Home > 1910, 20th Century, Hungarian Literature, Krúdy Gyula, Novella > The Traveling Companion by Gyula Krúdy – Translation Tragedy.

The Traveling Companion by Gyula Krúdy – Translation Tragedy.

The Traveling Companion by Gyula Krúdy (1918) French title: Le Compagnon de voyage. Translated by François Gachot. (1990)

Gyula Krúdy (1878-1933) was a Hungarian writer and journalist. The Traveling Companion was published in 1918 but the first French translation only dates back to 1990 and it’s still not translated into English. So, if George Szirtes doesn’t know what to do with his free time…

I’ve already read N.N. by Krúdy, also published by the Swiss publisher LaBaconnière, in the collection directed by Ibolya Virág. According to their website, LaBaconnière sounds like an independent publisher. Lucky me, Lizzy and Karen have extended #ReadIndies until mid-March…But back to the book.

The Traveling Companion has a classic opening: in a train compartment a traveler confides his story to a fellow passenger. The narrator relates the man’s story, how he settled in a small town after wandering around the country. He was forty-four, experiencing a mid-life crisis and this is how he describes himself:

Quant à ce genre de fou que son esprit chevaleresque incite à se faire secouer douze heures durant dans un wagon, si ce n’est une voiture ou un traineau, pour aller baiser la main d’une femme, écouter le chuchotement d’une voix, respirer la senteur d’une jupe ou d’un corsage, exprimer, en retenant son souffle, son adoration au fond d’un jardin sous une tonnelle ou dans un sentier où l’aimée s’est rendue, après avoir quitté subrepticement son lit, eh bien, ce genre de fou est aussi rare qu’un merle blanc. Il fut, néanmoins, un temps où j’ai été cette sorte de merle blanc. J’ai explosé d’amour, comme une charge de dynamite placée dans une carrière d’où une fumée jaunâtre s’échappe le long de la pente de la montagne, avant de se disperser sans laisser de trace.As for this kind of crazy man whose chivalrous mindset encourages him to be rocked during twelve hours in a train compartment, a carriage or a sleigh in order to kiss the hand of a woman, listen to a whispering voice, breathe the scent of a skirt or a blouse or go to a garden and breathlessly express his adoration under a gazebo or on a path where the loved one met him after secretly leaving her bed, well, this kind of crazy man is as rare as a white blackbird. However, once upon a time, I was that kind of white blackbird. I blew out of love, like a stick of dynamite set up in a quarry from which a yellowish smoke goes up the side of the mountain and disappears without leaving a trace.   (My clumsy translation.)

This is a man whose profession is to fall in love with women all over the country, but preferably in small provincial towns of Upper Hungary. This quote (pardon my clumsy translation) sounds like a long sentence by Marcel Proust where the Narrator would mull over all his attempts at getting close to one woman or the other. Except that Proust’s Narrator usually remains at the dream stage and Krúdy’s character acts upon his desires.

The man arrives in town by train and explains that he doesn’t like to stay in hotels but prefers bed and breakfasts. This is how he enters into Mrs Hartvig’s house. Her husband is often away on business, she’s at home with the children and could rent him a room. He seduces her the first day, charmed by the turn of her legs and the unexpected elegance of her shoes. Krúdy, like his character can be straight to the point. This is how he portrays Mrs Hartvig:

Eh bien, Mme Hartvig était comme une nonne qui serait née avec des jambes de putain.Well, Mrs Hartvig was like a nun who was born with a whore’s legs.   (More of my clumsy translations)

He doesn’t believe his good luck and how this lady could fall into his lap so easily. The affair doesn’t last but he stays with the Hartvigs and settles in the small town. Krúdy has a knack for the description of small-town life. We meet the local bourgeois and learn about their life, their customs and their ways. His style has a lyrical tone, he mixes the feeling of his character, who is always on the verge of falling in love with descriptions of the countryside. He’s a butterfly who flies from one woman to the other, heart fluttering and lust simmering. But he can still point out the ridicules of the provincial community.

This goes on until he really falls for Eszéna, a young girl in flower. Her mother is unmarried and she wishes that her daughter becomes a nun. Eszéna wants to know love before going to the convent and she’s ready to let herself fall for this stranger. He’s all too willing, of course.

I know I shouldn’t read books written in 1918 with my twenty-first and post-feminism glasses. But still, I was ill-at-ease with a forty-four years old man planning to meet an adolescent for a tryst. The man is a scoundrel, when you analyze things with hindsight but everything he does is genuine. He loves women, falls in and out of love, can’t help it and would rather deal with the consequences than refrain from anything.

He’s close Krúdy himself, as I discovered him in the autobiographical N.N. and I found in The Traveling Companion the same kind of old-world poetry. I suspect he’s not easy to translate into French, especially since French and Hungarian have nothing in common. (You can’t find the toilets in Budapest without a pictogram to lead you to the right direction.) Krúdy gives the impression of a man deeply moved by beauty and able to find it everywhere.

The Traveling Companion leaves you with a feeling of fleetingness, of a man passing through like a southern wind, of someone on the move and who loves to love.

Translation Tragedy.

Other books by Krúdy on this blog: The Charmed Life of Kázmér Rezeda – Budapest in 1913 and The adventures of Sindbad.

  1. March 6, 2022 at 10:38 pm

    Your translations don’t sound clumsy to me, and thank you for doing them! Let’s hope a translator picks this up at some point! 😀


    • March 6, 2022 at 11:37 pm

      I hope someone will translate this into English too. He’s a major Hungarian writer, he deserves better.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. March 6, 2022 at 10:52 pm

    This does sound evocative. I have Sunflower in the TBR which you’ve encouraged me to get to! I hope this will get translated into English as there must surely be enough interest in his work.


    • March 6, 2022 at 11:38 pm

      I’m looking forward to your review of Sunflower, then.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. March 6, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    I saw the translation tragedy tag and almost didn’t want to read this. I would like this, I think.


    • March 6, 2022 at 11:36 pm

      Yes, probably. There must be other books by him available in English.


      • March 7, 2022 at 12:37 am

        I have a few so perhaps by the time I read them, this one will be translated.


  4. March 7, 2022 at 9:04 am

    I hope it gets translated too, train travel creates such a time warp, as I read the opening it’s amazing how transportative it is.


    • March 7, 2022 at 9:42 pm

      I hope it gets translated too but, let’s face it, it dates back to 1918 and it hasn’t been translated yet.
      Krúdy has a very evocative voice and it’s consistent from one book to the other. Have you read his Sindbad? This one is available in English.


    • March 10, 2022 at 9:24 pm

      I love train stories too. Alice Munro’s short stories are filled with trains. And I agree, your translation and that passage seem very Proustian. But I don’t know how much that means when I’ve not properly read Proust myself. Heheh

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 11, 2022 at 7:30 am

        I really like the Alice Munro I’ve read.
        A good way to discover Krudy is to read Sindbad, it’s available in English.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. March 7, 2022 at 9:00 pm

    George Szirtes, or else Owen Good, Anna Bentley, Bernard Adams, Mark Baczoni, John Bátki (author of several Krúdy translations) … these are some of the active HU-EN literary translators that come to my mind right now.
    Reading your billet was really odd, because I was sure I’ve read this (if only because of the Eszéna story), but I could find no trace of it in my reading archive until I found that it’s also been included in the French-language collection called Pirouette, published by Corvina in 1986. Thjs also includes the story “Le secret de Sindbad” (which is included in La Baconniere’s Sindbad ou la nostalgie).
    Conclusion 1: Krúdy lends himself well to packaging and repackaging!
    Conclusion 2: I need to read him again.


    • March 7, 2022 at 9:46 pm

      I’m not as versed as you in the list of active translators who translate books from Hungarian to English, that’s obvious!

      I didn’t know that Corvina had books in French too. I bought The Charmed Life of Kazmer Rezeda in English.

      It’s a short book, so, a re-read won’t take long.


      • March 8, 2022 at 4:50 pm

        I think Corvina stopped doing French books a while ago, and now focus on English and (less so) German, plus Hungarian of course. And even this old (pre-change of regime) Krúdy translation is unusual in terms of their foreign language output, because both at the time and now they tend to do more thematic books (on artists, on Hungarian wine regions etc) than fiction. But they’ve got a new director now, so it might change. Who knows, it might even be possible to buy their books outside of Hungary.
        I agree, it’s a short story/book. But then I’d have to write about it, right? And then it’s not so short any more!

        Liked by 1 person

        • March 9, 2022 at 9:53 pm

          Your Corvina in French is collector, then!
          Very true, if you read it you might want to write a post about it. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

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