Genuinely Different

“I’ve turned this book over in my head many times and I’m mostly still at a loss. I haven’t read a book so unlike anything else in some time. Hungarian author Miklós Szentkuthy (1908-1988) wrote the ten volumes of St. Orpheus Breviary over a forty year period from the 1930s to the 1970s, and Marginalia on Casanova is the first, published in 1939 but written some years before that.

The series, or at least this first volume, is a tour through the European past, a tour through Szentkuthy’s labyrinthine library, twisting through the stranger paths of civilized minds to counter the dominant stories we learn as we’re growing up. Szentkuthy’s choice of Casanova (1725-1798) of all people as his intellectual centerpiece for the first volume is perfectly representative. Casanova’s love life doesn’t interest him per se. There is very little of the gossip or scandal of Casanova in here. He is much more attuned to Casanova’s sensibility, his emotional responses, and his ethics (such as they are). That he compares Casanova to Pope Benedict XIV should give some idea of what he’s after.

Szentkuthy also compares Casanova to Proust: both spent their last years reflecting ambivalently on the social high life in which they had previously been engaged. But for Szentkuthy, Casanova is the more interesting figure because he conducted his life with far less remove than Proust, with less concerted intellectual analysis.”

Read the whole review here: David Auerbach, Waggish (May 29, 2013)