The Pendragon Legend is set in
But it is Journey by Moonlight which is considered Szerb’s masterpiece.
Mihály the hero narrator of Journey by Moonlight, an Hungarian intellectual, like his creator, is travelling through
He constantly visits the past or is visited by it in his memories, searching his mind for the comforting bohemian adolescence in the house of the grand but impoverished Ulpius family in
“What did the shade of Achilles say,?” he pondered, ‘ I would rather be a cotter in my father’s house than a prince among the dead..’ For me, it’s the reverse. I’d rather be a cotter here, among the dead, than a prince at home, in my father’s house. Only, I’d need to know what exactly a cotter is …”
Amongst his many troubles, or perhaps as a result of them, Mihály, suffers from a form of agoraphobia in which the ground opens into a whirlpool beneath his feet and he feels himself disappearing. Reading the novels of Antal Szerb seemed to me to offer a similar experience.
It is only thanks to recent translations by Len Rix that these two books have become available to the English speaking world. They are a wonderful insight into a pre-war culture of middle-European intelligentsia. And the courage of a man who, despite the fear which overshadowed
We carry within ourselves the direction our lives will take. Within ourselves burn the timeless, fateful stars.
Journey by Moonlight, Antal Szerb (1937) English Translation Len Rix, Pushkin Press 2002