Friday, 26 September 2008

Márai: the conservative writer.

Another passage from the book in translation.

...‘I see you don’t believe what a traditional, old fashioned, law-abiding man I am, madam,’ he said. ‘We writers may be the only law-abiding people on earth. The middle classes are a far more restless, indeed, rebellious bunch than is generally thought. It is no accident that every revolutionary movement has a straying member of the middle-class as its standard bearer. But we writers cannot entertain revolutionary illusions. We are guardians of what there is. It is far more difficult to preserve something than to seize or destroy it. And I cannot allow the characters in my books – those who live in readers’ hearts - to rebel against the established order. In a world where everyone is in a veritable fever to destroy the past and to build the new I must preserve the unwritten contracts that are the ultimate meaning of a deeper order and harmony. I am a gamekeeper who lives among poachers. It is dangerous work… A new world!” he spat with such agonized and disappointed contempt that I found myself staring at him wide eyed. “As if people were new!...’

‘And that is why you were against Peter marrying Judit Áldozó?...’

‘It wasn’t the only reason I couldn’t allow it, of course. Peter is bourgeois, a valuable member of the bourgeoisie… there are few like him left. He embodies a culture that is very important to me. He once told me, by way of a joke, that I was the key witness to his life. I answered, equally by way of a joke, but not altogether as jokingly as you might at first think, that I must look after him out of sheer commercial interest, because he was my reader, and writers have to save their readers. Of course it was not the size of my readership I meant to preserve, but those few souls in whom my sense of responsibility to the world I know continues to exist… They are the people for whom I write… if I didn’t there would be no sense in anything I wrote. Peter is one of the few. There are not many left, not here, not anywhere in the world… I am not interested in the rest. But that was not the real reason, or to put it more precisely, nor was this the reason. I was simply jealous because I loved him. I have never liked surrendering to my feelings… but this feeling, this friendship, was much more refined, much more complex than love. It is the most powerful of all human feelings… it is genuinely disinterested. It is unknown to women.’...

Almost everything he says is questionable. In so far as all Márai's characters, in all his books, embody a full development of ideas, a range of ideas, this is one of those ideas. The idea about disinterested love is different but I include it to show how quickly Márai slips from one intensity to another. He may simply be talking about Platonic love, or homosexual feeling as divorced from desire, which he well understood, and wrote about in adolescent terms in The Rebels.


The Plump said...

We began to wonder if the reason why parties advocating radical change were so unsuccessful was because they were striking against the resistance of people who had changed, who had been compelled to change, too much. … In this context the desire to conserve, to protect, to safeguard, to rescue, to resist becomes the heart of a radical project.

Trevor Blackwell and Jeremy Seabrook. The Revolt Against Change. Towards a Conserving Radicalism. 1993.

George S said...

I will address this in a separate post, Peter. The next one. Your point - or rather Blackwell and Seabrook's point - is well made, but there is more to say. Stick with me on this for now and see what you think.

(Now this is the reason I am glad to have gone down the comments route...)