The Violet, Day 13

Director. By all means! He takes off his coat. I’ll sit here at the table like a clerk … look, here are some big owlish eyeglasses, I put them on, so. And I put on old Uncle Skultéti’s shabby coat, so. Puts on a shabby József Ferenc coat, which fits him badly. And his arm protectors as well. So! And I sit here, I remain next to you. I am that old Uncle Skultéti, half clerk, half servant. He gestures at the writing table. And you are the managing director. To the servant. Well, János, what do you say to this?

Servant. It’s an immoral business.

Director. János does not like it. Nevertheless I’m curious about your method. Now you can demonstrate it!

Composer with fire and ambition. I will demonstrate it. Just as a clever women can keep indiscretion far from herself, merely by her conduct, so can a clever gentleman …

Director. No more philosophizing, let us see the practice. Kindly sit there. I stipulate one condition: if a woman starts to perch on your shoulder, you throw her out at once. Since I can’t bear to watch.

Composer. Naturally. That’s the art: to prevent this!

Director. Just so. Now you shall see how it is. But just in case you’re softened after it happens …

Composer. God save me. Is it your notion that I’m afraid of my wife? But if they don’t make love to me, then I may sign them to a contract.

Director. By all means.

Three pages tonight, bringing me up to the halfway point: thirty-eight pages out of seventy-five. As you can see, we’ve reached the point in the story where the train is about to plunge off the tracks.

The Violet, Day 12

Composer. It never enters your head how irritable, impatient, and rough you are to them. The news of this gets around. And the poor ladies think that facing such a severe gentleman they must immediately produce their most powerful weapons. That’s what I think …

Director impatiently. How, that’s what you think?

Composer. If you received them coolly but courteously, you would inspire confidence in them … Manners do it, believe me.

Director. The devil. That would do it, as I’m director.

Composer. In your place I would not jeer, but rather calmly and in a courtly way converse with them. It would not enter their heads to bribe you with anything.

Director. You know what. If you know so well what must be done, then I’ll propose something. Sit down here in my place and be a little substitute managing director. I renounce my good fortune. You’ll see it’s all in vain, whatever manners you speak with. Just sit there.

“That would do it, as I’m director” doesn’t seem to make much sense, but trust me, the Hungarian is worse. Each individual word is extremely simple and common, but they’re put together in an order that’s flatly bizarre.

Perhaps this last little bit will make more sense tomorrow. Unfortunately, this is a key section, setting up the farce that follows. I’d really like to know what the author is getting at before I decide how to rephrase it.

Almost seven pages today, bringing my up to thirty-five pages out of seventy-five. I’m well on track to finish this within a couple of weeks.

The Violet, Day 11

Director. I hope you struck the man who insulted you.

Thúz. I would not soil my hands with a director.

Director. Bravo! Excellent!

Thúz. I just told him what I thought of him. Don’t believe that I was crude. I … deeply moved … am a proper girl from a good family, my parents have seen better days and because we came to dire straits, that’s why I … held on to my pride … and my gentle manners as well. With tears in her voice. I must provide for my poor mother and my little brother in military school … I go through life alone, but whatever has come, I have never forgotten my pride and my gentle upbringing. She stands up. But I don’t want to bore you with this. I see that you are very busy … and there are still many waiting outside …

A little over three pages today. A good pace this afternoon, but I was just too tired tonight to do anything. Aside from one word, completely obvious from context, which I nevertheless spent half an hour tracking down in a dictionary, today’s pages went pretty smoothly.

The Violet, Day 10

Rakolnoki embarrassedly. I don’t understand, if you please. After all you have not yet tested my …

Director. I have already put you to the test. He goes to the right door. It was a pleasure to meet you, my regards.

Rakolnoki. In a word … I should slip away somewhere.

Director. Or depart.

Rakolnoki. Oh … Oh … She hurries off in horror.

Director slamming the door behind her, very angrily. I never, if you please. You heard that? She is grateful and I have suggestive eyes. Shouldn’t a person like that make my bile flow?

Composer. You were a little rough with her.

Director. You saw how flirtatiously she looked at me? They’re running mad this year.

Composer. But you were rough with her.

Director. If I am not rough, then they perch on my shoulder.

Composer. But when they do, that’s not such a big problem.

Director angrily. No, not at all. If I accept their embraces, then I must stand for it. They remain on my shoulder. That’s why I said to you, I am not a moralist, but merely …

The servant enters.

Servant calmly announcing. Madame Szeniczey swallowed something, poisoned herself, collapsed, and blacked out.

Director calmly flowing on. … I am not a moralist, merely a man with a sense of taste and the desire to live virtuously in my profession. This is just as serious and dry a profession as any other, if a person takes it as seriously as I do.

Six pages today! Three in the afternoon, and three in the evening, after attending a reading of Anna Christie at Arena Stage. That brings the total to twenty-five pages out of seventy-five, exactly a third of the way through. A good day.

The trickiest word today was “összesett”, which doesn’t even look like a proper Hungarian word; “össze” is a perfectly ordinary prefix, but “sett” lacks plausibility. I eventually worked out that it was a typo for “összeesett”, which makes perfect sense in context.

The Violet, Day 9

The servant enters.

Director. What is it?

Servant. Madame Szeniczey declares that she will not play the part. She has sent it back. Here it is. He hands the director the part.

Composer jumping up in a fright. How’s that? The prima donna? The principal part?

Director. Both of you, please calm down. Takes the part. Tell her that it’s fine, I consent.

Composer. But I beg you! My operetta’s principal role! Without Szeniczey we’re finished!

Director. Calm down, good master. To the servant. Just tell her it’s fine. See, I’ll put it here, under this lamp. He puts the bundle of papers in a visible place underneath the writing table’s lamp.

The servant exits.

Director. It’s not worth squandering a word on this. Be calm.

Composer. But if she doesn’t play the part.

Director. She’ll play it. Just sit down. Where did we leave off? I said, that I am not a moralist, but I can’t bear it when such poor girls, to earn their bread, are offered to me.

Composer absent-mindedly. To them?

Director. To me. Aren’t you listening? What’s the problem?

Composer. Forgive me, please, but I am so frightened just now on account of Szeniczey.

Director. I already told you, if you please, just leave it to me.

Composer. But without Szeniczey we’re finished.

Director. Trust Szeniczey to me. Where did we leave off? Right there, that I’m not a moralist. And why am I not a moralist? Dumas fils has written in his memoirs …

The servant enters.

Servant calmly reporting. Madame Szeniczey took a revolver out of her reticule and she wishes to first shoot Mr. Director down, then herself.

Director calmly hears the servant out, then continues speaking as if the servant had said nothing. Dumas fils has written in his memoirs, that the theater is in itself an immoral place. I do not proclaim that a different morality applies here, only that I am a gentleman who rejects these miserable lovers. You comprehend?

I didn’t get much done last night, but I pushed myself a bit tonight, for a combined total of six pages, which is the average pace I’ve set myself. I’m now up to nineteen pages finished, out of seventy-five total, just about a quarter of the way through.

The Violet, Day 8

Composer. Oh, for a long time now.

Director. You see.

Composer. Oh, that’s something else again. My wife is a serious and saintly woman, two years older than me. It’s a sober life. But here is a delightful, easy world! My pulse is always quicker here, than at home. He demonstrates. Yet these women are so pleasant, who sit here in your antechamber, in a row like birds on a branch, hoping … No, do not be so angry.

Director. Desperate, if you please. These birds always want to perch on my shoulder. And this year, I don’t know what’s come over them, they’re more impudent than ever.

Composer. What an extraordinary surprise! The sultan on his throne is a moralist.

Director. I am not a moralist, if you please. I am a decent man and I have taste. Such love as that must not be mine. I find it repugnant.

My sleep patterns got out of whack and I spent most of the evening napping, so I’ll post a bit of what I have now, and keep on working. So, no daily total now.

The Violet, Day 7

Composer. I see you’re in a rotten mood.

Director. Is it any wonder, I ask you, that my bile is overflowing? You saw those women here in my antechamber?

Composer. Yes.

Director. Already I’ve thrown six of them out this morning, and there are still ten left. Applications, offers of service, the beginning of the season. They spring out of the ground at times like this. All of them want to become actresses.

Composer. That’s why you’re angry?

Director. No. I’m angry because every one of them throws herself on my neck without a moment’s delay.

Composer. Surely that’s a good thing.

Director. The devil it’s good. I must be all of their lovers! Believe you me, it’s not the actresses who are bad, but rather these women who want to become actresses. And every one of them believes that in this profession, the only way to the top is through love.

Composer. But this must be amusing!

Director. To you. I’m fed up to here with it. You’re coming to the theater now for the first time. This is your first operetta.

Composer. Is it possible that these beautiful little women can drive you into such a rage?

Director. The prettier they are, the better they can infuriate me, because the more difficult is my position. If only I weren’t in such need of chorus girls! Then they would fly from here.

Composer. It’s marvellous, that you become so insensible here in the theater. To me everything is new, everything’s surprising, beautiful, interesting, exciting.

Director. This is the grave chamber musician’s honeymoon with the theater.

Composer. And the women, dear Mr. Director, these women on the stage! This gentleness, this amiability, this good humor! And so much beauty among them!

Director. Are you a married man?

Four pages today, and for once the translation went smoothly. This brings the running total to thirteen pages, out of seventy-five. If I hadn’t been to see a Hungarian play at the Kennedy Center tonight, I would keep going, but as it’s rather late I went only one page over my daily goal and stopped at the bottom of the page, which is why my excerpt ends where it does.

I was not quite able to understand the Hungarian dialogue without the help of the English supertitles, but I actually did considerably better than I’d expected. It was enough of a mental strain that my comprehension dipped sharply after the first half hour, though; I could understand as much of it if I really concentrated, but my concentration kept slipping.

The Violet, Day 6

Márkus. You know, dear, that I don’t want that. Just some smaller parts. I would be ecstatic if you would see me perform. I was with poor Sziklay, now I perform theater in the round at the park. I play there through Monday.

Director. I regret that I have no free time until Tuesday.

Márkus. Then I will prolong it.

Director. Do not prolong it, child. Do not prolong it on my account. And now I am very busy. Not another word about your roles. I still have some openings for chorus girls.

Márkus sadly. Chorus girls?

Director. Well, what did you think, child, that I was hiring ladies-in-waiting?

Márkus. No … but it’s monstrous, that a woman who played Éva should go into the chorus.

Director. Éva?

Márkus. In The Tragedy of Man.

Director. That was condensed as well?

Márkus. But of course. Into a single act. But with the original music.

Director. That’s reassuring.

Márkus. It would be humiliating, to start over again in the chorus.

Director. Hmph, such is life.

As I expected, the theatrical allusions caused me some problems. There’s a reference to “Kőszínház”, “Stone Theater”, which I’m pretty sure is a nickname. (I found out on Wikipedia that a theater in Szolnok is nicknamed that, for example; it replaced a theater that was built of wood.) I ended up translating it as “a real theater, one built of stone”, which spells out the allusion in terms a modern audience can comprehend. The line about “poor Sziklay” is baffling; grammatically, it could be “I was at poor Sziklay’s house”, but that would make no sense in context, or maybe she played a role called “Poor Sziklay” (although I’m not sure that works, grammatically), or it might be an allusion to the poet Szeréna Sziklay, who died young. I don’t understand what the suffix -nal is doing in that sentence; if I understood the allusion better, I might be able to figure out the grammar, and if I understood the grammar better it might give me a clue to the allusion, but as it is I’m handicapped by my inexperience. Still, at least I can recognize what I’m unsure of, and it’s a small fraction of the text.

Three pages today, which brings my total up to nine, with sixty-six to go.

The Violet, Day 5

Director. What is that yellow script in your hand?

Servant. Mr. Lóvay’s new play. He emphatically urges the Managing Director to carefully read over the entire play. If it would please you to promise. Offers the script.

Director holding the phone receiver in his left hand, gestures at the stove with his right.

Servant opens the stove door. In here?

Director nods affirmatively.

Servant thrusts the yellow script into the stove.

Director still holding the receiver to his ear. And the red script, what the devil is that?

Servant. This is another copy of the same play, just in case the Managing Director threw the first into the fire.

Director. That’s the way to talk. I like clever men. Give it here. He takes the red script from the servant and puts it on the writing table. I’ll read it through….

Two pages today. I did one page in the afternoon, and I hoped I’d do two more tonight after the Eugene O’Neill play I went to, but I was exhausted when I got back and got a late start, and then I hit a road block on the word “antréjáról”, which is in none of my dictionaries. (Conceivably, it’s a typo. Figuring out what a misspelled word should be is an advanced skill.) I think I may need to work ahead a few pages to get enough context to make a reasonable inference, or perhaps just a plausible guess; unfortunately, there are enough cultural references and weird allusions to make the next page puzzling at best. For example:

Márkus. Good day. I am Márkus.

Director. Emilia?

Márkus. No. Only Toncsi.

Director. Too bad.

When I quoted that, I had no idea what they were talking about, only a vague suspicion that perhaps there was a prominent actress named Emilia Márkus. It turns out I’m right; has an entry for Emília Márkus, who played Juliet at the age of seventeen, starred in the first Hungarian film, etc. I’m not sure exactly what the role of the translator is in clarifying obscure allusions, but, regardless, I want to understand as many of the obscure allusions as possible, for my own peace of mind, even if most of them end up not mattering much.

I also went back to the scene I talked about yesterday, and changed it from “right outside my door” to “in my antechamber”. I lose the emphasis in the original on “precisely”, but it’s closer to the original author’s word choice. Again, it’s possible to waste a tremendous amount of time twiddling with minute details, but in the end, if I don’t treat every word as deserving of my close attention, I’m setting a low standard which I’ll ultimately be dissatisfied with.

The Violet, Day 4

Director. What was that infernal commotion just now?

Servant. Madame Szenicsey was quarrelling with the artistic director.

Director. Can’t Madame Szenicsey quarrel with the artistic director somewhere else, and not right outside my door?

I’m starting with a few lines from yesterday, because they illustrate the pitfalls of being too literal. I had translated that last phrase as “precisely in my antechamber”, and realized immediately when I looked it over today that nobody would ever say that in English. “Right outside my door” loses the phrasing of the original, but preserves the basic sense and is far more natural. (On the plus side, at least I had the sense to break off working when the quality dived.)

I left off there, at the bottom of the pages, so I’ll give you one full page today, to give you a sense of how much a page is:

Servant. She likes to quarrel here, because she also wants the managing director to hear it.

Director. This too. That I should have so many problems today! And why are they quarrelling?

Servant. Madame Szeniczey, like a prima donna, demanded a clog dance in the new operetta. And the artistic director gave the clog dance to young Miss Bán. Now she wants the artistic director to take the clog dance back from Miss Bán.

Director. Very good. He looks at the papers.

Servant. Her mother incites her.

Director. I didn’t ask about that. He looks through the papers.

Short pause.

Servant. Mr. Director, what shall become of these women … He displays the list … who are waiting outside?

Director. Let them wait. How many are left?

Servant looking at the list. Eleven.

Director. Monstrous, that they don’t want to give up. Already I’ve thrown five of them out.

Servant. I can send all of them home, if you would prefer not to bother with them.

This brings me up to four pages translated, with seventy-one to go.