Balint is the splendid principal character in this tapestried look at the decline of Hungary’s aristocracy before the First World War. Here he recalls a traumatic moment in childhood when forced to kiss an ancient harridan of a relative. I am sure many of us have memories of being hugged or kissed by some adult we scarcely knew who claimed a mystical right to our affection.
That ‘camphor-smelling claw’ sums up a small boy’s horror.
‘Balint’s mother had pushed him forward. ‘Now, Balint, kiss your aunt’s hand properly!’ and he had kissed the little shrivelled camphor-smelling claw as he was told. He had hated it, but worse was to come. The gnarled little hand had grabbed him and pulled him towards the scarves and shawls with a force that nobody would believe, and then the old lips, unexpectedly moist, had planted a wet kiss on his forehead.’
Source: Miklos Banffy, They Were Counted, trans. Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Banffy-Jelen (London: Arcadia Books, 1999 (1934)), p. 7