Grave and Gay


Witty parodies of schoolboy pranks, satires of insufferably perfect ‘straight A’

students and elegantly scathing literary parodies of contemporaries — these are the genres for which Karinthy is best known amongst his native readership. This selection of his short stories and other writings, however, offers a wider range of the work of the author whose tragedy was perhaps never to be able to nd the genre best suited to his talents.

The rst story of the volume, ‘Meeting with a Young Man’ under the heading ‘The Graver Side of Life,’ aptly summarises Karinthy’s personal anxiety about an author’s failure to realise his youthful dreams and ambitions. While walking on one of the Budapest boulevards, the narrator meets a young man in whom he recognises his alter ego, his own younger self. When his younger self, a man of twenty-six, reminds him of his dreams and plans such as building a ying machine and reaching the North Pole, he is forced to admit that his grown-up middle class achievements only appear prosaic and disillusioning in comparison with what he could have achieved — a conclusion that has often been read as an allegorical representation of his own personal failure as an author. Another emblematic short story, ‘The Circus,’ is an allegory of a musician, who, after long periods of dreaming about performing in the circus nally surmounts incredible difculties to reach the soaring heights on the trapeze, and then plays his music to realise his unfullled dream of perfect communication. ZV


Then slowly I crawled up it. I reached the pinnacle and relaxed. Hot drops of sweat slid slowly down my face. All my muscles were taut as a bowstring, and trembling. I waited till the structure stopped swaying, then, in a deadly silence, I straightened out, opened my robe and drew out a violin… With a tremulous hand I laid the bow across the strings… now, groping with my foot, I cautiously let go of the pole… bent forward… balanced for a few moments… and, making use of the silence of terror, which tore open the mouths and gripped the hearts in the depths below me, slowly and quiveringly I began to play the melody, which long, long ago, had resounded and sobbed in my heart. 115