The Nightmare [A Gólyakalifa]


 A fascinating psychological drama, presented as the frenetic notes of a man revealing the secret life of his soul. In this his rst novel, originally published in 1916, Babits sets out to explore the nature of a personality split equally into two lives, each representing the night-time self of the other, its opposite.

The book purports to be the autobiography of Elemér Tábory. It begins with a description of him as a child in a wealthy home, well-off materially but also with a rich inner life. Soon however we discern a shadow, beginning in childish games but continuing in reex reactions to memories he experiences as ‘awakening’. Slowly Elemér becomes aware that he knows and recognises things from ‘a distant past’, though what that distance is he struggles to discover.

Elemér Tábory, the loved, the admired, the privileged, becomes an unknown and abused cabinet maker’s apprentice (then later a crooked ofce clerk) at night. And when the poor, unwanted, beaten apprentice sleeps, he dreams a vague and golden dream — the life of Elemér Tábory. In every possible way they are each other’s opposite. The rst is top of his class and reads elevated texts, his double is illiterate, but is desperate to decipher words and reap the benets of reading:


A chaos of screaming letters lled my head. I deciphered strange, senseless words from the walls, alien, unheard-of, unpronounceable words. Are they really spelt like this, or do I read them wrong? Letters had been my deadly enemies and secret idols ever since I had attended school. Now in this strange, impossible and dirty Babel it seemed to me that these letters were holding the key to everything;