Freeside Europe Online Academic Journal

Freeside Europe Online Academic Journal

Modern cultural, literary and linguistic perspectives

Bálint Szele: Translators and the Literary Politics of Socialism in Hungary


In this paper I summarize my findings from a ten-year research project in the history of Hungarian literary translation, from 1947 to the 1960's, in a period when the vast majority of the best Hungarian poets were forced to survive professionally by doing literary translations because their own work could not be published due to state censorship. With the literary politics of the period based on a Stalinist conception of literature, anyone whose work did not follow the official party line was banned. As a result Hungarian writers and poets were forced instead to create translations in unbelievable numbers, and statistics from the period show that half of the books published in Hungary were translations. A well-controlled translation industry was developed by government officials with the help of literary people to assign the tasks to the translators and to review the translations. In this system some translators found it very hard to find inspiration for doing quality work, although some tried to do their best despite their moral and esthetic convictions, and some devised their own modus vivendi to survive. In this paper I will discuss the work of ten Hungarian translators, Anna Hajnal, Gyula Illyés, Zoltán Jékely, László Kálnoky, Ágnes Nemes Nagy, Ottó Orbán, György Rónay, Lőrinc Szabó, István Vas, and Sándor Weöres, all of whom were also creative writers. I will detail their strategies for coping with the intellectual, moral, and financial pressure the translation industry exerted upon them.

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ISSN 1786-7967

8000 Székesfehérvár, Rákóczi u. 25. Hungary