Greatest Hungarian Poets Index

Hungarian Literature
Ady, Endre
Arany, Janos
Jokai, Mor
Jozsef, Attila
Molnar, Ferenc
Moricz, Zsigmond
Petofi, Sandor
Study Web Award

The growth of Hungarian literature was influenced by the need to establish the Hungarian language in a written form, by national history, and by foreign literary trends. Latinizing of the culture after Hungary's conversion to Christianity delayed the rise of an indigenous literature, and the Hungarian language was first used to translate religious matter, the earliest known text originating around 1200.

Increased translation of religious texts and of the Bible during the Reformation as well as a growth in nationalism sparked by the Turkish invasions gave impetus to the development of a literature written in Hungarian. These factors and the influence of humanism helped to produce Hungary's first true poet, Balint Balassi, and the epic poet Miklos Zrinyi.

From the mid-18th century to the 1848 War of Independence, literary growth was accelerated by the Enlightenment, romanticism, and opposition to the Habsburgs. Authors' attempts to promote literature and nationhood gradually bore fruit. Gyorgy Bessenyei founded a learned society; Ferenc Kazinczy led successful efforts at language reform; Karoly Kisfaludy founded the Aurora; and newspapers and other journals flourished. The Academy was created in 1830, the National Theater in 1837. Sandor Kisfaludy, his brother Karoly, and Milhaly Vorosmarty revived Hungary's past. The poets Sandor PETOFI and Janos ARANY and the novelists Jozsef EOTVOS and Maurus JOKAI raised poetry and fiction to new heights.

The unsuccessful revolution of 1848-49 and the 1867 Compromise hindered literary creativity during the rest of the century. The poets Imre MADACH, Janos Vajda, and Gyula Reviczky and the novelist Kalman Mikszath added significantly to the contributions of Arany and Jokai, but the age was not noteworthy.

The first four decades of the 20th century were a period of unprecedented productivity, spurred mainly by issues of importance both before and after Hungary's defeat in World War I and by major foreign literary trends. Symbolism had its effect on Endre ADY, Parnassian principles on Gyula Juhasz, impressionism on Arpad Toth, and art for art's sake on Dezso Kosztolanyi. The scope of Hungarian literature was further expanded by the classicism of Mihaly Babits; the realistic fiction of Zsigmond MORICZ; the sophisticated plays of Ferenc MOLNAR; the fiction of Tibor DERY, Lajos Kassak, Gyula Krudy, and Laszlo Nemeth; and the poetry of Attila JOZSEF, Gyula Illyes, and Sandor Weores.

The disaster of World War II and the political upheavals that followed arrested these various developments. Signs of a new vitality began to appear, however, especially in the poetry of Janos Pilinszky, Ferenc Juhasz, and Laszlo Nagy, and in the fiction of Istvan ORKENY, Miklos Meszoly, Gyorgy Konrad, and, later, Peter Esterhazy. A group of dissident writers, many of them associated with the underground magazine Beszelo, were active in the 1970s and '80s. The literary effects of the 1990 overthrow of Hungarian communism, however, have yet to make themselves well known outside of Hungary.

Ady, Endre b. Nov. 22, 1877, d. Jan. 27, 1919, is generally considered the greatest Hungarian poet of the 20th century. His innovative poems, influenced by French symbolism, countered the earlier poetic tradition of Janos Arany and Sandor Petofi.
Ady left the study of law to become a journalist.
After he met Adele Brull, called "Leda" in many of his poems, he followed her to Paris, where he came in contact with new literary fashions.
When he returned to Hungary, his unconventional beliefs and attacks on the Hungarian aristocracy made him a controversial figure.
His break with poetic and social traditions came with Uj versek (New Poems, 1906) and continued in nine subsequent volumes. Beginning about 1909 he contributed poetry and prose to Nyugat (West), a leading literary and social journal. Ady's lyrical and religious verse draws on colloquial and biblical sources and explores suffering and death in a world that has lost God.

Arany, Janos b. Mar. 2, 1817, d. Oct. 22, 1882, was Hungary's greatest epic poet and, with Sandor PETOFI, the creator of a realistic poetry based on Hungarian folk traditions. He produced literary treatises of lasting value, landmark translations of Shakespeare and Aristophanes, and ballads unsurpassed in Hungarian literature.

His Toldi trilogy--Toldi (1847), Toldi szerelme (Toldi's Love, 1848-79), and Toldi esteje (1854; Toldi's Evening, 1914)--an epic tracing the life of the 14th-century Hungarian hero, remains the best narrative poem in Hungarian literature. It is distinguished by penetrating characterization, a striking use of mythology and chivalry, and vivid diction.

Jokai, Maurus (Mor) a most accomplished and prolific author of romantic fiction, b. Feb. 18, 1825, d. May 5, 1904, established the novel as a genre in Hungary. Black Diamonds (1870; Eng. trans., 1894), which develops the concept of an ideal man, and Az aranyember (1873; trans. as A Modern Midas, 1884), which uses the Midas motif, are considered his best works.

Jozsef, Attila b. Budapest, Apr. 11, 1905, d. Dec. 3, 1937, was Hungary's first truly proletarian poet and one of the greatest Hungarian poets of the 20th century. The son of a simple soapmaker who deserted his family, Jozsef was brought up in harsh poverty by his mother, a washerwoman. He had an almost schizophrenic drive to alter the existing order of things, and his seven volumes of poetry reflect a profound sympathy for the exploited Hungarian working classes. Jozsef committed suicide, having been troubled by mental illness throughout his life. One of his great poem 'A Hetedik' The Seventh in English and Hungarian and another famous poem 'Nagyon faj' or It Hurts so much in English only.

Molnar, Ferenc b. Jan. 12, 1878, d. Apr. 2, 1952, is perhaps the best-known Hungarian author outside of that country. His plays have been translated into more than 25 languages, and several have been adapted for the screen. Liliom (1909; Eng. trans., 1921) and The Swan (1920; Eng. trans., 1922) are frequently staged in the West.

A keen observer of urban life, Molnar was especially adept at depicting middle- and upper-class urban life. His plays display a mastery of stagecraft, witty dialogue, and a polished style. Some of his best short stories are collected in Muzsika (Music, 1908). Molnar was also the author of several novels, the most successful being The Paul Street Boys (1907; Eng. trans., 1927), written for young people. He left Hungary in the 1930s to settle in New York.

Moricz, Zsigmond b. June 29, 1879, d. Sept. 4, 1942, was the most prominent 20th-century Hungarian prose writer. He was primarily a novelist and short-story writer, and his work is remarkable for its realistic portrayal of life in Hungarian villages and provincial towns. His finest novels include the historical trilogy Erdely (Transylvania, 1922-35). Moricz was also the editor of the literary journal Nyugat (West), which supported modernist literature and liberal politics.

Petofi, Sandor Hungarian lyric poet b. Jan. 1, 1823, enriched the artistry and extended the range of his nation's poetry beyond any predecessor and created a new synthesis of poetic techniques and realistic subjects. His epics were powerful blends of folk topics, attitudes, and verse forms, and his lyric poems stood out as aesthetic expressions of genuinely felt human experiences. They celebrated nature, the joys and sorrows of common folk, married love, family life, and patriotism. His language, images, folklore, and characters were rooted in the Hungarian Great Plains. He participated in Hungary's War of Independence (1848-49) and disappeared on July 31, 1849, in a battle against Russian forces. He was probably buried in a mass grave. One of his greatest poem: Nemzeti Dal or Rise up Magyar!

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