Frederick Karinthy


This is a typical Budapest street scene, personally observed by the well-known moralist and humorist who so effectively flagellates and goads with the scorpions of his mordant satire and the barbs of his brilliant wit respectively, the social and moral excrescences of the age, in a word, personally observed by the present humble writer, who hereby ventures to flagellate and /or goad or prick as above.

The keen observer and prominent mass-psychologist, in a word, the present humble writer, observed the said scene on the Andrassy Avenue. Here it is.

A servant girl is walking along with two little boys, one aged about five and the other about six, or the other way round. The boys’ caps have long ear flaps. One of the boys, Ödi by name, as we later, lags behind and has to be dragged along. He does not use his feet as they should be used, by placing them one in front of the other, but strains backwards and skates along pavement, thereby forcing the servant girl to act as a sort of tug. Wherever there is a bump or a protruding stone, Ödi sets his heels against it, in order to make it more difficult for the servant girl to drag him, and he does this with a superior grin, partly because he is amused by the poor creature’s irritation as she keeps jerking him by the arm, and partly because he enjoys her exasperation as she keeps saying, “Ödi, come along!”

Well, having called upon Ödi half a dozen times to “come along,” the servant girl finally gives his arm a violent jerk, whereupon the child maliciously starts to bawl, stopping and refusing to budge, as though to show that he can only bawl standing still. The girl flies into a temper. She cries, “Shut up, you little beast!” (Quite rightly, I think) and cuffs Ödi on the ear. The blow does not hurt Ödi very much, since the ear flap protects him, but he thinks he has a good reason to open his mouth wide enough to put his foot in it and prepare to bawl even more loudly than he has ever done before.

At this moment, before the bawl has had time to materialise, a man’s overcoat comes along.

“What do you mean by beating the child?” says the overcoat.

The servant girl gapes at the stranger, who is as strange as only a stranger who accosts a strange servant girl in the street can be. He speaks sharply, as though he had risen that morning with the determination to punish all servant girls who refuse to act as tugs on the Andrassy Avenue.

“What do you mean,” he snaps again, “by beating the child? Has he done you any harm?”

Three more people stop. The girl, somewhat recovered from her amazement at the unexpected attack, answers back.

“Mind your own business!” she says (quite rightly, I think).

“What?” cries the champion of widows and orphans. “How dare you answer back? How dare you beat that child? Is it your child, eh? Did his parents authorise you to beat him, eh?"

One of the three who have stopped says to the meddler:

“What right have you to interfere?” (Quite rightly, I think.) “Have you any idea what a girl like her is obliged to stand from such unruly brats?”

Five more people join the group. The most intelligent of them turns to the second meddler.

“Sir,” he says, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself, interfering with this gentleman merely because he reproves the girl for beating his child. What would you say if she were beating your child?”

There is now a crowd on the pavement and someone remarks that the first man does not need defending, whereupon someone else bursts out:

“I saw her kick the child in the stomach. How can you take it upon yourself to reprove the gentleman who reproved the gentleman who reproved the gentleman who reproved the girl for beating the child? Have you any children of your own, sir?”

“Any number, sir. But have you ever been a servant girl?”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” says a rumbling voice, “you can’t settle an argument like this in the street. Reasonable people don’t interfere in matters they don’t know about, and they don’t reprove other people, and if you do, then I must assume that you’re lacking both in reasonableness and character, and will you be kind enough to hold your tongue. You shouldn’t argue in the street and stop on account of a stupid incident and make a crowd, you see?”

The humble writer did not hear the rest, for the crowd by now was so big that he was shut off from the disputants. The well-known moralist who flagellates, etc., in a word, the humble writer, is of the opinion that the inhabitants of Budapest are tactless busybodies who interfere in everything, express an opinion about everything, and claim to know everything better than anybody else. The humble writer has set this opinion down on paper because the crowd would not let him put in a word edgewise; he made every effort to give forcible expression to his views there and then, but, as I say, he was pushed out of the crowd and silenced and he therefore has the honour to present his views in this matter here.

SOURCE: Karinthy, Frigyes [Frederick]. “Interference,” in Soliloquies in the Bath, translated by Lawrence Wolfe, illustrated by Franz Katzer (London; Edinburgh; Glasgow: William Hodge and Company Limited, 1937), pp. 45- 49.

Frigyes Karinthy, Humorist and Thinker” by Miklós Vajda

Frigyes & Ferenc Karinthy in English

Frigyes (Frederiko) Karinthy (1887-1938) en Esperanto

Futurology, Science Fiction, Utopia, and Alienation
in the Work of Imre Madách, György Lukács, and Other Hungarian Writers:
Select Bibliography

Sándor Szathmári (1897-1974): Bibliografio & Retgvidilo / Bibliography & Web Guide

Alireteje / Offsite:

Frigyes Karinthy @ Ĝirafo

Frigyes Karinthy @ 50 watts

Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Coming Attractions | Book News
Bibliography | Mini-Bibliographies | Study Guides | Special Sections
My Writings | Other Authors' Texts | Philosophical Quotations
Blogs | Images & Sounds | External Links

CONTACT Ralph Dumain

Uploaded 26 February 2022

Site © 1999-2022 Ralph Dumain