Klaus Haberkamm (Münster) on a collection of essays by Lajos Hopp

május 13th, 2015 § 0 comments


Lajos Hopp, Un épistolier et traducteur littéraire à l’orée des Lumières: Kelemen Mikes. Recueil d’essais, sous la direction de Gábor Tüskés, publié par Imre Vörös et Anna Tüskés, revu et préparé par Béatrice Dumiche et Krisztina Kaló, Szeged, JATE Press, 2014 (Felvilágosodás – Lumières – Enlightenment – Aufklärung. Tome 3).

This collection of essays fulfils two major functions. On the one hand, it is a kind of commemorative offering to Lajos Hopp (1927–1996), according to Olga Penke and Géza Szász, editors of the series „Felvilágosodás – Lumières – Enlightenment – Aufklärung”, the „figure emblématique des recherches dix-huitiémistes en Hongrie et spécialiste incontourable de Kelemen Mikes” (p. 7). On the other hand, the book represents an almost exhaustive study of one of the most distinguished authors in Hungarian literary history, Kelemen Mikes (1690–1761), who, not only in Hopp’s opinion, is „en effet étroitement lié à l’histoire culturelle nationale et en phase avec la vie intellectuelle en Hongrie et Transylvanie à la veille des Lumières ainsi qu’avec les courants de pensée éclairés qui naissent en Europe centrale.” (p. 104)

The re-edition comprises twelve essays which, for the most part, appeared in the sixties and seventies of the last century in various journals and conference transactions published in Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Two of them are here published for the first time. Originally written in Hungarian, the texts were translated into French at the time of their publication, but have had to be thoroughly updated for the present publication. The credit for that initiative and the hard work of gathering the somewhat remote first prints goes to Gábor Tüskés, director of the Eighteenth Century Department of the Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, who was in charge of the events in Hungary marking the 250th anniversary of Mikes’ death in 2011, and particularly the international conference in Budapest, the transactions of which were published in 2012 (Transmission of Literature and Intercultural Discourse in Exile: The Work of Kelemen Mikes in the Context of European Enlightenment, ed. Gábor Tüskés in collaboration with Bernard Adams, Thierry Fouilleul, Klaus Haberkamm, Bern – Berlin – Bruxelles et al., Peter Lang, 2012). Thus Hopp’s essays, spread over so many East European countries during the period of the „Iron Curtain”, have now become more easily available also to readers in Western Europe, where there still is, it seems, a lot of knowledge of Mikes’ work to catch up on.

Speaking of the „Iron Curtain”, it cannot be taken for granted that Hopp’s research is still valid in post-socialist times. However, with the exception of perhaps one essay – which is identified by Tüskés too – only few concessions to ideological partialities can be found in the book. At most, Hopp’s favourite term „labour” in the context of Mikes’ philosophical preferences, together with the accentuation of the tension between classes in contemporary societies, can be considered symptomatic of the former Marxist spirit. This is why the author’s basically positivist-descriptive method of dealing with Mikes’ texts can be all the more effective and come up with convincing insights. Also the patriotic aspect of Mikes’ way of thinking, which, as such, may nowadays be more important to his native country than to other European states with the same political development after World War II, can clearly become evident. „L’amour du pays, de la patrie et de la langue nationale”, referring to Mikes, of course, is a characteristic section heading in one of Hopp’s studies. Transylvania, where, in the county of Háromszék, Mikes was born, is regarded – historically correctly, of course – to be part of Hungary, but the (foreign) reader sometimes has the impression that this was still the case in Hopp’s present.

Tüskés introduces Lajos Hopp in more detail: Member of the Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences from 1956 until his death, the scholar specialized, among other things, in the literary relations between Hungary and Poland and in the activities of prince Ferenc II Rákóczi and his chamberlain Kelemen Mikes, who shared his political fate in lifetime exile in Rodostó/Tekirdağ (Turkey). „Dans la deuxième moitié du XXe siècle, il [Hopp] était sans doute le meilleur connaisseur de l’œuvre de Mikes. Entre 1966 et 1988, il publia en six volumes l’édition critique des œuvres de Mikes. Il écrivit plusieurs monographies et études sur Mikes […]. La bibliographie choisie de Mikes et le fac-similé des Lettres de Turquie, publiés en 2011 font suite à ses travaux précurseurs.” (p. 9) Given Hopp’s excellent expertise, one can imagine that the reader is well informed by this collection of his essays about Mikes both as a person and as an author and translator. Literally all features of the man and all characteristics of his literary work are extensively dealt with, particularly Letters from Turkey (1717–1758), for which Mikes is famous, since they represent „la première fois, de façon attestée, que la langue hongroise est utilisée à des fins artistiques dans ce genre spécifique dans la prose écrite.” (p. 29) The corpus of 207 fictitious letters, allegedly written to a female cousin of his, is unanimously esteemed as his main work and contains a host of vivid observations, both personally and culturally interesting, sociologically and philosophically valuable, and of practical and psychological use. In Rodostó Mikes, inspired and trained by his five-year stay in Paris–Versailles (1713–1717) together with his exiled master, also translated twelve books from French, amounting to no less than roughly 6,000 Ms pages. Especially in the Letters, and in his selection of books to be translated Mikes proves, as Hopp elaborates in a didactically appropiate manner, to be an advocate of the Hungarian/Transylvanian youth of his generation and of Hungarian culture in general. He decisively pleads the case of his country as far as better education and necessary cultural and moral promotion are concerned. Hopp also shows, orientated by the structuring of French literary history and constantly with Mikes in mind, how the genre of the public-literary letter develops from antiquity to classicism in Europe and particularly Hungary. What could have been looked at more closely, though, is the fact that Mikes’s Letters were never published in his lifetime, and so could never have an immediate political impact. To give only a few more examples of Hopp’s interests: he investigates the foreign, particularly French, influences on Mikes’ letter-writing in order to be able distinctly to determine the individual facets of his work that point to the early Enlightenment within a baroque context. The reader always profits from pertinent bibliographies, which make further studies possible for him. In special essays Hopp analyses the relation between Mikes’s letters and Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes, and his adaptation of Mme de Gomez’s Journées amusantes. Hopp also looks at the characteristics of Mikes’ rationalism, which again has to do with his affinity to the pre-Enlightenment, and with the sociological consequences of his philosophical attitude for his „idéologie bourgeoise” (p. 93). Mikes’s significance as ’reporter’ on Turkish civilisation, his closeness to Jansenism, and his impact on Hungarian literary history are further areas of Hopp’s research. Last but not least, the hypothesis of how the manuscript of Mikes’ Letters could have reached Hungary is discussed in detail.

Hopp likes to repeat his sometimes meticulous arguments, in places even verbatim. Imre Vörös, in the „Remarques textologiques”, does not criticise those redundancies, which supposedly were due to absolutely different readerships in the beginning, as „répétitions inutiles: elles s’intègrent d’une façon organique dans les différentes études.” (p. 175) True, but the risk of this ’over-information’ taken as a whole is that the reader of this commendable volume may feel tempted to refrain from reading Mikes’ writings him-/herself. Yet the book has definitely the potential to work precisely the other way round by causing the reader, particularly in information-lacking Western Europe, „à mieux connaître les relations littéraires et culturelles franco-hongroises du XVIIe siècle”. Moreover, the reader will certainly enjoy the chance to become familiar with the research on the European author Mikes, which, also after Hopp, creates „la base pour intégrer l’œuvre dans les grands courants littéraires d’Europe” (p. 10).

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