February 14th – otherwise known as Valentine’s Day – is the day the whole world turns pink. Since the holiday has begun to grow in popularity here in Hungary, we have collected some of the legendary loves from the Hungarian literary world: Fanni Gyarmati and Miklós Radnóti, Ágnes Nemes-Nagy and Balázs Lengyel, and Alaine Polcz and Miklós Mészöly.
Fanni Gyarmati & Miklós Radnóti
Fanni Gyarmati, the wife and muse of Miklós Radnóti, one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the 20th century, met her future husband when she was only 14-years-old. Radnóti was the private teacher of ‘Fifi’ as he called her and they fell in love instantly. Literature became the strongest bond between the two, so much so that Fanni even forgave the poet other loves, as the “poems were always between” them. They married in 1935, as Gyarmati put it, still as children, and after just 9 years of marriage, she lost her husband. From 1940, Radnóti was forced into several labor services. He was killed in August 1944 during a forced march, when he was shot and thrown into a mass grave.
After the Second World War and her husband’s death, Fanni took a degree in French and Russian and later became a French and poetry citation teacher at a theater arts college. She won several prizes and received many awards for her work in the fields of literature and education, including the Hungarian Order of Merit. The poet’s early death is also tragic because Fanni had a total of six abortions and, after losing her husband, she never moved from the flat where she lived with Radnóti, located on Pozsonyi street and lived there until she died at the age of 101. According to Fanni’s diary entries, it was difficult for the poet to write and she had to impel him a lot, as well as create existential security for both of them.
Ágnes Nemes-Nagy & Balázs Lengyel
The love of Ágnes Nemes-Nagy, poet and translator, and writer-editor-critic Balázs Lengyel, is also legendary. The two artists met in 1942 through a friend from university, then married in 1944. They lived together for 14 years until 1958. During the Second World War, Balázs Lengyel left the army, hiding in Budapest as a military fugitive and together with Ágnes Nemes Nagy, rescued several Jewish people, for which they both received the “Yad Vashem” Medal from Israel in 1997. In 1957, Balázs Lengyel was arrested by the communists, but they could not prove any political activity. After his release from prison, however, he did not return to his wife, and the pair divorced in 1958.
photo: Fortepan/Hunyady József
Despite their divorce, their intellectual and working relationship and friendship remained until the death of the poet. Rumor has it, when they were both old and sick, Lengyel’s second wife, Vera, accompanied her husband and waited in a café while the former couple talked about literature for hours. During and after their marriage, Nemes-Nagy and Lengyel often worked together. In 1946, for example, they co-founded the ‘Újhold’ (New Moon) magazine. Although the communist regime banned it from publication within a few years, the magazine became a kind of successor to ‘Nyugat’ (West). During the hardest years of the dictatorship, Ágnes Nemes-Nagy almost exclusively translated and wrote for children, as did many of her contemporaries who could not fit into the ideology of the system. In 1986, Nemes-Nagy and her ex-husband restarted ‘Újhold,’ which reached 12 volumes until the death of Ágnes Nemes-Nagy in 1991.
from left to right: Tamás Kiss Tamás, Miklós Mészöly, Alaine Polcz, László Kálnoky, Ágnes Nemes Nagy and Balázs Lengyel in Szigliget 1954 (photo: PIM/Kálnoky)
Alaine Polcz & Miklós Mészöly
Another legendary love in the XX century Hungarian literature world is the one of Alaine Polcz and Miklós Mészöly, close friends of the Nemes-Nagy & Lengyel couple. Author István Örkény called the pair the most beautiful couple. Alaine Polcz and Miklós Mészöly were married in 1949 and lived together for 52 years until Mészöly’s death. Mészöly was 28 and Polcz 27, when she walked into the Darling Café in 1948 and they fell in love with each other at first sight. By this time, Polcz was already married and divorced, while during the Second World War, she was repeatedly raped by Russian soldiers. In addition to the traumas she experienced, she carried the physical traces of what happened throughout her life in her many illnesses as well as infertility. She wrote of her trauma in her memoir entitled ‘Woman on the Front.’ During the war, Miklós Mészöly returned home as a military fugitive, then worked as a blue-collar worker for many years. Polcz spent about eighty percent of their first years together in and out of the hospital.
When she was not ill, she worked as a psychologist, and wrote puppet plays with her husband. She was one of the first Hungarian scholars of thanatology (the study of mourning and death), the founder of the Hospice Foundation, which facilitated the last days of many, while she also perfectly fulfilled the role of writer-wife to Miklós. Her husband had innumerable loves during their marriage. They moved away from each other several times, but they eventually went back to each other again, and the pair lived together for 52 years. Alaine took care of her husband during the years of Mészöly’s serious illness, and when he fell into a coma in 2001, she fought the doctors to let her husband die with dignity. She followed Miklós six years later, in 2007.