Manifestations of Hungarian Identity in Literature


  • János Kenyeres Eötvös Loránd University



Hungarian identity, national identity, Hungarian literature, nation-building


Concentrating on some important literary and theoretical works, this article examines how Hungarian identity has been given different meanings and various forms of expression over the past few centuries. Hungarian identity is an ever-changing concept and the question of belonging and what is Hungarian has been subject to numerous interpretations.  Linked to periods of victory and prosperity, and their opposite, defeat, humiliation and poverty, as well as revolt, revolution, defiance, resignation and even silence, the alternating forms of national identity can all be found in literature. The fact that Hungarians have more than one text (the “Hymn,” the “Appeal” and, recently, the “Székely Hymn”) that assumes the status or quasi-status of a national anthem itself indicates the multiplicity of Hungarian identity. These texts have become part and parcel of national identity due to the frequency with which individuals encounter them from their early childhood on. This is coupled with a strong Hungarian literary canon, which also plays an essential role in identity building. In the absence of a solid literary canon, literary works are less significant in the identity structure of many other nations; in larger countries a diversity of texts are taught at school due to substantial regional differences. In contrast, the Hungarian school system has traditionally placed and still places emphasis on a stable and only slowly changing literary canon which, in turn, leads to a body of literature known to most members of society.






Plenary Invited Paper: AHEA Conference, 2019, University of Pittsburgh