My favorite quotes from “Journey by Moonlight”

One year ago, I introduced a wonderful novel to you: Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb. Because I know that most of you disregard my advice and haven’t read the book, here are some of my favorite quotes:

Following a certain geographical pull, she travelled to Paris, as people often do when they have no hopes or plans but wish to start a new life.

Or more general:

Geography is my most potent aphrodisiac.

When Mihály decides not to return to his bourgeois life:

He knew that there was no going back. The whole horde of people and things pursuing him, the lost years and the entire middle-class establishment, fused in his visionary consciousness into a concrete, nightmarish shape. The very thought of his father’s firm was like a great steel bar raised to strike him.

And later:

His life would begin anew, not as it had been during all the wasted years. Incipit vita nova.

One of the problems Mihály has with a “career”:

You start off as Mr X, who happens to be an engineer, and sooner or later you’re just an engineer who happens to be called Mr X.

Waldheim, a scholar whom Mihály encounters in Rome gives this advice:

Anyone who isn’t actually stupid ought to study, in the interests of his soul’s salvation. It’s the only thing worth doing. […] To spend your time doing anything else, like working in a commercial company, for a man who isn’t totally stupid, I’ll tell you what that is: affectation.

I share this sentiment and always am more interested in learning new things than in applying the skills I already have, let alone the skills I definitely don’t have:

I could more easily become a Major-General than play the role of father. That’s one human quality I completely lack, amongst others. I can’t bear it when people depend on me, not even servants. That’s why I did everything on my own, as a boy. I hate responsibility and I always come to despise people who expect things from me.

When Mihály describes Waldheim, he introduces an interesting concept:

There’s a man who’s managed to stay fixed at the age that suits him. Everyone has one age that’s just right for him, that’s certain. There are people who remain children all their lives, and there are others who never cease to be awkward and absurd, who never find their place until suddenly they become splendid wise old men and women: they have come to their real age.

On the same subject:

“I know what’s wrong with me,” he told the doctor. “Acute nostalgia. I want to be young again. Is there a cure for that?”

Sometimes, I feel more like this:

“There is nothing wrong with you,” said the doctor, “just horrendous exhaustion. What were you doing, to get yourself so tired?”
“Me?” he asked, meditatively. “Nothing. Just living.” And he fell asleep again

The following quote will come in handy when you are tasked with writing the minutes of a meeting at work:

The discussion was becoming interminable. The matter could in fact have been resolved quite simply if all those around the table had been equally intelligent. But in this life that is rarely given.

Here’s a good description of my attitude which frustrates women in particular and makes relationships almost impossible:

He did not understand her since it never occurred to him that people other than himself had an inner life in which he might take an interest.

Waldheim on women:

Sometimes they really are almost human.

Why you better don’t insist on hugging me:

… and he was alone in that profound solitude that a man feels after he has embraced a woman with whom he has nothing in common.

On love:

For love, there has to be a distance across which the lovers can approach one another. The approach is of course just an illusion, because love in fact separates people.

Lastly, but most importantly:

An intelligent person doesn’t have a spiritual life.

Journey by Moonlight Antal Szerb

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a writer, a spy or a hobo.
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7 Responses to My favorite quotes from “Journey by Moonlight”

  1. I like the the concept of people staying at the age that suits them. It’s like living the lifestyle in the location that fits, as one can do it so much better than trying to be someone they are not.

  2. Una persona inteligente, no rechaza algo que no conoce (vida espiritual). Einstein era no solo inteligente, era brillante, nunca rechazo la posibilidad de la existencia de Dios.

    • Así dice el Senor Einstein:

      La palabra Dios no es para mí nada más que la expresión y el producto de debilidades humanas; la Biblia, una colección de leyendas admirables, pero también largamente primitivas que de todas formas resultan infantiles.

      Me parece que la idea de un Dios personal es un concepto antropológico que no puedo tomar en serio. Tampoco puedo imaginarme alguna voluntad o metáfora de la esfera humana.

      It’s funny how religious freaks always misquote Albert Einstein when I raise this point. None of you ever say “but I am intelligent and believe in gods and witches and angels”. Quite telling.

    • Dany Serrano says:

      Y citar a Einstein como mas convenga a nuestras convicciones….”No puedo demostrar que no haya un dios personal, pero si hablara de él, mentiría. No creo en el dios de la teología, en el dios que premia el bien y castiga el mal. Mi dios creó las leyes que se encargan de eso. Su universo no está gobernado por quimeras, sino por leyes inmutables.
      También de:

  3. Harry Miller says:

    Maybe I should give this book another try, for it did not blow me away, although I liked it. Perhaps I read an inferior translation (What I read was called Traveler.) I loved Szerb’s Pendragon Legend.

    • The one I read was the one depicted in the photo, which I found very good. But then, I won’t ever be able to read the Hungarian original, so I cannot really attest to the quality of the translation as such.

      And I guess I mostly liked it so much because I could identify with many of the quotes and some of the themes in the novel.

      I haven’t read anything else by Antal Szerb yet, thank you for bringing “The Pendragon Legend” to my attention!

  4. Lorana says:

    This book also did blow me away and I remember it again and again for its subtle but deep philosophical structure, unpretentious discussion about essential questions in human life and wonderful style of writing, development of a story, finally for its optimism, coming after all from innermost source.
    It is one of the best books from the XX century, but not yet so widely recognized as much as it content deserves.
    it is all our inner and outer desperate travels of escape and return, invisible to the other people.It raises from silence and with its friendly voice guides us far away.

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