06. 20. 2012. 07:19

A new Hungarian Ulysses

After ten years of work James Joyce’s Ulysses was published in a new Hungarian translation. The translators finished their work two years ago, but had to wait another two years for the expiration of the novel's copyright.

The first Hungarian translation of Ulysses by Endre Gáspár, “a piece of humble workmanship”, as translator András Kappanyos says in the postscript to the new translation, was published in 1947. However, “by the time the first readers finished the book, its author was almost immediately banned”. This was followed by the 1974 translation of writer Miklós Szentkuthy, republished in a revised form in 1986—the version which is known by most Hungarian readers—which is undoubtedly a work of genius, but one in need of revision. The new Ulysses is the work of a team composed of four translators, Marianna Gula, András Kappanyos, Gábor Zoltán Kiss and Dávid Szolláth. They used the most recent results of Joyce research to create a new Hungarian Ulysses which will be both philologically and structurally different and “more understandable”, András Kappanyos said. The translators hope that their attitude to translation will also have a lasting effect on Hungarian practice: rather than triumphing over Szentkuthy’s text, they were “standing on Szentkuthy’s shoulders”, and consider their work “the project of a cultural community”. They were striving for referential, structural and stylistic precision, and they hope that their text will be valid for at least a few decades.

Miklós Szentkuthy was definitely congenial with Joyce—both were attracted to Baroque and intrigued by holiness and obscenity—which makes the Hungarian writer’s translation very authentic. As András Kappanyos says in his postscript, “in those decades, Szentkuthy was undoubtedly the ideal translator of Ulysses.” His use of techniques like stream of consciousness or the internal monologue, his erudition and his stylistic virtuosity made critics hail his first novel Prae as the work of the “Hungarian Joyce”. His translation, however, is often too exuberant, inconsistent or simply unjustified. As literary historian Mihály Szegedy-Maszák writes, self-control was not Szentkuthy’s forte, as opposed to Joyce. Sometimes he changed names or changed motifs, which made the internal structure of the novel incomprehensible.

Originally, the translators merely wanted to correct referential and structural mistakes, and cut back Szentkuthy’s often too exuberant puns. It soon turned out, however, that what they were doing was a retranslation. Yet they didn’t opt for giving up Szentkuthy’s translation altogether, as Kappanyos writes in his postscript, because they didn’t want to deprive readers of Szentkuthy’s virtuosity, creativity and humour.

A few days after the book launch in Budapest translator Marianna Gula explained that there could probably exist no ideal translation and no perfect reception of Ulysses, because many of the details in the novel are so specific that even British or Irish specialists find them impossible to understand. The translator, Gula said, must continually face failure when working on Ulysses. Her main aim, as she explained at a lecture given in 2010 at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, was to present the reader with the experience of Joycean epiphany.

After the book launch in Budapest, the new Ulysses was celebrated in Szombathely, the town in western Hungary from which the fictional Rudolf Virág, Leopold Bloom’s father had supposedly emigrated to Ireland. Bloomsday has been celebrated in Szombathely since 1994.

James Joyce: Ulysses
Translated into Hungarian by Marianna Gula,
András Kappanyos,  Gábor Zoltán Kiss and Dávid Szolláth

Budapest: Európa, 2012

Tags: James Joyce