Monday, 14 March 2011

Kálmán Mikszáth: Saint Peter's Umbrella

I'm very pleased to announce the first in an irregular but ongoing series of Hungarian classic revivals at Whisky Priest: Kálmán Mikszáth's Saint Peter's Umbrella.

More than a century after his death, Kálmán Mikszáth remains one of Hungary’s most popular writers, but is almost unknown in English translation. Saint Peter’s Umbrella is the most successful and popular of his earlier novels: a tale of two umbrellas—one containing a family fortune hidden in the handle, and the other a venerated relic said to have been used by Saint Peter to protect an abandoned young girl. Or maybe they're the same umbrella? But how could that be?

From Lóránt Czigány's A History of Hungarian Literature (an invaluable companion, originally published by Oxford University Press, but now available online in its entirety here):

[Mikszáth] never missed the latent potential of a good story which fired his imagination ... Of his early novels, St. Peter’s Umbrella (1895) was the most popular and perhaps the best. (Theodore Roosevelt was said to have admired the novel, and visited Mikszáth during his European trip in 1910 solely to express his admiration.) The novel illustrated well the working of Mikszáth’s craft. The umbrella of the title may have been the subject of an anecdote in Upper Hungary, in which it was claimed to have a supernatural origin – St. Peter himself left it behind to protect an abandoned little girl. Thus the local peasants held the object in great veneration. The main line of the story – concerning the treasure-hunt of Gyuri Wibra, whose eccentric father put his fortune in an open bank-draft and hid it in the handle of an umbrella – is welded to the anecdote concerning the ‘celestial umbrella’. The complications arising out of the search for the umbrella provide Mikszáth with an opportunity to work on two different levels – devising an exciting hunt for the inheritance, and at the same time observing the significance, in terms of mass-psychology, of a seemingly worthless object ... Mikszáth excels in creating the background: his countryside is full of well-observed characters, drawn with warm humour.

The cover makes use of an image from an old postcard (the man with the brolley and the suitcase), as well as scans of Hungarian currency from the time of the book.

Get the book at Lulu, Amazon UK or Amazon US. Amazon being amazon, their database shits bricks at the accent marks, rendering him as K·lm·n Miksz·th.

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