Authors: Mihály Vörösmarty

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Hungarian poet and playwright

Author Works

Poetry:

Zalán futása, 1825

Minden munkái, 1864 (12 volumes)

Összes munkái, 1884-1885 (8 volumes)

Összes mûvei, 1960-1979 (18 volumes)

Drama:

Csongor és Tünde, pr. 1830

A kincskeresök, pr. 1833

Vérnász, pb. 1833

A fátyol titkai, pr. 1834

Árpád ébredése, pr. 1837

Marót Ban, pb. 1838

Drama Translations:

Julius Caesar, pr. 1848 (of William Shakespeare’s play)

Lear király, pr. 1856 (of Shakespeare’s play King Lear)

Biography

Widely considered Hungary’s greatest nationalist writer, Mihály Vörösmarty (vuh-ruh-SHMAHR-tee) wrote during Hungary’s social reforms era of 1825-1849. In contrast to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the eighteenth century saw Hungary’s Magyar language become almost obsolete with the upsurge of German and Latin in the arts, particularly in literature. By the early nineteenth century, however, a movement toward Hungarian patriotism had begun, and by the time Vörösmarty came of age, he was writing during a period of patriotic and linguistic nationalism and literary rejuvenation. Some writers of this period, including Vörösmarty, are credited with enriching the Magyar language by inventing new words and usages.{$I[A]Vörösmarty, Mihály}{$I[geo]HUNGARY;Vörösmarty, Mihály}{$I[tim]1800;Vörösmarty, Mihály}

Born into a Catholic family that remained impoverished despite ties to nobility, Vörösmarty was schooled by Cistercian monks at Szekesfejervar and later by the Piarist clergy at Pest. When his father died in 1811, the family’s poverty increased. By age fifteen, and for many years thereafter, Vörösmarty earned money for his law studies by hiring himself out as a private tutor. Writing poetry in addition to his studies, he lived an often penurious existence and supplemented his income by writing reviews and other pieces for newspapers. Eventually, he left his law studies and devoted himself to his literary efforts. His first widely successful published work was Zalán futása (the flight of Zalán), an epic poem detailing Hungary’s conquest by Árpád during the ninth century. This heroic epic helped mark a literary shift from classical to the more romantic in Hungary and revived the genre of the epic poem, neglected in Hungary since the seventeenth century. The poem’s publication also served to solidify Vörösmarty’s acceptance among the established writers of the day, such as Sandor Kisfaludy and his brother Karoly Kisfaludy, and Ferenc Kolcsey, author of Hungary’s national anthem, “Himnusz.” Its impressive artistic quality notwithstanding, Zalán futása owes a portion of its success to the nation’s increased patriotism of the time. Vörösmarty’s tribute to Hungary’s glorious past was just what the Hungarian people wanted, and he endeavored to give them more.

In addition to his deep stirrings of patriotism, Vörösmarty also found himself tormented by his unrequited love for Etelka Perczel, a young lady of social status considerably higher than his own. Born of his nearly all-consuming passion for her were several sentimental shorter poems, among them “Fair Helen,” a lighter narrative poem describing the inevitably tragic love between King Matthias and the lovely Ilonka. Readers, warmly receptive to the poem’s sentimentality after years of the more classical literature, loved it. In 1828, adding to his meager income and increasing fame, Vörösmarty was appointed editor of a popular magazine, Tudományos Gyûjtemény. Two years later, he was inducted, as the inaugural member, into the newly established Hungarian Academy. Eventually, he succeeded Karoly Kisfaludy as the academy’s director, earning an annual wage of five hundred forints. To acknowledge the historical and literary importance of Sandor and Karoly Kisfaludy’s work, Vörösmarty helped found the Kisfaludy Society. He also established in 1837 the most highly respected critical periodical in Hungary, Figyelmezo.

Despite his roles as editor, director, and champion of literature, Vörösmarty persevered in his own writing. Some of his best-known work was produced during this time: “Szozat” (“The Call”), a patriotic appeal, became Hungary’s second national anthem soon after its publication in 1837. Broadening his literary reach, he also began writing dramas and between 1823 and 1831 composed four plays. Critics appear equally divided between designating Csongor és Tünde and Vérnász his best drama. Csongor és Tünde is a rather fanciful fairy-tale play, full of symbolism and suggestive of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595-1596). Vérnász won a prestigious Hungarian Academy award.

Vörösmarty married relatively late in life (1843). His new bride, Laura Csajághy, is credited with having inspired a series of beautifully romantic lyric poems. With these contemplative pieces, Vörösmarty established a new genre, at which he excelled. Perhaps his best known of these love poems is “A merengõhöz” (1843, to a daydreamer). In 1848, Vörösmarty and a small number of other writers undertook the project of translating several of William Shakespeare’s plays into the Magyar language. Vörösmarty completed Julius Caesar (c. 1599-1600) and King Lear (c. 1605-1606) himself.

Having thus far lived a life of fierce patriotism, Vörösmarty was horrified by events of 1848-1849 and all the War of Independence entailed. Fully embracing the cause, he became a member of the Parliament, but during the Austrian oppression that followed the war, he was forced into exile. He and his three children lived a life of misery until he received amnesty for his nationalistic wartime activities. During his final years, Vörösmarty was able to produce several fine poems, but they showed a darkened perspective, a pessimism regarding what he considered Hungary’s catastrophe. “Vén cigány” (1854; the old gypsy) suggests Hungary’s apocalyptic destruction, though a glint of hope emerges at poem’s end.

Vörösmarty died in 1855, ironically in the same house that Karoly Kisfaludy had died in twenty-five years earlier. November 21, the date of his funeral, was named a national day of mourning, and a national fund was established for the support of his children.

BibliographyBasa, Eniko Molnár, ed. Hungarian Literature. New York: Griffon House, 1993. A historical and critical analysis of Hungarian literature. Includes bibliographic references.De George, Iby. Mihály Vörösmarty: A Historical Study of the Poet’s Life in Relation to Hungarian Theatre and Drama. New York: City College of New York, 1982. Introduces critical interpretation of some of Vörösmarty’s work, including his dramas. Includes bibliographical references.Jones, David Mervyn. Five Hungarian Writers. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1966. Jones looks extensively at five prominent writers, including Vörösmarty, and their works’ significance both within and outside Hungarian literature.Mark, Thomas R. “The First Hungarian Translation of Shakespeare’s Complete Works.” Shakespeare Quarterly 16, no. 1 (Winter, 1965): 105-115. To fill what they saw as a void in Hungarian literature, Hungarian writers, including Vörösmarty, began translating William Shakespeare’s plays into the Hungarian language. Mark discusses a variety of results, such as the thirteen plays somewhat unsuccessfully translated by an eighteen-year-old girl, and Vörösmarty’s eloquent translation of Julius Caesar and King Lear.
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