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Memorial plaque on the building in which Füst Milán was born

Füst Milán - 1900

Commemorative address given by Edit Rőder, member of the Board of Trustees on

17 July 2008 at the inauguration of a memorial plaque on the

building in which Milán Füst was born

The invitation card sent out by the residents of Hársfa utca 6 [in Budapest] states that on this day, 17 July 2008, on the 120th anniversary of Milán Füst’s birth, at the inauguration of the memorial plaque, the commemorative and inaugural address would be given by Dr György Bodnár, winner of the Széchenyi Prize, historian of literature, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the HAS Milán Füst Translation Foundation. Unfortunately, because of an unexpected illness, Chairman Bodnár is unable to deliver his commemorative address, for which he, an erudite analyst of the reception of Milán Füst’s works, has been preparing with a jubilation befitting the occasion.

I quote a few lines from the essay György Bodnár wrote for Milán Füst’s Collected Poems, a volume published by Fekete Sas, the sole publisher of Milán Füst’s works in Hungarian, for what would have been the author’s 120th birthday. “New roads open up, especially for the new generation of literary historians, towards past and present, the homeland and the wider world, i.e. in both time and space, for all reception histories are a dialogue with time, and Milán Füst’s is, too.”

Let us join in the dialogue.


Allow me to introduce myself. I am Edit Rőder, an attorney-at-law and member of the Board of Trustees of the HAS Milán Füst Translation Foundation delegated to the three-member board by Mrs Milán Füst, née Erzsébet Helfer as a friend of the family. It is a commonplace, but true – in our case doubly so – that life is the greatest dramaturge, and it was so destined that Mrs. Milán Füst placed in my hand the pen with which to take down her public covenant and last will and testament, in which she made provision for the establishment of the Milán Füst Translation Foundation.

Allow me to read out a few lines from the public covenant that hitherto have been unknown to the public:

“As the wife of Milán Füst, winner of the Kossuth Prize, poet, writer and essayist,  my life was permeated with poetry and literature. I was privileged to be part of the birth of masterpieces and of the aftermath of their birth: incomprehension, silence and success alike. There is one thing of which I was never part: compromises and a lack of demand for high standards; these were absent from Milán Füst’s life.

“Hungarian poetry and fiction can take pride in great personalities who had and still have much to say not only to the Hungarian nation, but also to the whole world. These messages are now comprehensible and accessible for the Hungarian people, as poetry and literature have become public property of a special kind: the more we partake of them, the more they enrich us.

“But are our poetry and literature comprehensible and accessible for other European nations and for non-European nations?

“It is not my task to answer this question. But it is my task to contribute to their comprehension and accessibility by

o f f e r i n g

all my assets, in the event of my death, for the purposes of a translation foundation named after Milán Füst.”

Twenty years ago, in 1988, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, in accordance with Mrs Milán Füst’s public covenant and last will and testament, established the Milán Füst Translation Foundation from all her assets at the time of her death. Today we celebrate a double anniversary: the 120th of Milán Füst’s birth and the 20th of the birth of our Foundation. From the very outset, Dr György Boytha, an internationally known and recognised copyright expert, has participated on the Board of Trustees of our Foundation as the delegate of Artisjus.


Milán Füst was born in this building, at Hársfa utca 6, on 17 June 1888; his parents were Ignác Fürst and Jozefa Weisz. “They say my father used to be a very handsome man,” Milán Füst writes in a diary entry from 1919. “By the time I came to know him, he was a sick, broken and disorganised man. […] For two years before my father died, he was practically bedridden, and we lived in severe distress at the time. We lived in a kitchen, amid the greatest filth and poverty. […] My mother was a sharp-witted, ambitious and extremely aspirational woman.”

Milán Füst’s father died in 1896.

“My mother was left behind with one thousand forints, and she started taking me, a skinny, sickly child (eye trouble, ear trouble, anaemia, bouts of pneumonia), as a symbol of misery on her rounds of begging for help, and she wailed and implored. […] Eventually someone taught me how to go about it; a boy of eight, I went to see, I fought my way in to see, a financial director called Szikszai, and I handed him an application, written in my own hand, in which I requested that my mother be issued with a permit to run a tobacconist’s shop. Mother did receive the permit, and money too, from a good soul, and so on. She worked herself to death (she died in 1916).” The last quotation is from Milán Füst’s Curriculum vitae dated 22 January 1951.

As we know from literary history, the tobacconist’s shop was at Dohány utca [Tobacco Street] 63. “For eighteen months we slept in a closet of the shop: we had no other place of abode; she was frightened and set aside savings. We lived amidst the greatest filth and poverty, in continuous, agonising fear that a rival might show up and that our bread would be lost.” It was in such circumstances that Milán Füst wrote The Month of Sagittarius, Armenia and the play The Unhappy Ones.


Milán Füst enrolled at the Law School of the University and, with his mother’s support, finished his studies amidst the greatest difficulties. Only the oldest of those present here may remember what a ‘certificate of poverty’ was. Such a certificate accompanied Milán Füst in his University years. I mention here two instances: on 15 January 1909 he requested and was granted a certificate from the 7th District Magistracy of Budapest to the effect that “Mr Milán Füst is rated as having no independent means and, compared to his social status, is penurious.” On 10 January 1909, the same 7th District Magistracy of Budapest certified that “neither mother, nor son is capable of paying the sustenance costs amounting to 348 crowns”. This certificate of poverty was requested for Milán Füst’s conscription.

In 1912, Milán Füst obtained a doctoral degree in law.


2008 is a festive year in Hungarian literature which we all celebrate. The literary review Nyugat was launched one hundred years ago. The launching of Nyugat was an event of special significance also in Milán Füst’s life as an author, as his first publication, on Peter Altenberg, was published in it.

He also published his poems in Nyugat, which contemporaries – Frigyes Karinthy, Zoltán Nagy, Dezső Kosztolányi, Aurél Kolnai, Aladár Komlós, Géza Szilágyi, Lajos Kassák, Imre Peterdy, Géza K. Havas, Endre Vajda, István Vass, László Németh, and Miklós Radnóti – hailed as the appearance of objective poetry in our literature. Milán Füst’s first volume of poetry was not yet published when Frigyes Karinthy spoke of him as the poet of objective sorrow. Dezső Kosztolányi, too, writes about him as someone who, on the wings of precise and prompt associations, soars above things up to lucid observation and offers objective poetry in the Schopenhauerian sense; he gives voice to law and truth. In his article published in 1914 in the review Világ, Dezső Kosztolányi says that verse libre, free verse, appears for the first time in Hungarian literature in Füst’s poetry. Yet these free verses are tight; their prosody is the strictest possible. They are launched on their way by the soul and are filled by the great breath of the spirit. This is why they never tire; this is why they surge on even today. They are modern, although we should not praise modernity: poetry is generally an ancient craft. “Only the oldest is good in the new,” says Paul Valéry.

Miklós Radnóti wrote that the poetic form of Milán Füst’s verses made its impact on an entire generation of writers around Nyugat. The strict principles of the verses led them back to metric poetry and, indirectly, to rhymes also.

Literary historians claim that, after Endre Ady, Milán Füst was the most influential poet of the Nyugat circle.


Advent, a little masterpiece, was born in 1920 “under the impact of the inhuman behaviour of, and the appalling sentences passed by, Judge Stocker and Judge Surgoth”. Milán Füst took the example from ‘the old faith’: by turning to the period of 16th-century English religious movements, fraught with terror and persecution, he, among the first to do so, expressed his solidarity with the revolutionaries persecuted and vilified under the White Terror. The police authorities, too, took notice of this and harassed him for a long time. But Milán Füst proudly faced that; he was more pleased with the success of his Advent than with that of any of his other works.

Not all present here may have read Milán Füst’s Advent, but there are many of us who experienced and suffered in the 1950s from the challenging, depraving terror, the trials, the deportations, and the network of informers. We witnessed the revolution and freedom struggle which broke out on 23 October 1956, the ensuing reprisals, and also the proclamation of the second Republic of Hungary in 1989. We lived to feel the exuberant, biblical joy Milán Füst’s hero did after his acquittal: that of freedom!


Milán Füst started working on his great novel, The Story of My Wife, in 1935, for which, he said, he wrote forty thousand pages in drafts. It was published in 1942, and was appraised by the writer and readers alike as his best work. It remains Milán Füst’s most translated work to this day. I point only to its French edition, published by Gallimard, which obtained remarkable literary recognition. For this work, Milán Füst was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1965, on which occasion Swedish Radio and Hungarian Radio made interviews with him. The Story of My Wife has been published in thirty-two editions in seventeen languages. In German alone it has appeared in ten editions, the most recent by Eichborn Verlag in 2007. We have contracts for Spanish, Serb and Bulgarian editions also; these are expected to appear in 2009.

In French, apart from the novel The Story of My Wife, his poems, his plays Catullus and The Unhappy Ones and his short novels The Story of a Loneliness and Abyss have been published.

In English, twenty-five of Milán Füst’ poems and The Story of My Wife have been published, the last mentioned in both Britain and the United States.


Within the short span of a commemoration, it is impossible to cite even the titles of all Milán Füst’s works, and naturally I, too, cannot do so. But our ceremony today would be incomplete without mention of his plays Catullus and Henry IV, or of the comedy Aunt Máli, or of the famous series of lectures he gave at the Arts Faculty of Budapest University based on his work Vision and Emotion in Art. These lectures were for years a sensation in Budapest’s social life. The poet, who arrived at the University in a wheelchair, was always received with great reverence there. And the invalid writer soon revealed the magical actor and prophet in him.


Milán Füst’s Complete Diary was published in 1999, edited by the noted researcher of Milán Füst’s work Judit Szilágyi, on the staff of the Petőfi Literary Museum. Milán Füst said on several occasions that he considered it his most important work. “A clue to Milán Füst’s oeuvre, the Complete Diary is also a reference book for 20th-century Hungarian literature, two thousand pages of multi-layered, rich confession.”


Milán Füst was a passionate educator. In the first period of his teaching activity, until 1920, he was a teacher at a school of commerce; in the second period, from 1947 to 1960, he was a professor at the Arts Faculty of Budapest University.

In his writing entitled Last Will and Testament, he relates how, at one time, he began a lecture with the following words: “On coming here I met the Dean on the stairs, who told me he had heard that the students liked me a lot, except that they did not always see eye to eye with me in literary judgments. ‘What do you think?’ I said to him. ‘How could twenty-year-old scamps see eye to eye with a seventy-odd-year-old greybeard’s judgments?’  So now I ask you, my dear scamps, even though you may deem these present judgments to be outmoded inaccuracies biased by a vale of years, to consider me worthy of telling them and to preserve what you hear from me in your memory. And if you work hard enough and have the talent for it too, we shall meet again in fifty years from now. For then I shall be interested to know whether you still think that what you are hearing from me is nonsense.”

In a symbolic sense of the word, we all listened to or read Milán Füst’s famous lectures as scamps. The fifty years he mentioned have passed. We have grown up, and Hungarian literature, with Milán Füst’s oeuvre in it, has become public property of a special kind: the more we partake of them, the more they enrich us. And how much do we partake of them?

A lot. As much as is sufficient for Milán Füst, who was described by fellow writers and poets as the poet of the few, the poet of poets, to become a poet of us all.

This is manifest in the initiative – to my knowledge a unique one in literary life – by the residents at Hársfa utca 6 to place a memorial plaque on the building in which Milán Füst was born. The memorial plaque will remind everyone not only of Milán Füst’s birth in this place on 17 July 1888, but also of the fact that the residents have made their way to the history of literature.

Allow me to express my thanks for your noble decision, your work and your financial contributions. I also tender my thanks to the 7th District Local Government and the Petőfi Literary Museum for encouraging this noble initiative.

Thank you for your attention.


 Dr. Rőder Edit emléktábla-avató beszédet mond   Flore Ferenc leleplezi az emléktáblát  Devosa Gábor alpolgármester koszorút helyez el

Dr. Rőder Edit
emléktábla-avató beszédet mond
Füst Milán
VII., Hársfa u. 6. sz. alatti szülőháza udvarán

Flore Ferenc
a ház lakója,
az emléktábla-elhelyezés

Devosa Gábor,
a VII. kerületi Önkormányzat
koszorút helyez el
Füst Milán emléktábla-avatásán

      Füst Milán emléktáblája                            Csoportkép az emléktábla-avatás után         

Füst Milán emléktáblája
a koszorúkkal

Az emléktábla-avatáson részt vevők, jobbról balra haladva:
dr. Boytha György, a kuratórium tagja,
dr. Rőder Edit, a kuratórium tagja,
Szűr-Szabó Edit, az alapítvány grafikai arculatának tervezője,
Fazakas István, a Fekete Sas Kiadó ügyvezetője,
Visoczki Istvánné, az alapítvány pénzügyi megbízottja,
Szilágyi Judit, a Petőfi Irodalmi Múzeum főmunkatársa