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Abstract Zsuzsanna Varga

Hungarian women writers as mediators of letters

‘That nation does not have a proper mother tongue, and no one can speak or write it’ this is how Joseph II, the otherwise enlightened Austrian emperor opined about Hungarians and the Hungarian language at the end of the 18th century, and much of early and mid-19th century Hungarian literature was written under the shadow of this threatening observation. Ironically, the threat and injustice embedded in this statement encouraged the creation of a most interesting and rich body of literature.

Yet ‘internationalising’ it, or conveying knowledge about this rich but linguistically inaccessible culture remained to be done by post-1849 Hungarian émigrés –wives of literary authors and politicians in particular – who undertook the task of translating works. I would like to pause at this point, and introduce the work of two exemplary women: Teréz Pulszky and Júlia Jósika, who used the post-1849 international sympathy for Hungarians to spread knowledge about Hungarian letters and culture, and also carved out an unforeseen role for themselves.

Secondarily, I would also like to consider how Hungarian women writers and translators were instrumental in the fostering of national self-confidence during the second half of the 19th century. Translating foreign literature was seen as coming of age for Hungarian literary culture, but female authors were kept away from translating canonical classics into Hungarian. A consideration of the life of the Wohl sisters and the work of Emilia Kánya will suggest that women, again, carved out a role for themselves as translators and mediators of foreign culture.

AsK, October 2012

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