Thursday, 28 July 2016

From washing line to spring cleaning:
An excerpt from Dezső Kosztolányi's Édes Anna

The first novel I translated was Anna Édes by the great early 20th century poet Dezső Kosztolányi. The novel was written 1926, my translation appeared in 1991. It is the story of a lovely but somewhat simple country girl who comes to Budapest straight after the fall of the brief Bolshevik state and is there employed as a maid by the Vízys a high-bourgeois couple.

I am putting it here because of a lovely thread of comments that followed my Facebook post on washing lines as a subject in art and literature.

These are three paragraphs from Chapter 8 which is about spring cleaning in the Vízy household.

...There came the day of the great washing. Mountains of grey sheets and blankets, shirt and underwear rose before her, the dirty deathly sweat of the revolution still clinging to them. The steam made her pleasantly light-headed. 
She boiled the water in the pan. Her sleeves rolled up, she knelt beside the tub, beetling away at the cloth. Her fingers played and puddled sensuously in the warm soapy scum. She lugged great baskets of washing about from place to place, shook the cloth, pleated it, wound it through the mangle. Her tablecloths were soft as lawn, her collars shone like glass... 
...From morn to night Anna strove in an aureole of dust. She spat black and sneezed grey. She thrashed the mattresses as if she had a furious grudge against them. She dashed upstairs into the flat and downstairs into the yard on a hundred occasions. Window-panes streamed with water, filthy water swirled in the pail, rags slopped and squelched. She polished the windows while perched on crude scaffolding. Then she was scouring the floorboards, applying a pale coat of beeswax, dancing on brushes strapped to her feet, polishing the parquet, sliding, gliding, stooping and kneeling as if at church, engaged in some interminable act of prayer. Glass-paper scraped along rusted locks. She brought hidden carpets down from the attic, unwound them from the naphthalined cocoons, and belted the dust out of them on the carpet-stand. Quickly she rearranged the furniture: a chair here, a table there, the piano a few feet forward. Then to finish with there was the chandelier to re-hang with infinite care in case anything got broken, a few new lightbulbs to screw in, and lastly the cream-coloured curtains to be attached to the smoky gold curtain rods and sewn to the curtain rings, then all was done.`

I cannot tell you what a pleasure this was to translate!

1 comment:

Martin said...

"Mountains of grey sheets and blankets, shirt and underwear rose before her, the dirty deathly sweat of the revolution still clinging to them." - Wonderful.