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Hatvany, Lajos

(1880–1961), writer, critic, and literary scholar. Baron Lajos Hatvany was born in Budapest into a prominent Hungarian industrial and banking family. He studied classical philology at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau and received his doctorate in Budapest. Throughout his career, Hatvany was active in the Hungarian literary scene. Besides being a writer, critic, journalist, and literary scholar, he was an important patron of literature and a champion of modernism. He wrote major scholarly studies of the poets Sándor Petőfi and Endre Ady (the latter was his close friend).

Hatvany founded or helped to create several journals, the most influential among them being Nyugat, which served as a voice for Hungarian writers in the first half of the twentieth century. Because of Hatvany’s serious involvement in contemporary literary life, his letters contain out-of-the-ordinary pieces of information about international as well as Hungarian figures.

Hatvany was a leftist, liberal thinker who believed in the values of democracy and civil society. These beliefs were not welcome in Hungary after the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy; consequently, he had to leave the country twice. After participating in the 1918 bourgeois-democratic revolution as a member of the Hungarian National Council, he moved to Austria and Germany until 1927. When he returned to Hungary that year, he was tried for defaming the country, as he had sharply attacked the regime of Governor Miklós Horthy that emerged in Hungary after the suppression of the 1919 Communist revolution. Sentenced to one and a half years in prison, he was released for health reasons after serving nine months.

Because of the growing threat of fascism, Hatvany left Hungary again, first to Paris, and then to England in 1938. He returned to Hungary in 1947, where he taught at the University in Budapest, received the Kossuth Prize in 1959, and became a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1960.

Hatvany is primarily remembered as a novelist, though he was also a poet and playwright. His major novel, Urak és emberek (1927; the first part translated into English as Bondy Jr., in 1931), is so closely modeled after Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks that it was mockingly called Judenbrooks. The novel is at once a bildungsroman depicting the development of its protagonist as well as a social–historical analysis of the emancipation and assimilation of Jews and their role in the economic development of nineteenth-century Hungary. As is customary in the genre, the novel contains many autobiographical elements.

Hatvany’s relationship to his Jewishness and Hungarian identity was painful and controversial. Though he shocked Jewish public opinion in 1917 by promoting conversion to Christianity and mixed marriages (and he also converted), he altered his stance as the twentieth century, dominated by racial antisemitism, progressed. In Urak és emberek, written in the interwar period, he shows the tragic failure of the aspirations of Jews to become fully accepted as Hungarians.

Suggested Reading

Lajos Hatvany, Urak és emberek (Budapest, 1927); Lajos Hatvany, Bondy jr. (New York, 1931); Lajos Hatvany, Ady: Cikkek, emlékezések, levelek (Budapest, 1959); Lajos Hatvany, Urak és emberek I–III (Budapest, 1963); Lajos Hatvany, Hatvany Lajos levelei (Budapest, 1985); Sz. Péter Nagy, Hatvany Lajos (Budapest, 1993).