Biography 1922 Cluj/Kolozsvár, native Hungarian community 1944 marriage to János, first husband 1944 move to Hungary 1949 Budapest: MA in clinical psychology, 1949 marriage to author Miklós Mészöly 1970 Children’s Hospital, Budapest, treating terminally ill children, pioneer of modern clinical psychological methods 1981 setting up the first Hungarian Hospice Foundation, Practicing clinical psychology after retirement, continues to champion the cause of hospices she had introduced 2007 dies in Budapest
Bibliography Psychology textbooks and studies: 1962- 1999, focusing on death, terminally ill children, games as a tool of psychological treatment Literary breakthrough: 1991 Asszony a fronton [Literally: A woman on the front]; translated by Albert Tezla as A wartime memoir (1998); One woman in the war (2002).
Other fiction Largely autobiographical, recollections of meeting authors and literary editors: Macskaregény [Cat Fiction], 1995 Kit szerettem? Mit szerettem? [Who have I loved? What have I loved?], 2004
A wartime memoir 1991 Strongly autobiographical narrative, discussing the author’s life between 1944 and 1948(?); including early marriage, serial rape during WW2 and subsequent hospital treatment- return to normality? Trauma as central theme Pioneering role in describing wartime rape; breaking two earlier taboos: the role and glory of the Soviet army during the occupation of Hungary in 1944-45 and the overall prudishness of communist aesthetics dominant until 1989 Similar texts not published in Hungarian until the end of communism, uncommon since
Autobiography with a difference The female autograph as performative agent ‘One woman’ : standing for a communal, public experience in contrast with strongly individualised autobiographies Subtitle: ‘One chapter from my life’: focusing on one particularly traumatic chapter Lack of completeness suggests that the main intention is not the enfolding progressive development of subjectivity; rather, it is the trauma and its after-effects
Temporal units Stage 1: from wedding until the arrival of Russian troops (Cluj, Transdanubia)- 55 pages Stage 2: war abuse (Transdanubia)- 49 pages Stage 3: after the war (Budapest, Cluj)-34 pages
WW2 in Hungary (1). Early October 1944 Kolozsvár/Cluj: quickly taken over by the Red Army, little bloodshed Green area: held by the Germans Red area: occupied by the Red Army
WW2 in Hungary 1944 (2). Date: October- November 1944 Csákvár: North of Székesfehérvár and West of Budapest, historically documented heavy battles The front Green area: territory held by the Germans Red area: territory occupied by the Red Army
Sexual abuse and rape: the public narrative Less than half of the novel, but the most memorable and moving War rape first examined in the 1990s, arguably in focus as one consequence of the Balkans war; differentiation between rape in peace (families etc.) as opposed to using it as a war weapon Rape during WW2 in Hungary: between 10% to 60% of women
Sexual abuse and rape 2. Rape is represented as a natural event in war Factual description of a series of events Dehumanising: the female body as currency (pp.106-111) Emotional attitudes: indifference and dissociation developed deliberately Final blow: family’s refusal to believe her after the war in Budapest-rape is incompatible with gentility
Before and after the war: the private narrative Life in Cluj: expected to offer itself as a natural counterpoint: peacetime idyll Events and authorial interpretation of events corresponds to this: wedding, family affection for the young bride as narrated, loving young couple, the narrator’s oft-repeated love for János
Before and after the war: a closer reading Subtext: revelation of an unequal relationship between husband and narrator: lack of reciprocated affection; STD Revelation of strange circumstances surrounding the marriage: wedding enforced, refusal to allow narrator to go to university Narrator’s family of origin: initially represented as idyllic and affectionate, yet turns out to be dysfunctional, narrator maybe illegitimate? Father’s succession of mistresses
Narrator’s relationship to women Mother: little support, maybe she is lower- class and not married to father? Surrogate mothers: mother-in-law, maids in the household, silences
Narrator’s relationship to men Love and devotion stated and but not shown The objects of devotion: unreliable, irresponsible, philandering Self-representation in the self-sacrificial mode: explains the contrast between oft- declared emotions and the unworthiness of male characters of that devotion
Summary Tensions between the private and public narratives: arguably much historical accuracy in the public narrative, victimhood as historical fact The private narrative is more complex and less reliable: internal tensions between emotions claimed and emotions shown; deliberate self- fashioning as self-sacrificing woman whose victimhood is a natural condition of femaleness
Bibliographical sources Balassa Péter - Varga Lajos Márton. ‘Az élet förtelme és szépsége. Kritika két hangra.’ Jelenkor, Oct 1991. pp. 859-861. Pócsik Anett. ‘A világtörténelem és a személyes szféra összefonódása-Az elhallgatott történet: a háború és házasság egy nő szemével.’ Szkoholion, n.1, 2008. http://www.szkholion.unideb.hu/content/rov/skhmap/09_ 1/bonc/11pocsik.pdf http://www.szkholion.unideb.hu/content/rov/skhmap/09_ 1/bonc/11pocsik.pdf Vasvari, Louise O. ‘The Fragmented (Cultural) Body in Polcz’s Asszony a fronton (Woman on the front).’ In Vasvári, Louise O. and Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek (eds). Comparative Hungarian Cultural Studies, Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2009.