Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gyula Krúdy’s The Adventures of Sindbad - The arts of dreaming, chivalry and sensibility

I will be away from the computer for a few days, so this post ends the week.  I will be back Tuesday, when I will begin a long – perhaps endless – investigation of Adalbert Stifter’s tedious 1857 masterpiece Der Nachsommer (Indian Summer).  So come back for that.  Hoo boy.

Meanwhile, a final note on the dream theme.

Gyula Krúdy’s The Adventures of Sindbad is a collection of story-like textual objects, published between 1911 and 1917*, that could at times be mistaken for dreams.  The title character, a Hungarian with a nickname stolen from The Arabian Nights although he is more of a Casanova type, is alternately a youth, three hundred years old, dead, a ghost, resurrected, a spring of mistletoe, and so on.  Sometimes this is part of the story, other times just casual Surrealism, dream-stuff.  Sindbad is always in pursuit of a woman, or sometimes revisiting a former lover, which provides the theme and variations for the set of stories:  lost love, lost passion, lost youth.  Or as Krúdy puts it near the end of the book, “the arts of dreaming, chivalry and sensibility” (174).

This passage feels typical to me, but is not particularly dream-like:

He imagined himself wandering aimlessly in a foreign city, bundles of unopened mail waiting for him at the hotel.  He couldn’t bear to pronounce the woman’s name because the effort cost him such physical pain it flooded through him from head to foot so that the thermometer beneath his arm showed a distinct rise, and whenever he found himself alone and took out her picture it was such delicious agony he had to rest his head on his arm.  “How marvellous it was to love her,” he wrote on a scrap of paper then dropped it into the Danube.  (188)

That thermometer is what I meant by casual Surrealism.  I do not see any other context for it.  The last sentence is a kind of Romantic parody that is one of Krúdy’s modes.  On the next page, a woman packs for a romantic getaway – her luggage consists of several volumes of Hungarian poetry, a human skull, and:

“Oh, and I mustn’t forget my pistol,” muttered Mrs. Bánatvári in that voice so often adopted by faint, expensive, dreamy women.  (189)

Now I think I am making the book sound funnier than it mostly is.  The list of things Sindbad likes (102-3) shows another mood – “snowdrifts and women’s legs,” “[l]eaves in the park in autumn, blotched as if with blood,” “wooing complete strangers in highland towns,” and “lies, illusions, fictions, and imagination.”  Hey, me too!

To be honest, a problem with, or feature of, Krúdy’s stories is that although full of images and sentences that on inspection seem memorable, the disassociated form, whether dream-like or absurdist or just very free, makes the details and stories dang hard to remember.  But the contact with them was pleasant.

I read the old Central European Classics edition, not the NYRB version, but they are the same book, translated by the culture hero George Szirtes.  Szirtes says Krúdy wrote “some fifty novels, some three thousand stories,” etc.  What, what?  And to think people are  amazed by how much Balzac or Trollope wrote.

*  The Sindbad stories were not all collected into a book until 1944, or so the publication information suggests.  What did it take to publish a book in Hungary in 1944?


  1. I read that version too, and agree that the stories rather blended together in an unmemorable way. What I do remember vividly, though, is that excerpt from Szirtes about the volume of Krúdy's literary production. What a machine!

  2. The novel has been on my list for some time, and I like these excerpts. You have indeed made the book seem funny, Tom, that's a reason I want to read it.

  3. I really like the passages you highlighted. I'll definitely check this novel out as soon as I get some free time.

  4. I enjoyed dipping into the stories: I found they suffered if you read more then a couple at a time. There is something heroic but also ridiculous about Sindbad. I felt at times Krudy was winking at me as I read, but that could be a mis-interpretation.

    The tone and ambience of the stories is their strength, but I could equally imagine people wearying of them. They charmed me I must say.

  5. I think Leroy is right - this would be a strange and frustrating book to read for an hour at a time. You are right about the light ironic tone, too.

    Miguel - you would find it interesting, I am sure. What did I fail to emphasize - oh, the Hungarian quality of the book, whatever that means. I suppose I did not want to simply repeat everything Szirtes says in his introduction.

    One thing he says, pace seraillon, is that Krúdy wrote 50 novels and 3,000 stories. What, what? And people act like Balzac's 96 part Human Comedy is so impressive!

  6. I had never heard of this before but it sound svery appealing. I tend to really like surreal works. You also DO make it seem very amusing.

    I am not sure if I ever read Hugaruan literature before.

  7. I have not read much Hungarian literature either.

    You know, this one, Skylark by Dezső Kosztolányi is, I think it is fair to say, universally praised by book bloggish readers.

  8. To be honest, a problem with, or feature of, Krúdy’s stories is that although full of images and sentences that on inspection seem memorable, the disassociated form, whether dream-like or absurdist or just very free, makes the details and stories dang hard to remember. But the contact with them was pleasant.

    Totally with you on this. Have you read Sunflower? I was not half as much a fan of Kosztolányi as I was of Krúdy, and I think Sunflower shares most of the things you describe about Sindbad but with a little more oneness added to the mix, since it is assuredly a novel.

    NYRB needs to give us lots more of Krúdy, too.