“A garden labyrinth” – On Miklos Szentkuthy’s Casanova (Los Angeles Review of Books 2013)

“All That Exists Is the Only True Luxury: Miklós Szentkuthy’s Marginalia on Casanova”, Los Angeles Review of Books (1 May 2013). An excerpt from the author’s typescript is copied below:

Szentkuthy, 1908-1988

Marginalia on Casanova is the first English translation of a Hungarian novelist’s “commentary” on the German edition of a French memoir written by a Venetian librarian, Giacomo Casanova, in the 1790s.

The original memoir, Casanova’s Histoire de ma vie jusqu’à l’an 1797, is housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris and signed “Jacques Casanova de Seingalt,” since Casanova came to prefer ‘Jacques’ and liked the sound of ‘de Seingalt’. The Histoire was unpublished and the manuscript partially destroyed when Casanova died—“nobly enough,” according to his friend the Prince de Ligne—in 1798. It first went to press in the 1820s as Aus den Memoiren des Venetianers Jacob Casanova de Seingalt, a German translation that totaled over 6,000 pages in twelve volumes. There was no complete French edition of the Histoire until the 1960s, and it is Aus den Memoiren… that Miklόs Szentkuthy relied on, in 1938, when he decided to write a “Casanova commentary” that he then published in Budapest in 1939. This “commentary” is possibly a novel, and certainly the first volume of Szentkuthy’s recherché, pan-European opus—the ten-volume Szent Orpheus breviáriuma. Last year’s Marginalia on Casanova is a dazzling English rendering of Szentkuthy’s 1939 book, as well as being the first installment of a St Orpheus Breviary and Szentkuthy’s English debut. The rest of the Breviary—with titles like Black Renaissance, Europa Minor and In the Footsteps of Eurydice—will hopefully be forthcoming from a new boutique publisher in New York, Contra Mundum Press.

Miklόs Szentkuthy—born Miklόs Pfisterer, in 1908—introduced himself in 1934 with a self-published novel, Prae, and remained a provocative figure in Budapest until his death in 1988. …

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