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23 January 2012

The Inconvenient Grand Seigneur

Memory of Miklós Bánffy I.

If there were a single word to describe the life and afterlife of the author of the monumental A Transylvanian Trilogy, “inconvenient” would certainly best epitomize both the man and the writer.

He was the scion of one of Transylvania’s most prominent Hungarian aristocratic families, a man who declined to pursue the customary political career of his family and class (though undertaking the burden in dire moments), wishing instead to win fame as a writer under the penname “Kisbán”. His output in a variety of arts is noteworthy (including, in addition to literature, painting and the visual arts, stage direction, stage and costume design), and he was a decisive figure in the Transylvanian literature of the interwar period as an organizer, but someone who shunned the limelight. He was quickly ousted from the literary scene during the “coalition” period after 1945. His literary afterlife also abounds in excommunications and attempts to dismiss his work on other than literary grounds, and despite his current almost global success and the repeated re-editions of his works abroad, he has failed to find favour with the Hungarian readership.

It was not the prominence of his class but the superiority and critical edge of his intellect that guided him in a world the perversities of which – including the historical transgressions that led to its collapse – he tried to expose to his contemporaries. This was probably what the people whom his works are about could not tolerate; nor is it tolerated today by those who indulge in nostalgic reminiscence regarding the great deeds of the “glorious past”, lightly shifting all responsibility for the 20th century fate of Hungary to others.

He had an exceptional education as a child. He was a private pupil, but during his years at school he learned English, French, and German, and he certainly knew some Romanian, since on his estates and in the vast “Bánffy alps” he was exposed to that language. During political and diplomatic negotiations, however, as Imre Mikó2 recalled, he mostly spoke French or English, and he used Hungarian when he was speaking with Transylvanian Romanian leaders with a pre-war education.

Despite his exceptional rank, his childhood was not easy. At the age of one and a half he lost his mother, who never recovered from an illness she had contracted at his birth. His father apparently never forgave him for this. Yet he had pleasant memories of Bonchida [today Bonţida, Romania], and particularly of the “hermitage” built by his grandfather above Zentelke [today Sâncraiu, Romania]. Up to grade six his report cards at the public grammar school in Budapest’s fifth district contained only top marks, but by the time he finished the seventh and eighth grades he had been given quite a few “good” marks. A contributory factor must have been the – admitted – appeal of the theatre. He was still in grammar school when he wrote (or as he said, “perpetrated”) a “short and very poor play” as he remembered (Színfalak előtt, színfalak mögött [“On Stage, In the Wings”]). He also mentions that he was a regular “extra” at the theatre during his university years in Kolozsvár [today Cluj-Napoca, Romania], and when he moved to Budapest to resume his studies, a professional troupe also performed one of his plays (A kapitány fogadalma [The Captain’s Pledge]) at the Buda Theatre Company.

2 Imre Mikó (1911–1977), Transylvanian cultural politician, writer.


THE INCONVENIENT GRAND SEIGNEUR


The Memory of Miklós Bánffy
1

 

If there were a single word to describe the life and afterlife of the author of the monumental A Transylvanian Trilogy, “inconvenient” would certainly best epitomize both the man and the writer.

He was the scion of one of Transylvania’s most prominent Hungarian aristocratic families, a man who declined to pursue the customary political career of his family and class (though undertaking the burden in dire moments), wishing instead to win fame as a writer under the penname “Kisbán”. His output in a variety of arts is noteworthy (including, in addition to literature, painting and the visual arts, stage direction, stage and costume design), and he was a decisive figure in the Transylvanian literature of the interwar period as an organizer, but someone who shunned the limelight. He was quickly ousted from the literary scene during the “coalition” period after 1945. His literary afterlife also abounds in excommunications and attempts to dismiss his work on other than literary grounds, and despite his current almost global success and the repeated re-editions of his works abroad, he has failed to find favour with the Hungarian readership.

It was not the prominence of his class but the superiority and critical edge of his intellect that guided him in a world the perversities of which – including the historical transgressions that led to its collapse – he tried to expose to his contemporaries. This was probably what the people whom his works are about could not tolerate; nor is it tolerated today by those who indulge in nostalgic reminiscence regarding the great deeds of the “glorious past”, lightly shifting all responsibility for the 20th century fate of Hungary to others.

He had an exceptional education as a child. He was a private pupil, but during his years at school he learned English, French, and German, and he certainly knew some Romanian, since on his estates and in the vast “Bánffy alps” he was exposed to that language. During political and diplomatic negotiations, however, as Imre Mikó2 recalled, he mostly spoke French or English, and he used Hungarian when he was speaking with Transylvanian Romanian leaders with a pre-war education.

Despite his exceptional rank, his childhood was not easy. At the age of one and a half he lost his mother, who never recovered from an illness she had contracted at his birth. His father apparently never forgave him for this. Yet he had pleasant memories of Bonchida [today Bonţida, Romania], and particularly of the “hermitage” built by his grandfather above Zentelke [today Sâncraiu, Romania]. Up to grade six his report cards at the public grammar school in Budapest’s fifth district contained only top marks, but by the time he finished the seventh and eighth grades he had been given quite a few “good” marks. A contributory factor must have been the – admitted – appeal of the theatre. He was still in grammar school when he wrote (or as he said, “perpetrated”) a “short and very poor play” as he remembered (Színfalak előtt, színfalak mögött [“On Stage, In the Wings”]). He also mentions that he was a regular “extra” at the theatre during his university years in Kolozsvár [today Cluj-Napoca, Romania], and when he moved to Budapest to resume his studies, a professional troupe also performed one of his plays (A kapitány fogadalma [The Captain’s Pledge]) at the Buda Theatre Company.

In keeping with family tradition, he obtained a law diploma in Kolozsvár and then in Budapest, and he published a study on the purpose of Transylvanian credit banks while still at university. High life, however, soon swept him along. He acquired debts, forged bills, got mixed up in intricate love affairs, and fought a duel (which earned him a brief imprisonment in Kolozsvár). His father tried to curb him by placing him “in custody” at a solitary estate in Mezőség, Mezőbanyica [today Câmpia Transilvaniei, Băiţa], after a family conference. (The minutes of the conference, dated 17 June 1897, are replete with severe accusations; they were included in the memoirs of György Bánffy’s personal secretary, Gyula Nemes, excerpts of which were published by Tibor Dáné in Korunk 1972/6, 874–884.)

After this incident he completed his studies in Berlin and began to embark on the political career expected of him by family tradition. In 1902 he published a voluminous work entitled A külkereskedelmi politika eszközei [Instruments of Foreign Trade Policy]; in 1906 he was elected főispán (prefect) of Kolozs county and Kolozsvár, and in the same year he became a member of the Upper House.

Politics, however, were alien to him – not only because of his attraction to and initial success in literature. His situation was most clearly characterized by his own words, spoken upon his resignation from the post of főispán and quoted by Károly Kós3 in a recollection: “The difficulties, confrontations and frictions that beset Transylvania were often attributable to the fact that people interfered in its affairs, although they did not understand Transylvania’s affairs… We can look back upon a development of several centuries; we have not given up a single letter of our laws or of the commandments in our souls, but we have been able to preserve our rule and have not had to borrow strength from anyone. The only sin we may commit is forgetting that we have the right to control our land, our inner life and our home...”.4

The task of offering an authentic portrait based on original sources of Miklós Bánffy as a politician – both in the early years and in the later stages of his career – still remains to be done.

As previously mentioned, Miklós Bánffy showed an inclination for the theatre as early as his school years. This unusual attraction was not the only interest he took in the arts. He was taught to draw and paint by Bertalan Székely,5 and he also composed music (during his studies in Kolozsvár he took music lessons from the famous music teacher of his time, Gegenbauer). Later he was given the post of superintendent of the Budapest Opera House upon the recommendation of his pianist partner at the time (Countess Margit Zichy, who was the wife of the minister of culture).

In 1906 he entered the literary scene with a play for the stage (Naplegenda [Sun Legend]) under the penname Miklós Kisbán. His literary juvenilia, however, date back even earlier, as is proven by a book of short stories entitled Mesék [Tales], published anonymously. It was discovered and attributed to him by Péter Sas.

Hiding behind a penname, however, proved useless. In vain did he hope in doing so “to be taken seriously by the serious” (as Endre Ady6 wrote later in a review of his new book of short stories A haldokló oroszlán [The Dying Lion]). It was Ady, by the way, who “unmasked” him after the publication of Sun Legend: “It is rumoured”, he writes, “that Miklós Kisbán is actually Count Miklós Bánffy. Whoever he may be, he is a true man of letters, no matter what he is writing. This is something of great importance. We are doubly overjoyed now that we know it. Behold a noble Hungarian amateur who is truly noble.” Then he goes on: “Miklós Kisbán is more than a literary gentleman. He is a noble-minded man of acumen with European tastes. He has read much, and effectively. The Sun Legend is reminiscent of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. And that is praise. I can also overhear Spencer and Nietzsche in the book. I can also discern the newest writers… It is an interesting and fine book, another symptom of the novel and grandiose crisis of the Hungarian soul.”7 This was not the only acknowledgment Bánffy was to receive. His work was reviewed by Frigyes Riedl8 in Budapesti Szemle and by Aladár Schöpflin9 in Vasárnapi Újság, and the play premiered in the National Theatre in Budapest the following spring. His next work was the play on Attila, A Nagyúr [The Potentate], which earned him an epithet – the “dilettante” – which critics of his revival were later wont to use with a denunciatory edge. Yet when Bernát Alexander10 wrote his review in 1913, his use of the word was clearly devoid of this pejorative connotation: “The Attila tragedy is said to be a dilettante work because its author is incidentally a count in civil life. Well, it is such an honest-to-God work of art that it would do credit to any dishevelled poet of common birth, too.”11 When his volume of short stories – The Dying Lion – was published, Ady also made a point of rejecting the demeaning connotations of this epithet with reference to his earlier review: “Since then, Bánffy-Kisbán has lived this life with greater loftiness and artistry, a life that made the hoary father of superintendent Bölöny mock his son as a comedian. This book of short stories, however, proves that writing is his love, an eternal, hence sacred madness, and that he would like to be taken seriously by the serious. It would be sinful to claim that Kisbán is a dilettante, because he is not: he is an amateur writer of the finest meaning and nobility.”12

Miklós Kisbán thus succeeded in breaking through the walls of the literary community, which were closed upwards as well. At the time he was already the superintendent (government commissioner) of the Budapest Opera House and the National Theatre, gathering live embers upon his head in a new arena of the art world. This chapter spans six years of his life, from 1912 to 1918. He began recalling the events of the period in old age, but his recollections, entitled Színfalak előtt, színfalak mögött [On Stage, In the Wings], remained fragmentary. Apart from the story of his appointment, it recounts only his memories of a single event, the premičre of Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West. In the introductory section he touches on a moment which suggested that, although an acknowledged man of the literary world, he would not have it easy in the new role. “I can remember the hour”, he reminisced of his first meeting with the artists, “when I first entered the Opera House in my new capacity. I went to the director, Mészáros, who took me down to the stage. The whole staff had gathered there. The women of course welcomed me with the most enchanting smiles, each with the ulterior motive of ‘conquering’ the heart of the new potentate. The leading male members met me with sullen reluctance and suspicion. They must have thought: ‘What on earth is this count doing here?’ – as they knew nothing about me and thought I would just be a meddlesome nuisance”.

The actual stir he made in the musical life of the capital was caused by his programme policy: instead of “blockbusters” he put on the greatest works of the operatic stage as well as daring novelties. An outstanding event to his credit as superintendent of the opera was the presentation of two works by Bartók, Bluebeard’s Castle and The Wooden Prince.

In the meantime, on 30 November 1916 the King, Francis Joseph, died. As the government commissioner of artistic matters, Bánffy had to organize the coronation ceremonies for the heir, Charles. In his memoirs, written at the encouragement of Aladár Kuncz13 and published in 1932, he recalls the battles he had to fight with the leading personalities of Hungarian art – amidst the squabbles of the political parties – in order to have his ideas on the stylistic arrangement of the venue adopted. The direction of the ceremony gave him a chance to display more than just his artistic tastes. As a man of politics, Bánffy found room in the festivities to express his separate opinion about his age and to draw the attention of the gentry, wallowing in wanton luxury and self-delusive dreams of occupying the position of a great power even after three years of devastating war, to the increasingly visible sufferings in the background.

At the turn of 1918/19, after the collapse, Miklós Bánffy again accepted a political role. First he went to Western Europe as István Bethlen’s14 delegate with the knowledge of the president of the new republic Mihály Károlyi15 on a mission to attempt to mitigate the expected grave outcome of the lost war – without success. He then played a role in the separate talks initiated by the Romanian government in autumn 1919, and finally, after the Treaty of Trianon had been signed, he became foreign minister in István Bethlen’s government. He was put in charge of solving the difficulties created by the peace treaty, which included getting the Serbs, who still occupied most of Transdanubia, to withdraw and ceding the strip of land in the Western part of the country to Austria, in accordance with the terms of the treaty. As part of the latter arrangement, he succeeded in having a referendum held in the Sopron area, which resulted in its re-annexation to Hungary. Shortly afterwards he was faced with the problem of having to ward off the looming diplomatic embroilments caused by the attempt of Charles IV, who had been dethroned by the peace treaty, to reclaim his place. He had to fight with the legitimists, intent on restoring the kingdom, with the successor states, which again grew hostile in response to the royal coup and soon formed the so-called “Little Entente”, and last but not least with the old-fashioned bureaucrats of the foreign ministry, who had been trained in Vienna and continued to represent its increasingly anachronistic spirit. He begins his political memoirs, Huszonöt év [Twenty-Five Years], written in 1945 and first published in 1992, with his recollections of these years.

Details of his efforts as foreign minister are still buried in archives, although the reports he sent home from different negotiations and conferences abroad are surely rich with important information that would further a deeper understanding of Hungary’s revival after the shock of the Treaty of Trianon and its recognition in international politics. Hopefully documents will also be found to verify the “latent resistance” that Bánffy encountered on the side of the foreign ministry staff. He touches on this in Twenty-Five Years: “They tried to sabotage any innovation or more up-to-date attitude that I sought to introduce. The whole administration was aligned with the Ballplatz school, without having adopted its great traditions, since quite a lot of the in-house officials had risen from the lower rungs of the consular ladder or had come from other ministries. The head and touchstone of this Ballplatz spirit was Kálmán Kánya… He personified the conception that the minister was an ‘outsider’, not simply someone who had not arrived through a political career in foreign policy, but an alien dilettante, someone who comes and goes. He must not be allowed therefore to get involved in anything… From the Ballplatz they had brought the haughtiness of a great power, a typical feature of Austrian diplomacy. This complacent pride, which was perhaps justified during the time of the great Metternich, was detrimental to the Monarchy later. This attitude was even more senseless in a small country like Hungary. They brought home their hatred of the Serbs and contempt for the Italians, and a superior attitude in general, with which they looked upon every new state formation.”

This is one of the innumerable descriptions in Twenty-Five Years that was not only part of his diplomatic work, but also a literary gem.

Nothing could better illustrate his plight than a sentence taken from a letter to his father, dated 23 August 1922 (it survived the pillaging of Bonchida castle in autumn 1941 and is preserved in the Bánffy fond of the State Archives in Kolozsvár): “I am about to be appointed to Paris. At last I can escape this Gehenna.”

He returned to Transylvania in 1926, became a Romanian citizen, took the oath of allegiance before King Ferdinand I, and the very next day received a letter from Aladár Kuncz with the programme of the first writers’ meeting at Marosvécs [today Brâncoveneşti, Romania]. He was naturally present at the statutory meeting of the Helikon group on 16–17 July, and he became a decisive figure of Transylvanian literary politics, which were led by Helikon. However, his reception was not unambiguously positive. The writers’ group around Temesvári Hírlap, who were under the influence of Zoltán Franyó (one of the speakers at the first meeting in Marosvécs), ardently opposed the actions of Helikon at every possible occasion. It was they who provided wide ground for the conjecture that Bánffy had returned to Transylvania as the “anti-Magyar Party presidential candidate”, but it soon became clear that these political combinations were ungrounded. (Miklós Bánffy made this plain in a statement to György Bölöni a few months before his return: “I don’t – and will not – interfere in politics.”16) The press speculations about his opposition to the Magyar Party found echoes in the Bucharest papers: commentaries to this effect appeared in Dimineaţa and Lupta (in contrast to the national organ of the National Peasant Party, Patria, which was published in Kolozsvár and gave due place to the return of Hungary’s former foreign minister and his taking the oath of allegiance in the 10 July 1926 issue). The Temesvári Hírlap also revived the “dilettante” epithet, which was to haunt Bánffy throughout his life, and even after his death. Reflecting upon the Budapest premičre of Bánffy’s Martinovics, Sándor Asztalos charged that “… with his connections by wealth and social rank he wants to impose his political and artistic dilettantism as the spearhead of development”.17

It is worth lingering over the oath of allegiance for a minute: the event made some press organs spread the news that Bánffy had promised the King that he would not go into politics for ten years. Under the law, he was to be reinstated in his political rights in Romania only ten years after having taken the oath.18 He did enter political life again, though not exactly ten years later. With an edict of 31 March 1938, King Carol II banned the political parties and created the Front of National Rebirth, and the leading politicians of the Romanian government saw Bánffy – in opposition to the former leaders of the dissolved Magyar Party – as a politician worth cooperating with. To quote Imre Mikó again: “As the chief superintendent of the Calvinist Church in Transylvania, the spiritus rector of the Transylvanian Helikon group of writers, board member of the Kolozsvár Savings Bank and the Credit Bank… he secured an extraordinary position for himself in Transylvanian public life. The versatility of his personality, his flexible mind (which took an interest in all fields of creative endeavour and guided him safely in economic and social matters and literature and the arts with equal familiarity), and particularly his great political past gave his name an appealing ring for the Romanian government, especially since a rapprochement with Hungary was constantly on the agenda… and at the same time, he enjoyed the trust of the most competent Hungarian figures as well…”.19 And so it happened that the statutory meeting of the Hungarian Community included in the Front of National Rebirth elected Miklós Bánffy President on 11 February 1939.

However, this new political role proved unrewarding. Romanian parliamentarianism was “the parody of a parody” after the introduction of royal dictatorship.20 In Romanian political life, which was shifting rapidly to the right, the Hungarians were unable to attain any noteworthy results. The Minority Statute remained little more than an article on paper, and after the mutilation and then dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, forces increasingly interested in heightening the Romanian–Hungarian confrontation gathered strength. (Imre Mikó enlarged upon this period of the Hungarian community, and he also published several important documents, such as Bánffy’s memorandum summarizing the grievances of the Hungarian minority, which Mikó handed over to the head of the Romanian government on 6 January 1940.21)

Miklós Bánffy’s new political involvement did not end there. After the Vienna Award of 1941, when Hungary regained much of its Transylvanian territories lost in the Treaty of Trianon, he became a member of the Hungarian parliament again, where his long-time adversary György Bethlen, former president of the Magyar Party, was quick to denigrate him. As Imre Mikó writes in a later recollection, “Bánffy and his circle became opportunists and traitors, free masons and Călinescu hussars at a time when a bow-tie, a borrowed Székely dialect and some anti-Semitic phrases sufficed to make a political career”.22

In actual fact, however, it was not this that his peers could not forgive him; what was unpardonable was his panorama of the millenary Hungary in his Transylvanian Trilogy. The literature written on the Trilogy, which was published in three volumes between 1934 and 1940, would suffice to fill a library. It has been reviewed, sometimes favourably, sometimes unfavourably, by generations of prominent Hungarian authors such as Gábor Gaál, Sándor Reményik, Antal Szerb, Zsigmond Móricz, István Nagy, Andor Bajor, István Nemeskürty, and Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, among others. But it is perhaps more instructive to quote Bánffy’s confession – a self-interpretation in a fragmentary essay of his entitled A Magyar politika kritikája [A Critique of Hungarian Politics], the first chapter entitled Why I Wrote the Transylvanian Trilogy. The fragment is available in the expanded edition of Emlékeimből [From my Memories], published in 2001, summing up events after the publication of the third volume (They Were Divided) and the criticisms that blindly overlooked the admonition in the novel:

I noticed with growing anxiety that despite the terrible disaster that had befallen our nation no one wanted to face up to the sins that had led to it… No one exposed the multitude of lies that had poisoned the public and made the pre-1914 public insensitive to reality. Nobody warned: “Don’t go on down that road!” – Nobody admonished the people of the nation that they had to educate themselves to realize their real situation. That they would have to join forces and forge a real moral community, instead of letting themselves drift along on false dreams and feed on pure humbug in editorials and orations, self-delusional compliments and scintillating phrases…

We must see that we are farther and farther removed from self-criticism, and from a vision of reality, and we are sinking back into the ideology that was prevalent here before the world war. We sought all evil and fault outside ourselves and shut our eyes to our own sins. We have to see that the only Hungarian future we could envision was the restoration of the past…

The conclusion I hoped would be drawn from my work was missing. Nobody realized that the criticism and condemnation of the pre-1914 ruling class applied to the post-war leaders as well. That the post-revolutionary leading stratum was dancing the same dance macabre as its predecessor had danced between 1904 and 1914, and with the same lack of awareness, but with just as much insensitivity to the great challenges of life and the dangers jeopardizing our national existence. And they cared even less for the nationality problem than their predecessors.

I believe that the nationality issue is depicted with vivid force in my novels. Yet no word is said about it anywhere. No one emphasizes it. No one has realized that “Take back all!” is unviable, even perilous if the Hungarian public fails to reckon with it, if it satisfies itself with chauvinist slogans, if it fails to prepare in soul, in morality and in knowledge for the role it wishes to assume, and which is not its due unless it proves itself worthy…

Writing these works, I believed that the Hungarian public and its mouthpiece, criticism, would realize this.

I believed that at least the elite figures of intellectual life, even if not many others, would realize that having drawn no conclusion from the tragic past, post-Trianon Hungary had sunk back into the spiritual quagmire she had been in prior to the First World War – I believed that someone would realize that the post-Trianon political movements, “Take back all!” and “No, no, never!” as well as the legitimist and royalist slogans were mere substitutes for the political battle-cries of the turn of the century, veiling reality from the Hungarian public, that again personal wranglings had absorbed the attentions of politicians – then between Tisza and Andrássy, now between Bethlen and Gömbös – while civil society was dancing the same light-minded carnival as before 1914.

Perhaps the rapture over the first Vienna Award blinded people…

We had started on the fatal downhill path that led, logically and inevitably, to the disaster.23

This insight guided Miklós Bánffy’s political moves when, in the years of the Second World War, he undertook secret negotiations in Bucharest, attempting to persuade the Romanians to join forces with the Hungarians and withdraw from the war. When he failed, he attempted to talk Horthy into withdrawing unilaterally from the war, and when his endeavours came to nought, at least he took steps to prevent Kolozsvár from becoming a battle-ground. This was avoided, though it remains the task of historians to determine the extent to which it was to Bánffy’s credit.

He and his family were in Budapest during the siege and the movement of the front Westward. In the spring of 1945 he returned to Romania – not to Bonchida, which had been pillaged and burnt, but to Kolozsvár, where he joined the reviving literary life. He published writings in Utunk, edited by Gábor Gaál, and one of his plays based on an earlier short story (Az ostoba Li [The Foolish Li]) was performed by the Hungarian Theatre of Kolozsvár. A short novel of his was published by Józsa Béla Athenaeum (Bűvös éjszaka [Mysterious Night]), and he undertook to preside over the National Monument Conservation Committee, set up under the auspices of the Hungarian People’s Alliance. And he lived – very modestly, even miserably by standards of the time – from the sale of the remains of his property, while he struggled with the land claims committee and begged for certificates to ward off any accusation of having collaborated with the Germans.

But he soon became an inconvenient “fellow traveller” in literature, too. His sketches published in Utunk soon became the target of “militant class-conscious” criticism, and the base attacks were directed not only at “Horthy’s former foreign minister”, but also at the writer “who had terrorized the world of literature and art with his arrogant dilettantism… for many years”. The person who penned the accusations was none other than Emil Isac, the superintendent of minority theatres in the interwar years, who pretended to play the role of “a friend of Ady and the Hungarian literature”. In response to these attacks, Bánffy’s self-respect made him withdraw even from Utunk. Putting an end to procrastinations over the publication of one of his writings, he wrote to Gábor Gaál in a letter dated 4 January 1947:

I don’t take it amiss and I’m not angry. And I don’t blame you at all. I know you have no free hand over the paper. I know there is the committee and maybe others who intervene. Several interests clash in editing work. But I can’t put up with a procedure like that, for nowhere would even a beginner be treated like I am, who has been a writer of some renown for over forty years and who has taken a position against social ills since my first writing, even at a time when it was not in fashion. I close my letter by asking you kindly to keep me in your favour, as I will always think of you with great appreciation and gratitude.” (The typewritten copy of the letter is in the Bánffy’s bequest at the Ráday Archive.)

In the last Kolozsvár years he only worked for his desk. He started a political memoir (Twenty-Five Years), wrote a novel (Milolu), plays (Íme, az Ember [Ecce Homo], A béke angyala [The Angel of Peace]), and the sketch of a film scenario from Madách’s Az ember tragédiája [The Tragedy of Man], and he corresponded with his family in Budapest – his wife, sister, and daughter, who in the meantime had married and moved to Casablanca with her husband. (His letters from this period and his wife Aranka Váradi’s relevant diary notes have been published by Ildikó Marosi: Bánffy Miklós estéje [The Declining Years of Miklós Bánffy]24). In spring 1949 the Tholdalagi-Korda palace, where he resided in an apartment, was nationalized. “I have lost all my fortune”, he wrote to prime minister Groza in a letter of 16 August 1949, in which he was asking for a favourable decision on the application he had submitted earlier for a passport, “and not having a retiree’s pension, now, at the age of seventy-six, I literally have nothing to live on”. Later on: “I think it is only fair to settle my request favourably and as soon as possible, for it is the only possibility for me to survive. Otherwise the only options that remain for me are suicide or dying of hunger.” Finally, some two months later he was granted a passport, and on 14 October 1949 he was able to set out to join his wife in Budapest. Aranka Váradi wrote in her diary: “At last Miklós arrived on the Bucharest express at 8 a m on 15 October. Tattered, emaciated, old – a weak old man on shaky legs. He has no shirt, no suit – but what immense happiness that he is here at last! I can take care of him, cure him. His asthma has grown worse, his legs pained him continuously. He arrived on Saturday, he’s going to stay ten days with me and then he will go to Professor Imre Haynal’s internal clinic, where Haynal will keep him and treat him for free.”25

However, Bánffy’s withering body could no longer respond to treatment. Hardly half a year later, on 6 June 1950, he died. When the long-time fellow-fighter Károly Kós heard news of his death, he wrote: “Last week I had to look back again: I got news that Count Miklós Bánffy had died in Budapest, where he had managed to go towards the end of the winter… It was 37 years ago that we first met here in Kolozsvár, and we had lived and fought many battles with and against each other. But it is only now that I realize how much I loved and respected that man who could foresee the fate of his class so far in advance and bear it with such wise resignation till the last moment.”26

Nearly a quarter of a century passed before his ashes – in accordance with his last will – could be taken to Kolozsvár, on 29 October 1976, to the family crypt in the Házsongárd cemetery. And it took another quarter of a century to have a tablet with his name put on the crypt wall.

 

NOTES:

1 Count Miklós Bánffy (1873–1950), Hungarian nobleman, politician, writer.M

2 Imre Mikó (1911–1977), Transylvanian cultural politician, writer.

3 Károly Kós (1883–1977), Transylvanian Hungarian architect, writer, illustrator, ethnologist and politician.

4 Ellenzék, 1939/333.

5 Bertalan Székely (1835–1910), Hungarian romantic painter.

6 Endre Ady (1877–1919), great Hungarian symbolist poet, publicist.

7 Budapesti Napló, 8 April 1906.

8 Frigyes Riedl (1856–1921), Hungarian essayist, critic, literary scholar.

9 Aladár Schöpflin (1872–1950), Hungarian critic, literary scholar.

10 Bernát Alexander (1850–1927), Hungarian philosopher, aesthetician, literary scholar, educator.

11 Budapesti Szemle, 1913/439.

12 Nyugat, 1914. II. 128.

13 Aladár Kuncz (1885–1931), Transylvanian Hungarian writer, editor, critic.

14 Count István Bethlen (1874–1946), Hungarian aristocrat and statesman, prime minister of Hungary from 1921 to 1931.

15 Count Mihály Károlyi (1875–1955), Hungarian aristocrat, first prime minister then president during Hungary’s short-lived republic in 1918.

16 Magyarság, 4 March 1926.

17 Temesvári Hírlap, 13 February 1929.

18 Imre Mikó: Huszonkét év [Twenty-two Years]. Kolozsvár, p. 219.

19 Op.cit., pp. 219, 223.

20 Op.cit., p. 231.

21 Op. cit., pp. 297–302.

22 Bánffy Miklós emberközelben [Miklós Bánffy Face to Face]. In: Miklós Bánffy: Emlékeimből [From My Memories]. Kolozsvár, 2001, p. 377.

23 Op. cit., pp. 344–348.

24 Ildikó Marosi: Bánffy Miklós estéje [The Declining Years of Miklós Bánffy], Kolozsvár 2002.

25 Op. cit., p. 241.

26 Letter to Virgin Borbíró, Kolozsvár, 17 June 1950. Published in: Kós Károly levelezése [Károly Kós’ correspondence] Ed. Péter Sas. Budapest, 2003, pp. 430–431.




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