‘Ten Forints’ Bridegroom’ by Endre Ady, trans. Judith Sollosy

Here’s another city of dreams: Budapest. It’s a bruised and beautiful place that for much of its modern history has led a twin existence, persisting in reality and being re-imagined again and again in the memories of its exiles. There’s a sad romance to the Budapest of Endre Ady, the Budapest of before the first world war (because we know what came after). Ady’s was a world of raffish journalists and kávéházintellectuals, and ‘Ten Forints’ Bridegroom’ – one piece from a vast sheaf of hackwork that Ady turned out for the Budapest newspapers in those pre-war years – encapsulates the city’s Grub Street scene (the ‘ten forints’ bridegroom’ of the title is a worn-out journo in desperate pursuit of his next freelance fee: “By noon he’d have to throw another one of his stories down the insatiable gullet of the Journal. Yes, another story…”). It’s a short piece but we see a lot: the writer’s tussle with the demands of commerce and art (how can he squander his great inspiration Zenobia (“what a novel she would make some day!”) on a mere newspaper piece?); the weary misery of the hand-to-mouth worker’s life; his loathing of the “lively fellows” who consume his work: “It was for their edification that tales had to be told for ten forints so that when they came again the next day, they could discover another tale in the Journal, and conclude how devilishly clever these strange story-telling chaps were.”

First published 1905. Collected in Neighbours Of The Night, Corvina, 1994