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Belated Reception: James Joyce's Work in Hungary

From: Comparative Critical Studies
Volume 3, Issue 3, 2006
pp. 227-248 | 10.1353/ccs.2007.0008

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The reception of a foreign writer in another country depends not just on that country's literary climate at any given point in time, but also on its social, economic and political conditions. This holds especially true for a country like Hungary with its complicated and fluctuating political history, where Joyce's 'official' acceptance came rather late – not before the mid-1980s, to be precise. Ironically, this was considerably later than in the other, less liberal ex-communist countries. What distinguished Hungary from its communist neighbours was the role played by one man, a Hungarian and arguably the most eminent Marxist literary theoretician, namely Georg Lukács (1885–1971). It was his rejection of Joyce, a rejection that carried over to his pupils, that had a profound and lasting impact on the Hungarian reception of the Irish writer. With the waning of Lukács's influence interest in Joyce surged, with Hungarian scholars understandably taking a particular interest in the Hungarian dimensions of Joyce's writings, including the many Irish and Hungarian historical and cultural parallels. Some of the more recent results have been published in English, such as Tekla Mecsnóber's essay 'James Joyce, Arthur Griffith, Trieste, and the Hungarian National Character' in the James Joyce Quarterly, while a whole panel at the 2002 James Joyce Symposium in Trieste was dedicated exclusively to exploring Joyce's Hungarian nexus. This seems as good a moment in time as any, therefore, to take stock of the reception of James Joyce's works in Hungarian literature and culture past and present. In the following three sections I hope to provide an outline both of the critical reception of Joyce in Hungary as well as his creative adaptation by fellow writers. First, I will examine how the development and strengthening of Marxist ideology in the mid-twentieth-century impacted on, but also hampered, a sympathetic reception of Joyce's work. Second, I will provide an overview of Joyce's influence on Hungarian creative writers, both acknowledged and unacknowledged by the authors themselves. And finally, the essay will conclude with an assessment of the Hungarian translations of Joyce's works.

The first mention of James Joyce in Hungarian critical writing dates from the 1920s. Since then, many hundreds of responses, positive and negative, have referred not only to Joyce's work, but also to the profound influence he has exerted on other writers. Not surprisingly, the positive and negative responses to Joyce in Hungary correspond by and large to the fluctuating ideological trends that characterize the history of Hungarian literary criticism. In reviewing Joyce criticism in Hungary, one can distinguish three major periods: the interwar and postwar criticism of the 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s; Marxist criticism; and the most recent wave of what might be called 'self-reflexive' criticism, reaching from the 1980s to the present. The first and third periods have been essentially positive in their appreciation of Joyce's works, while the second, owing to ideological reasons, has tended to be negative. I will look at these three trends or periods in this sequence.

1 Interwar and Postwar Criticism: The 1920s to Early 1940s

Following the turn of the century, literary life in Hungary was very lively and open to modernist Western influences. In fact, one of the most prominent among the many literary periodicals of the period, starting publication in 1908, was called Nyugat (The West). It was created with an eye to importing modern, and by implication predominantly Western, literature for its mainly urban readers. Like Nyugat, many of these magazines employed the talents of the most capable and free-thinking writers and poets of the time, such as Endre Ady, Zsigmond Móricz, Dezső Kosztolányi, and Mihály Babits, among others, who eagerly translated works by Western avant-garde authors and wrote reviews and essays about them for their Hungarian audience.

Traditionally, and due to its proximity to Austria (indeed Hungary had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918), Hungarian culture had been dominated by German influences, but even before the Empire's dissolution and Hungary's independence a new and growing interest in French culture was beginning to develop around the turn of...



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