The Márai legacy

The various activities of the Museum are clearly illustrated by the story of the processing and presenting of the legacy of the world-famous writer Sándor Márai, which arrived at the Museum only a few years ago. In 1997, twenty-two boxes containing Sándor Márai’s legacy of manuscripts, books, works of art and audio tapes were sent home and deposited by the Vörösváry publishing house in Toronto.

After processing the consignment, our task was to present the documents to the broadest possible public. On the centenary of the writer’s birth, we organised an exhibition entitled A Mikó utca gesztenyefái [The Chestnut Trees in Mikó Street], where a trunk, personal belongings, pipes, a green felt hat, a Kodak camera and ‘items’ from the emigration period marked out the writer’s journey from the hill in Kassa to the Pacific Ocean. Manuscripts of novels, passages from a diary, photographs, an old and partly validated bus ticket and the passport of the citizen of Kassa evoked ‘the last Hungarian bourgeois writer’. In cooperation with the Helikon publishing house, the Museum also published the fragment of a novel, Szabadulás [Liberation], written by Márai in 1945, and also contributed to the completing of the publishing of Poems. We published a commemorative album with nearly a hundred photographs entitled Éltem egyszer én, Márai Sándor [I, Sándor Márai, Once Lived]. Similarly, in 2000, the Audio Library published a selection of valuable Márai recordings found on more than 50 reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes under the title Csak idegenben érti meg az ember [You Only Understand It Far Away from Home]. Among the recordings made in New York and San Diego, the CD also contains the writer’s famous poem, Halotti beszéd [Funeral Oration]. The Museum of Literature Petőfi has been engaged in research on Sándor Márai since 1988, the year when data collection for a Márai bibliography began. Registering the 12,000 entries involved piece-by-piece consideration of the writer’s (available) volumes, articles and interviews, and also literature on him, and was published in the autumn of 2003 as a continuation of the Museum of Literature Petőfi’s Bibliographies of 20th-Century Hungarian Writers series (this time the publication was a joint mission with Helikon) to great acclaim in professional circles. When in April 1998 the Adelphi publishing house in Milan published the novel A gyertyák csonkig égnek [Embers], nobody suspected that this was to be the moment when Sándor Márai would enter European literary consciousness. Its success in Italy was only overshadowed by that it received in Germany, where the Piper publishing house sold one million copies of works by him. This was the reason behind the expansion of the centennial Márai exhibition – in compliance with the first invitation and request from Germany – when a further 40 photographs and manuscripts were added along with, among others, André Kertész’s and Aladár Székely’s photographs as illustrations. On its long journey, from September 2001 to December 2003, the travelling exhibition was on show in Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin, Apenrade, Warsaw, Milan, Hamburg and Salerno. In 2000, upon the request of the Town Council in Kassa, we organised a studio exhibition for the Márai Memorial Room, which was set up on the ground floor of the writer’s former apartment block in Mészáros Street. Our events also offered rarities: in 2003 the Hungarian premiere of Sándor Márai’s play Egy úr velencéből [A Gentleman from Venice] was performed on the reading stage of the Museum of Literature Petőfi.