Section of Modern Hungarian Literature


The history of the Section of Modern Hungarian Literature

The section was established to examine and analyse the history of twentieth-century Hungarian literature. It was initially called the 20th-century Section and was founded at the same time as the Institute. Its first head of section was Aladár Komlós, followed by Miklós Szabolcsi (from 1958), György Bodnár (from 1966), Miklós Béládi (from 1981), and György Tverdota (from 1984). From September 1991 the work was supervised by Béla Pomogáts, and between June 1992 and 2014 by Gergely Angyalosi. András Kappanyos has been the head of the section since 2014.

The section initially boasted many colleagues (occasionally more than 20), although the section is much smaller today. The first ten years of the section were devoted to the preparation and writing of the two twentieth-century volumes of the new Hungarian literary history manual. The task involved the entire research staff of the Institute, and it was especially difficult in the case of the twentieth century, since no comprehensive scientific synthesis of the literature of the first half of the century had been written before. This enormous synthetic work was soon followed by another: following several years of preparatory debates, in 1970 the members of the section started work on the history of contemporary Hungarian literature, which understandably encountered even more difficulties than the previous volume. The six volumes of the work were first supervised by Miklós Béládi, followed by László Rónay after Béládi’s death, with contributions from a large number of authors. It was published as A magyar irodalom története 1945–1975 (The History of Hungarian Literature 1945–1975) between 1981 and 1990. The next big enterprise that has involved most colleagues in the section was the creation of the history of Hungarian criticism and literary studies. From the start, the collective work has been complemented with several individual projects. Monographs have been written on many great Hungarian writers of the twentieth century, as well as genres and trends.

Initiated by Miklós Szabolcsi and later supervised by Farkas József and László Illés, a separate working group within the section was dedicated to exploring and analyzing Socialist, primarily emigrant literature before 1945. To publish the work conducted in this research area, the section launched the series Irodalom – Szocializmus (Literature – Socialism). The beginnings of socialist literature were closely linked to the budding Hungarian avantgarde, and the section has had a lasting impact on the research and “rehabilitation” of this field, especially through Miklós Béládi’s studies. György Bodnár and Béla Pomogáts initiated research on the Hungarian literature of the neighbouring countries, and together with László Rónay they published the overview Nyugati magyar irodalom 1945 után (Hungarian Literature in the Western World after 1945) (Budapest, 1986), which was the first to present the literary culture of Hungarians living in the West.

Work in the fields of source and text edition began right after the establishment of the Institute. The first volume of the series Új Magyar Múzeum (New Hungarian Museum) appeared in 1957, dedicated to publishing sources and documents. The third and fourth volumes of the critical edition of Attila József, which had been started earlier, was also completed, edited by Miklós Szabolcsi. This was followed by two volumes of the new magistral edition of Attila József’s poems, edited by Béla Stoll. Credit goes to Iván Horváth and György Tverdota for publishing Attila József’s prose. The largest textological undertaking of the section is the critical edition of the poems written by Mihály Babits, with a dedicated working group since 1986, led by József Láng until his death (2016). The novelty and significance of the task is demonstrated by the enormity of the preparatory work that went into it: the redaction of each volume was preceded by the preparation of the manuscript catalogue, the bibliography, and the biographical chronology.

A top task of the section is the ongoing critical research of contemporary literature and the conceptual and theoretical issues related to it. To this end, the members of the section publish in a wide range of literary and cultural publications. In order to popularize contemporary literature, the section has also launched a separate book series: the volumes of Kortársaink (Our Contemporaries) have been introducing post-1945 authors of Hungarian literature in short monographs since 1972.

Research on the history of literary criticism in the Institute started in the 1970s, playing an especially significant role in the program of the 18th-century and the 19th-century Sections in the last few decades; however, from the 1990s they have also become increasingly important in the work of the Section of Modern Hungarian Literature. Debates are regularly organized on issues in the history of literary criticism, and the section has also started to research the topic as part of an extended OTKA grant. Several short monographs on the history of literary criticism have been completed in the framework of these grants, and two representative anthologies are also under preparation that present the history of literary criticism in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as the critical debates surrounding it. It was also at the section’s initiative (and with its cooperation) that the Cult Research Group was re-established, representing a unique branch of research on the history of literary criticism.

The section has extensive international connections. There has been successful cooperation with the Center for Hungarian Studies in Novi Sad for a long time, and the French-Hungarian, German-Hungarian, and Croatian-Hungarian conferences have also been quite successful. Within the social science cooperation framework of ACLS–IREX–MTA, several successful comparative conferences were organized in the United States and Hungary between 1979 and 1989.

At present, the section is mainly working on the preparation of the third volume of the literary history manual. We are conducting this work together with the Theoretical and the Eastern European Sections, with the help of external collaborators. In addition, the section houses the Corpus Alienum working group, which researches the fields of body poetics, corporeal narratology, xenology, and theories on literary images.

In 2015 the section established an award in memory of our colleague Edit Erdődy, who passed away five years ago. With the family’s consent, the award is announced on Edit Erdődy’s birthday (7 February) each year, to acknowledge contemporary achievements in literature, theater, or literary studies in the previous year that display the values represented by Edit Erdődy. In other words, they use humor, irony, satire, and the subversive tool of the unbiased questioning of accepted truths to further the values of social understanding, solidarity, and humaneness. The award is an original object commemorating Edit Erdődy’s personality and oeuvre, created by her daughter, artist Ágnes Szabics, and it is accompanied by a certificate.
Current full-time researchers of the section are senior research fellows Orsolya Rákai and Ágnes Széchenyi, research fellows Sarolta Deczki, Györgyi Földes, and Zoltán Szénási, postdoctoral fellow András Virágh, and assistant research fellows Katalin Bucsics, Anita Káli, Ágnes Major, and Diána Márjánovics. The head of the section is scientific advisor András Kappanyos. The section is also supported by two of our retired colleagues, Gergely Angyalosi and Judit Karafiáth. 



Research projects

Cooperation with Novi Sad

The history of the cooperation between the Institute for Literary Studies and the Department of Hungarian Studies at the University of Novi Sad is unique in literary studies and possibly in other fields as well, going back more than four decades. The first joint conference was held in 1974, and since 1977 the research communities of Budapest and Novi Sad have had regular meetings every year, mostly in December. The events are held in the two locations alternating each year, and they have continued in spite of the political changes that have taken place over the years, as well as during the events of the war in Yugoslavia. As part of the traditions of the conference series, the different generations of the research communities of the two institutions also meet each other. The series builds a bridge between the one-time founders, who have passed away (Imre Bori, Miklós Béládi, Miklós Szabolcsi, György Bodnár, János Bányai), the older masters passing on their experience (Béla Pomogáts, László Gerold), the middle generation generating the bulk of the research (Kornélia Faragó, Éva Harkai Vass, Gergely Angyalosi, András Kappanyos, etc.), and the young talent at the beginning of their career. Approximately eighty researchers have participated in the 43 conferences so far, and the number of presentations exceeds 500. We will introduce the conference series in the retrospective volume “Hosszmetszet (Longitudinal Section)” in the near future, selecting one presentation from each year. The volume will be published by Forum Kiadó in the fall of 2019.

The conference presentations (in the form of studies) are published as continuous blocs of journal announcements, and they typically become indispensable sources for the researchers working on the given topic, also shown by their prominent citation statistics.

Research position for young researchers

The Section of Modern Hungarian Literature employs one assistant fellow through the young researcher research position financed through grants, mostly through a three-year contract. These researchers also creatively participate both in the long-term projects of the section and its one-off events.

The digital critical edition of the correspondence of Zsigmond Móricz (1892–1913) – grant NKFIH 116201

The goal of the project is to publish a critical edition of the Móricz correspondence that encompasses his twenty-year writing career between his first currently known letter until the end of 1913 in a philologically sound way, including the entirety of the correspondence, without screening based on prior criteria. We will get to know more than 2,000 letters from the three decades starting from the first extant Móricz letter in 1892 (the exact number will be known as a result of the source exploration conducted within the research project). The volume published in 1963, only included 150 manuscript letters known from this period. By introducing all available sources and text variants according to the principles of textual criticism, a large number of unknown authorial texts will be available as a result of the basic research. These will be published by the Petőfi Literary Museum in the form of a digital edition, following the principles of open access, along with the relevant research results.

Participants of the research include Anna Cséve (project leader), György Tverdota, Ágnes Széchenyi, Gábor Schein, Zsolt Lengyel, Éva Kómár, Zsófia Fellegi, Sándor Mátyás Török, Zsuzsanna Hangácsi, and Anita Káli.

A description of the research program can be downloaded here. 

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