Through St. Orpheus’s method, disparate moments of history become synchronic, are juggled to reveal, paradoxically, mutual difference and essential similarity. “Orpheus wandering in the infernal regions,” says Szentkuthy, “is the perennial symbol of the mind lost amid the enigmas of reality. The aim of the work is, on the one hand, to represent the reality of history with the utmost possible precision, and on the other, to show, through the mutations of the European spirit, all the uncertainties of contemplative man, the transiency of emotions and the sterility of philosophical systems.”

Marginalia on Casanova relives the despiritualization of the main protagonist’s sensual adventures, though it is less his sex life and more his intellectual mission, the sole determinant of his being, which is the focus of this mesmeric book. Through his own glittering associations and broadly spanning array of metaphors, Szentkuthy analyses and views the 18th century and its notion of homogeneity from the vantage point of the 20th century, with the full armor of someone who was, perhaps, one of the last Hungarian Europeans. While a commentary on Casanova’s memoirs, it is also Szentkuthy’s very own philosophy of love.

Passion, playfulness, irony, and a whole gamut of protean metamorphoses are what characterize Marginalia on Casanova, a work in which readers will experience both profundity and a taking to wing of essay-writing that is intellectually radiant and as sensual and provocative as a gondola ride with Casanova.

Featuring an introduction by Zéno Bianu, an afterword by Maria Tompa, the literary executor of the Szentkuthy Estate, and an original cover design by noted Hungarian artist István Orosz.

Soon available through and similar sites worldwide.

Miklós Szentkuthy (1908-1988) was one of the most prolific Hungarian writers of the 20th century. As the author of masterpieces such as Prae, the St. Orpheus Breviary, Testament of the Muses, and Towards the One and Only Metaphor, he is recognized as one of the most significant Hungarian writers of the 20th century. In addition, Szentkuthy translated into Hungarian Joyce’s Ulysses, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and works by Twain, Poe, and many others.

Tim Wilkinson has translated a number of substantial works on Hungarian history and culture including Éva Balázs, Hungary and the Habsburgs 1765-1800 (1997), Domokos Kosáry, Hungary and International Politics in 1848-1849 (2003), and others. In the literary field, he has translated works by Imre Kertész and many other contemporary prose writers. The US edition of his tr. of Fatelessness was awarded the PEN American Center’s PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (2005). His tr. of Kertesz’s Fiasco is a finalist for Three Percent’s Best Translated Book Award (2012).

István Orosz:

Excerpts from Marginalia on Casanova available here and here.


Contra Mundum Press
Dedicated to the value and the indispensable importance of the individual voice.

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3 Responses

  1. Poo says:

    So here I am holed up in my ‘subterranean garret’ pounding out one great novel after another only to find out at this late date that you are “not the most ardent consumer of novels.” Great news! Maybe I should read something you like.

  2. Mario Domínguez Parra says:

    I own a translation of that novel into Spanish and am very eager to start reading it. I also own a translation of another of Szentkuthy’s novels, “Renacimiento negro”. Thanks, Pierre, for reminding me that I have them.

  3. Mario Domínguez Parra says:

    Casanova translated by Judit Xantus and Renacimiento by Adán Kovacsics, great translators both.

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