A curious reader
The editorial office of Debreceni Hírlap (Gazette) received a letter in January 1899. An anonymous reader – with signature Curious – inquired why Endre Ady’s poetry was so sad. Supposedly, Ady did not have difficulties in finding out from the style of the letter that a young girl hid behind the cover name Curious, thus he responded her quickly. This is how Endre Ady and the mysterious Miss Curious’ correspondence evolved.
Those years in Debrecen
But let’s not run ahead so much. What were Ady’s circumstances then and where did this melancholy come from? We know that Ady studying law in Debrecen in 1899 was more interested in journalism than in the legal profession. Antal Szerb said he became a journalist sooner than a poet. Ady already worked for Debreceni Hírlap, Debrecen and Debreceni Ellenőr. Nevertheless, quitting the legal profession was not smooth at all. His decision confronted him with his parents; he got into a hard financial situation and struggled badly because of his insecure status. On the other hand, the indifferent reception of his first book of poetry (Versek, 1899) shook his belief in his talent. It was natural in the situation that he received the fine gentle girl’s kind words gladly. Afterwards, their correspondence continued in a tone sometimes intimate sometimes formal. Their relation remained platonic, because Curious, later Illi kept rejecting Ady’s constant requests to meet.
I am the ‘Curious’!
But who was this young girl, who decided to turn over the poet’s pessimism with her letters? Ilona Varga was the name of the mysterious Curious. She was born on 14 March in 1879. After her father’s early death, she moved to Debrecen with her mother and siblings. She finished trade school here, worked as an accountant until her retirement, and then she moved to Hajdúszoboszló with her sisters. She was fond of literature, fine arts; she wrote and painted talentedly. Her writings were published in Debreceni Hírlap under the cover name Jázmin, and later her own name.
She could hear Ady at a reading lecture first in 1898, and after that, she wrote the above-mentioned letter. From her side, their correspondence that started in 1899 was characterised by solicitousness, encouragement, the hope of helping him and anxious love.
However, the tone of their communication was also defined by the fact whether the poet made court to someone else in the certain period. Why didn’t she agree with the poet to meet? What were her feelings towards the poet and why did she keep her secret quiet? She talked about it like this:
‘Ady’s letters made me very very happy, his storming soul in them and the thought that he perceived the warmth of my soul, paid attention to my words, and I made him sing too. However, a great fear was living inside me that after her idealised Illi he would disillusion from the reality, thus I would lose him. And this, I felt, would have been a hundred times worse than that I could not even hold his hand in my life, but I could feel his soul flaming towards me from his letters.
Nobody knew about out correspondence, except for my little sister, who brought the poste restante letters; she could hardly realize this thing with her mind of a child; and even if she thought of love, she did not know that Endre Ady was in the background. Anyway, her memory about this was so faint that we never talked about it later on. I kept it a secret also from my sisters, who I lived together with for decades…’
As her words reveal, the reason for refusing Ady’s approach was not due to provincial prudery but to the lack of self-confidence. Their abating correspondence ended at the beginning of his love for Léda, but they kept one another in their minds even after the poet moved to Nagyvárad. A proof of that is Ady’s letter from 1902: ‘Dear Illi, I just wanted to thank your undeserved attention.’ He even sent her several dedicated copies of his volume Még egyszer published in 1903.
The mystery unravels
The literary historical solution of the mystery started in 1951, when Ady’s letters were taken to the Academy Library. There were irresolute inquirers, whom Ilona Varga did not answer, but that time only two letters existed with the signature ‘Curious’. Unfortunately, identification was hard because Ady’s younger brother Lajos Ady sorted out the letters and kept only the writings of literary historical importance.
Finally, Miklós Kovalovszky and his assistant Lajos Gyurói Nagy managed to solve the enigma that seemed insoluble: they found Ady’s ‘Illi Curious’ on 20 August in 1958.
Ilona Varga admitted about unveiling her secret this way: ‘I have always thought: all this must remain my inmost saint secret, that shall follow me until death, and when they cover me with the shroud – Endre Ady’s memory, the love and golden dream of my whole life should come with me in the grave and float above me… But I was convinced that this romantic resolution would be a sin against his memory, because it would cause a great damage to the literary history if it destroyed the confessions revealing the young struggling Ady’s soul. Therefore, I hand them to the public of literary history.’
This feeling heart safeguarded and enshrined her relationship to Endre Ady, as a real relic, for six decades. What could she see in the poet? ‘A sad, talkative-eyed young man with interesting face, who was meant to be a great poet and whose spiritual nearness I longed for. All that he was captured my soul. All the beauty and goodness in him.’ So, this is what a real hopeless and selfless lover like, and this is how the gentle-hearted Curious demoiselle went down in literary history after her confession.
Kovalovszky Miklós: Emlékezések Ady Endréről I–V. Bp., 1961.
Translated by Zita Aknai