It was Miklós Hernádi, chief counsellor of the Communicative Secretariat of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and godson of Miklós Radnóti and Fanni Gyarmati to tell me for the first time that Fanni Gyarmati intended to leave the bequest of his husband Miklós Radnóti to the Manuscript Department of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Miklós Hernádi is an author himself, his novel Otto was a success even beyond the borders of Hungary. His father Lajos Hernádi (Heimlich) (1906-1986) was a renowned pianist, a pupil of Béla Bartók and Ernő Dohnányi, and an even more renowned composer and piano teacher – boasting with such students as Tamás Vásáry – whose score editions are still widely in use. But what is most important to us now, he was a close friend of Miklós Radnóti as well as his comrade in the forced labour service. This is why his portrait was exposed among those of Radnóti’s friends in the recently opened centenary exhibition. The Radnóti couple were regular participants at the house concerts of Lajos Hernádi.
Fanni Gyarmati still lives in the 13th district of Budapest, on Pozsonyi street where they moved in August 1935 right after their marriage.
Zsolt Gréczy in his article “A hundred million forints for manuscripts”, published in Népszabadság on 17 December 2005, gave an overview of the manuscripts of great Hungarian authors sold for exceptionally high prices, including those of Mihály Vörösmarty, Endre Ady and Miklós Radnóti (Elegy, First eclogue, Song about the black man who went to the town, Walk on, condemned!), adding in the last paragraph: “This tendency caused Fanni Gyarmati, the widow of Miklós Radnóti to announce via Népszabadság that it was not her who offered the manuscripts of her husband for auction. Mrs. Radnóti has noticed that she intended to leave the bequest of his husband, carefully preserved by her to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.” Radnóti usually destroyed the sketches of his poems. Only a few manuscripts of him have ever been sold on auction, thus his autograph poems and letters are the more sought for. For example on 29 May 2009 a letter by him was offered at the auction of the Central Antique Bookshop for an upset price of 800 thousand forints. Some letters of Radnóti, included in the bequests of others like György Aczél, Lajos Hatvany or Béla Zolnai have also come to public collections.
Béla Zolnai was the professor of French to Radnóti at the University of Szeged. Radnóti’s relation to Zolnai was not so close as to Sándor Sík, his professor of Hungarian literature, but Zolnai had a high opinion of the young poet, and later they also got to closer contact with each other. The bequest of Zolnai includes a beautiful and touching letter of Radnóti from 23 April 1943 in which he invited his former professor to become his godfather on the occasion when Sándor Sík would baptize him and his wife (MTAK, Manuscript Department Ms 4126/339). I read for the first time the letters of Radnóti contained in the Zolnai bequest in 1969, as the topic of my M.A. thesis was the journal Széphalom edited by Zolnai, and on this occasion I also met Professor Zolnai personally. It was an unforgettable impression when I took in the hand the handwritten letter in which Radnóti wrote in an apparently calm tone: “…today baptism cannot be considered speculation or escape, for it has no realistic advantage any more. Thus my moral scruples were swept away by the luxuriant laws and orders.”
Therefore, having been informed both verbally and from the press about the noble intention of Fanni Gyarmati, I as the director of the Manuscript Department felt it my obligation to contact her about this case. I called her with no small anxiety to ask her for a first appointment. Her first question concerned my relationship to Zoltán Rozsondai who was her colleague in the late 1940’s in the Ministry of Religion and Education. He was the younger brother of my father-in-law Károly Rozsondai, and I also remember him having mentioned the name of Fanni Gyarmati. Now I also know that they mutually held each other in high esteem. Of course, Fanni’s second question was whether Zoltán still was alive. He died not much ago, I replied, and Fanni told something like every friend and acquaintance had already passed away, only she is still here.
I purchased not much earlier Győző Ferencz’s recently published monograph on Radnóti, and at Fanni I have got acquainted with him as well. The father of Győző Ferencz was also a colleague of Fanni and Zoltán Rozsondai. Threads have been incredibly intervowen in this case!
Fanni Gyarmati is still a phenomenon. Her passion for Hungarian poetry is compelling. Her resentment on nowaday’s youth’s ignorance of poems is more than thought-provoking. She still knows a large number of poems by heart. She considers Hungarian poetry as our greatest national treasure. Her activity is surprising. When arranging an appointment, she sometimes observes like “Tuesday evening is not good, I’ll have a pupil”, as she still has two students of French language! (She was born on 8 September 1912.) She does not like this brave new world, and the country’s present situation makes her really sad. She smokes a little bit, but only 3-4 cigarettes a day, even that “only recently, for while Miklós was alive, he was a strong smoker, and we had not enough money to buy cigarette for both of us.” She has a number of lovable little stories and remembrances, like when he sent Miklós to buy bread at the nearby baker’s shop. The half-kilo bread was called “Good health”, but Miklós forgot it on the way, and he only remembered that it was something positive. So after some consideration he asked for a “Joy of life” bread…
I always think with gratitude of Fanni for the way how she receives me in her flat where I have always felt the spirit of Radnóti to be present, too. When I asked her about the entry of her last will concerning the “Radnóti Bequest”, she replied in a resolute tone that it is all in order and that the bequest will go to the Academy after her death. However, the Library of the Academy is an autonomous legal entity, and thus Fanni had to precise that she thought about the Library. Her last will had to be modified. We also had to take note that although Fanni appointed Győző Ferencz, the author of the Radnóti monograph and the best expert of his bequest as the philological administrator of the bequest, nevertheless it would be the task of a member of the Manuscript Department of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences to catalogue it according to the usual practices of the Department and to make it researchable in accordance with the conditions established.
The fact that the Radnóti bequest came to the Manuscript Department of the LHAS earlier than we had intended was due to the unhappy accident of Fanni. While she was in hospital in late 2007 and early 2008, she was worrying for the safety of the Radnóti manuscripts. Thus we had to find a quick way, in collaboration with several persons, including Fanni’s attorney, to properly deliver the bequest on 11 January 2008 to the Palace of the Academy at Roosevelt square 9 where the special collections of the Library of the Academy are located.
Not much later, in 2009 the centenary of Miklós Radnóti’s birth arrived, and although the cataloging of the bequest is still in progress, nevertheless on 5 May a chamber exhibition presenting the unique nature of this material was organized in the Vasarely Room of the Library by Antal Babus, the colleague of the Department responsible for the cataloging of the bequest, and with the introduction of Győző Ferencz. Sic superi voluerunt, this is how the powers above have ordered it: that on the centenary of Radnóti’s birth the general public could behold the most outstanding and most interesting pieces of his bequest, thanks to the generous gift of his widow.
The bequest of Miklós Radnóti was transported to the Department of Manuscripts of the Library of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in twenty-one large sealed packages on 11 January 2008 from the flat of Radnóti’s wife Fanni Gyarmati on Pozsonyi út. Given their extraordinary value, in contrast to the normal practice we have registered the manuscripts piece by piece, inserting the most important ones in protecting foil, putting all the manuscripts in provisional envelopes and recording everything in registers. The work that required several days was finished on 11 August 2008, on the anniversary of the wedding of Miklós Radnóti and Fanni Gyarmati in 1935. Győző Ferencz, appointed curator of the Radnóti Bequest was present during all the process of registration, and the record was also signed by him.
What is this bequest like? A complete bequest exists only in theory, thus neither that of Radnóti is that, but it approximates the ideal. This is the merit of Fanni Gyarmati. It was her who preserved and protected the bequest of her husband for more than six decades, and it is also due to her that the manuscripts got to us in such a good condition.
It is impossible to present the whole bequest in twenty minutes, thus I will only pick out some more important and interesting pieces.
The books of poetry published during the life of Radnóti contain 163 poems, while the posthumous Foamy Sky 69 additional ones. These 232 poems were enlarged by the five important ones found at exhumation in his notebook, the Root and the four Razglednicas. Of these 237 poems the bequest contains the autograph manuscript of 119 ones which is almost exactly half of them. Taken into consideration that Radnóti usually did not preserve but the final version of his poems, this is quite a good proportion.
How are these autographs distributed in time? Radnóti copied into his notebook almost all the poems of his first two volumes, Pagan Salute (24 poems) and Song of Modern Shepherds (30 poems). Thus these 54 poems, almost half of the 119 autograph manuscripts are from his two early books of poetry in which he still seeked his own voice. Of the next volume, Convalescent Wind (1933) we only have the typescript. Of the 22 poems of New Moon we have 5 in manuscript, of the 24 of Walk on, Condemned! 15, of the 26 of Steep Road 16, and of the 12 of Calendar only two. Reaching the peak of his oeuvre, of the 69 poems in Foamy Sky we have 17 in autograph manuscript. These 17 already include those five that Radnóti handed over to Sándor Szalai in the autum of 1944 in the lager of Bor, his Letter to My Wife, Seventh Eclogue, Eighth Eclogue, Forced March and A la recherche. The most exceptional piece of Radnóti’s bequest is indiscutibly the Bor Notebook which includes ten poems, those handed over to Szalai and the Root as well as the four Razglednicas. In summary we can say that the beginning and self-conscious young poet has carefully preserved the manuscript of all his poems, then at the middle of his career he take less care of the fate of his manuscripts, while at the end of his life, in a sharp historical and personal situation he assessed well the importance of his own works and paid much attention to their survival. It is an exceptional luck that his greatest works, the Bor poems exist in two copies, on the leaves handed over to Sándor Szalai and in the Bor Notebook.
Thirty-one poems were not published in any volume between 1930 and 1944. We have the autograph of ten of them. Of Radnóti’s seven facetious poems we have the autographs of the six ones written to Gyula Ortutay, and from the seven Eaton Darr poems we have the original manuscript of one. The bequest also includes some juvenile poems and several handwritten papers of the poet.
A more interesting question is whether there are any unpublished poems in the bequest. Győző Ferencz read almost all the manuscripts of Radnóti, and in his extremely detailed monograph he quoted the full text of several unpublished poems, like the one written against Babits (and translated in our Chronology). Thus, a more exact question would be whether there are any unpublished poems left in the bequest after the revision of Győző Ferencz? The answer is yes. We do not only mean the large number of juvenile attempts, but also three mock epigrams, one of which – now published for the first time in the Hungarian version of this page. – was written against the critic Andor Simon, son-in-law of great novelist Zsigmond Móricz, who dared to write a negative review on Radnóti’s Convalescent Wind in 1933. An unknown strophe of his Paris (in the volume Foamy Sky) has also been found – we also publish it for the first time in the Hungarian version of this page. It described how an unknown, beautiful girl got off the metro in Paris. The aesthetic quality of the strophe does not give reason for its omission from the published poem. Although I have no written evidence, nevertheless I think that Radnóti omitted it for shyness. The bequest also contains a large number of typescripts with the poet’s handwritten corrections.
Among Radnóti’s prosaic works we have to mention first of all his short story Gemini, of which the bequest contains a complete manuscript version on thirteen folios as well as two typescripts with a number of additional handwritten pages. There are some other unpublished texts as well. Radnóti published two essays with the title Miniature, but the bequest has four texts with this title. Besides, an unpublished fragment of a novel on 67+5 folios is also waiting for the researchers.
It is generally acknowledged that Radnóti was one of the best Hungarian translators. We have already mentioned that he only preserved the last manuscript of his own poems, destroying the previous sketches. To our luck, he was not so rigorous with his translations. The bequest contains several handwritten variants of the translations of more than thirty poets. These manuscripts help us to have a glimpse into the poet’s workshop, to bear witness to the birth of the translation and to the poet’s fight for perfection. It is almost a sensual delight to browse among these densely scrawled pages, often spiced with metrical feet and small cartoons. The variants that Radnóti did not judge worthy of publication are often almost as good as the final ones, and they must have their place in a future critical edition of his works.
Radnóti began the translation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night on the day of Twelfth Night – 6 January – in 1944. According to literature, he completed the first two acts of the play until his third forced labor service in May, and the third to fifth acts were translated by György Rónay. However, this view has to be revised. The fragmentary autographs in the bequest include six pages from Scene 4 of Act 3, numbered from 75 to 80. The last numbered page before this is 41, thus we can state with certainty that the now missing pages 42-74 contain the complete Act 3 of Shakespeare’s play. We do not know what happened to the manuscript, whether it lays hidden somewhere or it got lost.
An important part of the bequest contains the correspondence of Radnóti. I would not make a mistake if I said that “the correspondence of Radnóti and his wife”, for in fact 90-95% of the one and half thousand letters were written to each other. Most of these letters are from Radnóti’s university years in Szeged. In those years there passed hardly any day without sending news to each other. From this correspondence the general public knows only the excerpts quoted in the monograph by Győző Ferencz. True, he did quote from the most interesting ones. The correspondence cannot be researched yet, but we can say that much about their content that they mostly speak about everyday matters, pre-exam excitements and the usual stuff between lovers. It bears witness to the fairness of Fanni Gyarmati that she also preserved Radnóti’s correspondence with other women. In this way there survived not only the 23 letters written by “Tini”, Miklós’ lover in Reichenberg, but also the documents of his affair with Judit Beck which was practically unknown to the publich until recent times. The letters to and from Radnóti during his three labor services constitute a special group. The poet and his wife wrote to each other as much as it was permitted by military regulations. Among their domestic message cards left to each others there are some witty and intellectual ones as well.
Our collection also includes the first editions of Radnóti’s books of poetry (except for his Selected Poems of 1940 and Foamy Sky from 1946). An interesting feature in the volume New Moon is that Radnóti made two autograph corrections in the poem Evening in the garden, but he only took over one of them in his Selected Poems published six years later. We have three copies of Radnóti’s volume of translations, In the Footsteps of Orpheus, among which the one dedicated to Gyula Ortutay is especially valuable. This one includes not only a long handwritten dedication, but also seven handwritten strophes of Radnóti’s poem Paris, which was not yet published at that time.
We know that Radnóti had only one publication under his official name Radnóczi. In 1934 the Hungarian Institute of History of Literature published his PhD thesis on Margit Kaffka under this name. However, the Arts College of the Youth of Szeged in the same year also published the thesis under the name Radnóti. The bequest has a copy of each version.
Radnóti raised money for the publication of four books of poetry and his short story Gemini via lists of subscription. From a typographic point of view that of New Moon is especially beautiful. It was designed by György Buday, Radnóti’s friend who later won an international reputation as a graphic designer and woodcutter.
The newspaper cutouts in the bequest also include some rarities. Let me only mention one. The 30 October 1944 edition of Déli Hírlap in Temesvár (Timişoara, today Romania) dedicated a full page to the poems of those deported in Bor under the title Poets behind the barbed wire. This selection also included Radnóti’s Seventh Eclogue (here entitled as The Sleeping Lager) and A la recherche. They were handed over to the newspaper by Radnóti’s friend and lager companion Sándor Szalai who, after the liberation of the Bor lager, managed to get through to Romania.
The students’ journals including the very first publications of the young Radnóti are also a rarity. The Haladás (Progress) was a journal printed at home. We have thirteen copies of its ten editions from 1926 and 1927. The journal 1928, of which Radnóti was not only an author but also the editor had only two editions, and we have a copy of each of them. The bequest also contains the copies of Kortárs and Mindnyájunk Lapja in which Radnóti published.
An exceptional item is the volume Szólok hozzád, Bánat-asszony (I Call You, Lady Sorrow). This was a book of poetry by a dilettant poet to which György Bálint and András Komor had a new title page printed under the name of “Miklós Radnóthy”. In November 1937 they sent the volume in mail to the address of Radnóti with the following handwritten dedication: “To Miklós Radnóti, illustrious poet of our homeland, deeply revered collaborator of several renowned journals in the capital, from his relative in name and in the holy Poesis, who dedicates to him his modest trifles: Miklós Radnóthy”. Radnóti obviously fell into the trap.
Radnóti, who had learned book-keeping in the commercial school, kept account of the list of his published poems with the precision of an accountant and collected the reviews published on them. Between 1929 and 1936 he pasted on hundred numbered folios the newspaper cutouts and preserved them in a box made for the purpose by his bookbinding friend Sándor Frenkl. His collection of the publications on him was continued after his death by Fanni Gyarmati. This huge material will be an extremely useful source for any research on the reception of Radnóti’s oeuvre.
The most valuable items in the bequest are undoubtedly the documents and manuscripts found in the mass grave of Abda. These also include the scotch that was ripped off the grave by Fanni Gyarmati in 1946, at the identification of his husband’s exhumated corpse.
By paraphrasing Radnóti’s favorite contemporary poet Attila József, I cannot even say that “the list is ready”, for the cataloging of the Radnóti Bequest is in process. Instead of final data, I could only give a provisional report.