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Wed, 20 Apr 2011 13:02:38 EDT by admin, 137055 views
McGill University, Montreal
Cultural Studies paper by Szapor, Judith (all papers)
Disputed Past: The Friendship and Competing Memories of Anna Lesznai and Emma Ritoók
Anna Lesznai (Amália Moscovitz), (1885-1966) was a celebrated poet and artist of the first Nyugat generation, a member of the Sunday Society, the first wife of Oszkár Jászi, and the niece of Lajos Hatvany. While Lesznai’s early life has been explored by Erzsébet Vezér and, recently, Judit Szilágyi, much less is known of Lesznai’s life after 1919 when she joined the ranks of the emigration. She lived in Vienna, then at Körtvélyes, Czechoslovakia on her family’s estate, moving back to Budapest in the 1930s and New York City in 1939 where she died in 1966.
Emma Ritoók (1868-1945) also forged a unique path: she attended university in Budapest, Paris and Berlin, to become a writer and a member of the Sunday Society. She found her intellectual home and peers there, developing especially close ties with Balázs and Lukács. By the end of 1918, however, while Lukács and most of the others began their road to Communism, Ritoók took a sharp turn to the Right. With Cecile Tormay, she became one of the founders of the National Association of Hungarian Women, publicly denounced her old friends and played an important role in shaping the post-war period’s viciously anti-Semitic discourse.
In this paper I explore the relationship of Lesznai and Ritoók in the crucial revolutionary and counter-revolutionary months. While their personal relationship can be traced in their respective diaries, their autobiographical novels, Lesznai’s In the Beginning Was the Garden (Kezdetben volt a kert) and Ritoók’s A szellem kalandorai (The Adventurers of the Spirit), both romans à clef, provide highly conflicting views of their shared past. They managed to mutually erase one another out of the history of the Sunday Society, demonstrating, in the process, the fatal fissures dividing the post-1919 Hungarian intellectual scene and the power of memories in creating lasting legacies.
Brief Professional Bio:
Judith Szapor teaches modern European history at Montreal’s McGill University. She is the author of The Hungarian Pocahontas: The Life and Times of Laura Polanyi Stricker, 1882-1959 (Boulder, Co.: East European Monographs, distributed by Columbia University Press, 2005) and numerous articles on Hungarian women’s, gender, and intellectual history. She is a co-editor of the volume, Jewish Intellectual Women in Central Europe, 1860-2000, forthcoming at Edwin Mellen Press. After many years of working on progressive political and intellectual movements, her recent research, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, explores the emergence and gendered nature of right-wing, nationalistic rhetoric in post-1918 Hungary.