Gyula Krúdy’s short tragi-comedy tale, Death and the Journalist, captures the extreme loneliness and emptiness of living with hopeless dread. It follows a character who is due to participate in a duel with an expert marksman the following day. The eponymous journalist, Titus Finehouse moves between familiar pubs and cafes, having desultory encounters with acquaintances and strangers from the underclasses of Budapest.
One of the most pitiful moments is when Finehouse returns to his room, in which an obituary of his mother hangs on the wall, and hears creditors come to the door, demanding satisfaction. One, an instalment agent, sits outside his door, determined to wait it out: “He scratched his palms, he scratched his head; he dug around in his ears with a match, gurgling blissfully during the operation; he rubbed his legs against each other. There are people who are never bored, because they always find something to occupy their bodies. And so Mr. Munk, when he could think of nothing better to amuse himself with, kicked his shoes off his feet and sat about in his stockings.”
Hours before, Finehouse was drinking champagne with a former scullery maid, who was now the mistress of a rich cabinetmaker. She approached him, sitting alone in the upmarket Orpheum Cafe, having heard of his fate and they sat together whilst his two duel seconds, who he had accompanied to the cafe, talked private business. “But when the head waiter, at last, arrived with the bill on a silver tray, the cunning expression of a highwayman on his face, our hero suddenly realized that he would be left, after paying the bill, with barely enough money to pay the janitor for opening the house door, and even that only if he could, somehow, manage to cheat the waiter out of part of his tip. Eliza drifted away towards the washroom. The two seconds got into their cab and shouted to the journalist through the window: “See you at half past four tomorrow afternoon, Francis Joseph barracks!””
Finehouse receives mostly superficial interest from those he meets, despite the publicity surrounding his duel, and quite a lot is made of his green Tyrolese hat and a cane he has acquired. The most kindness Finehouse receives, aside from advances from his editor at the newspaper, on his meanderings, is from Olga, a cashier at the Franciscan cafe: “weary, melancholy, hopeless, as always at the break of dawn, after another night devoid of events worth mentioning.” It is Olga who has given Finehouse the so-called sowgelders hat and the cane from the ‘lost property’ collection at the cafe. Later, Finehouse goes back to her to propose marriage: “My name would be surrounded by a nimbus of sorts, and people would know that I did not live light-mindedly, from one moment to the other, but had a purpose in life which I fulfilled.” Olga offers him brandy and suggests they talk about it the following day.
On the day of the duel, having slipped his creditors, Finehouse finds himself admiring his hat and cane, when he remembers his fate: “All of a sudden, he remembered the duel in the afternoon, the duel he had not had the time to think of because of his visitors. In the face of other troubles, we sometimes forget even death.”
The story is typically descriptive and tragi-comic and, as with other Krúdy stories, there is a narrowness of portrayal of female characters that also limits his storytelling. Nonetheless, the story is not only entertaining and vivid but it is a fine depiction of overwhelming dread and loneliness. It painfully highlights the futility and degradation of distractions in the face of such dread – but, nonetheless, the appeal they hold over us.
An essay on Gyula Krúdy – “a truly significant innovator in the person of Gyula Krúdy (1878-1933), who produced a narrative technique which had no direct antecedents in the diversity of literary currents, and which in many respects was a forerunner of the trend that became finally shaped as ‘stream-of-consciousness’ in the writings of such great authors as James Joyce or Virginia Woolf in the 1920s.”
Review of N.N by Gyula Krúdy – “the story of a man who, after being famous in Budapest, comes home to Eastern Hungary and wanders between dream and reality on his childhood land. He resuscitates his youth, the people, the places, the customs.”
Essay by FERENC TAKÁCS – ‘Gyula Krúdy and Szindbad’
Bibliography – Works by Gyula Krúdy
Summaries of Gyula Krúdy’s significant works