The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…
According to literary history, Ferenc Móra lived an exemplary family life, he preferred spending his time with his family. He married Ilona Walleshausen after five years of engagement in 1902, but according to recalls, their marriage was unhappy since its beginning. Móra escaped into archaeology and writing, and Ilonka’s refuge was the kitchen. Her cuisine overwhelmed everybody, except for his husband unfortunately. Móra preferred simple meals and could hardly tolerate large parties and groaning tables. The woman took gastronomy so seriously that she even wrote a cookbook. It was published in 1928 with the title “Mrs. Ferenc Móra’s Cookbook’ and had seven editions. One of his letters reports on how the author was related to meals in fact: “eating has never given much delight to me, I adjusted behind my collar what they put in front of me, mostly in order to be able to leave the table … and light up a cigarette.”
The great encounter
Ilona Kalmár, the summer bridge teacher of the Zrínyi Hotel, was already a fiancée in 1932. Her fiancé was István Horváth, the General Secretary of the Hungarian National Commercial Association. Probably this is why people thought that her relationship with the author was a flying romance. Nobody knew about their secret love and the stolen moments at Britannia Hotel. After her marriage, the author had a double correspondence, he met Ilona’s husband and corresponded as a friend of the house. He sent letters addressed to her ladyship Mrs. István Horváth, which were read by the husband too, and also to Miss Ilona Földváry addressed to the post office of Petőfi Sándor Street poste restante.
The official correspondence shows that Horváth also liked Móra; he bought books for him in second-hand bookshops in Pest and they met personally as well during the eighteen months that remained from the author’s life. Móra’s doctors suspected he had a bilestone and recommended him an operation, during which they found the big trouble. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1934. Ilona heard about his death from the radio.
Independently from Móra, Ilona Kalmár’s marriage came to a tragic end. Her husband’s son from his former marriage committed suicide, and István Horváth also took his own life three days after that the Szálasi regime got power, on the anniversary of his son’s death on 18th October 1944. She survived the siege with false documents. After liberation, she worked as a chief cashier for the National Free Organisation of Retailers. She was still alive, when her letters from Ferenc Móra were taken to the Museum of Szeged. They were published by László Madácsy in 1961, in the volume “Ferenc Móra’s Mailbox” (Móra Ferenc levelesládája).
It was a miracle
“I will blame you, if a craftsman of literary history writes about me this way: a couple of weeks before his fifty-third birthday, the author went through a mysterious change and a miracle happened to him.” – wrote Ferenc Móra to Ilona at the dawn of their relationship. Besides his letters, she preserved also a garland of poems that was born in the summer of 1932. The poems – mostly without title but making up a volume – can be considered as their love diary. It consists of 35 numbered verses, and another one, dated punctually, but it was not put into the cycle due to its character.
Its title is Piros mise (Red Mass) that did not leave much doubt about the fulfilment of their love. In the letters she preserved the amorous author expresses the adventures in his soul. The poem Köszönöm (Thank You) – which is the 17th piece of the cycle – announces the fulfilment. The uncoded description of physical love might be strange from the author of Kincskereső kisködmön (The Treasure-seeking Little Jacket), but presumably this miracle experience evoked his unusual revelation.
This love of Balatonföldvár could be liberating – as we see and read the poems – and devastating as well, due to the approaching end.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Móra Ferenc: Címtelen könyv, Wesley Kiadó és Móra Ferenc Múzeum, 2014.