Establishing literary memorial houses


When a village or a town opens or inaugurates a memorial house, room or plaque it not only presents the birthplace, holiday home or last residence of a noted person, but also itself, its own existence. With the gesture, it gets on the culture map, has a physical share of the literary, artistic canon and realises in real space information memorised in school. It becomes a place which has undoubtedly given something to the world. For more than a 100 years museums trying to reveal something of the secret that artists and writers have with their everyday life have opened across  the world. Communities make financial sacrifices – rarely repaid financially in Hungary – to operate an institute that can be interpreted as a complex symbol. In 1961 Enikő Balkányi, who helped establish several literary memorial houses, considered memorial houses outstandingly important because she thought that the birth, values, shortcomings and possible contradictions of a work would become natural and coherent by making their writer personally close. You can get nearer to a writer if you learn about his or her appearance, surroundings, personal effects and habits. The concept has not changed much in decades, although in 2007 Zsuzsa Kalla in her introduction to the Regeneration Project of Literary Memorial Houses emphasised the identity-building impact of literature, while highlighting the magic of intimacy and the feeling that visitors could experience among personal effects in their favourite writer’s house. Since Hungary’s network of literary memorial houses is mainly rooted in the Kádár era, the question is raised: how is it possible that in a period which was ideologically overregulated, the cult of such writers could grow with individual exhibitions, whose justification is beyond doubt. How is it that post 1989-90 Hungary inherited such a network in which the residences of noted writers were not only valued by the people’s republic based on Marxism and Leninism, while the present time has also regarded these literary houses as deserving of preservation and regeneration. The inspectors of the Petőfi Literary Museum provided the literary, museological supervision in connection with the professional authenticity of the authorised literary memorial houses. The memorial houses usually functioned as exhibition places, the collection was held in the centre’s safe storerooms and that was where it was possible to research it. The lessons learnt from the history of literary memorial houses and similar museums did not become outdated with the political changes of 1989-90. Perhaps most importantly, establishing such a museum is a responsibility which cannot be taken on without the support of the funding community. Although playing with the past may involve a competitive advantage in momentary games, it may be worth considering whether the future can be burdened with its own heritage.