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Hungarian women writers as translators of European literature

by Zsuzsanna Varga

This paper intends to investigate one hitherto little examined slant of Hungarian literature: the contribution of women translators to the reconstruction of European literature in Hungarian. Nation building in the 19th century Hungary went hand in hand with modernising and reinvigorating Hungarian literature and literary language, and part of this process was the attempt to recreate other nations’ literature in Hungarian. While much of this work consisted in translating contemporary authors, an equally important amount of attention was paid to retranslating European classics and thereby acquiring ‘our Moliere’ and ‘our Shakespeare.’ The examination of the work of Lujza Malom, the Wohl sisters and other women translators, who were the hard-working but often forgotten agents in the process, suggests that women also participated in this literary work. By examining the complex cultural preferences for contemporary and classical authors and the gendered cultural underpinnings of commissioning translators, the paper also offers to examine the processes of embracing modernity of a culturally ambitious but politically non-independent nation in the 19th century.

AsK, September 2012

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