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Magda Szabó: Az őz (The Fawn)

Eszter Encsy is a successful actress. We learn this at the beginning of the story as she meets her old schoolfriend, Gizi. Gradually we learn her story. She is telling her story to another person, using the you form, but though we realise that this person is a lover, it is not till later that we learn that she had met him through the theatre as he was the major translator of dramatic works from English in Budapest after the war and was important, as her theatre company performed a lot of Shakespeare and Shaw. Eszter’s father was a lawyer but not a very successful one as he would take cases he was sure of winning and where he was sure that the client was innocent, so he had very few clients. Gradually he becomes ill and eventually dies. Eszter’s mother had to give piano lessons to earn money for the family. Angela was her second pupil. We soon learn that there is an issue between Eszter and Angela, as, though the two soon become friends, Eszter tells us that she hates Angela. Angela has a brother, Emil, who ran into a deer on his motorbike and killed it. The deer had a fawn and Emil rescues it and takes it back home to be a pet for Angela. Emil will eventually be sought by the police. He runs away, joins the army and is killed soon after the beginning of World War I.

Eszter becomes obsessed with the fawn and is clearly envious of Angela having it as a pet. One day, she goes to Angela’s house at night and takes the fawn out. However, the fawn pulls at the leash and escapes and is killed crossing a railway line. Angela, of course, tells no-one and no-one suspects her. Both Gizi’s and Angela’s parents have problems. Angela’s father is a judge but when Emil is sought by the police, he has to resign and the family moves away. Eszter will meet her again in later years. Gizi’s parents, Juszti and Józsi, own a tavern, where Gizi works as a waitress. Juszti has an affair with one of the clients. When Józsi follows her and finds her with her lover, he kills her. He is, of course, sent to prison and Gizi also moves away. Eszter wonders why Angela’s father, Domi, does not suffer the same fate from his wife, as he is having an affair with Elsa, the governess. Eszter, meanwhile, is becoming something of a star. She does well at school and is also showing her performing skills, though she is not well liked.

Eszter’s love life is also starting to bloom, with Belá. However, she has no intention of marrying him and when he assumes that they will, the relationship is broken off though, at the end of the war, she shelters him from the Germans, when he deserts from the Hungarian army. She will also meet him later on. Eszter goes to university and starts her performing career at university during the war. She will eventually meet the man she is addressing this memoir too – he is, of course, married – and have an affair with him but her past will come back to haunt her and her life will not be happy.

Szabó tells a good tale of certain selfish ambition having its own payback and her portraits of the three main women – Eszter, Gizi and Angela – both as girls and women is excellent. Clearly she was thinking of her own situation, when she struggled as an artist and had to make compromises but this is not her story but an original and fascinating one of an artist who is no saint.

Publishing history

First published 1959 by Szépirod. Könyvkiadó
First English translation 1963 by Jonathan Cape
Translated by Kathleen Szasz