Literary Modernism, Anti-Semitism, Jewishness and the Anxiety of Assimilation in Interwar Hungary

Dávid Szolláth


In this paper I will provide a brief overview of early twentieth-century, Hungarian history in order to examine how anti-Semitism and anti-modernism influenced modernism’s reception in fin- de- siècle Hungary. In 1908 the most significant Hungarian literary review of the twentieth century was founded by Hugo Ignotus, Miksa Fenyő and Ernő Osvát, all of whom were assimilated Jews. The journal’s title, Nyugat, [‘West’] unambiguously marked the editors’ orientation and program of accelerating cultural modernization by reviewing and translating Western European works. For conservatives this aim of transferring aestheticism, late Symbolism and decadence was regarded as an attack against the nation’s patriotic traditions. Anxiety surrounding the Jewry’s purported “failed assimilation” was compounded by the fear that a foreign culture would have an undue impact on Hungarian literature. It is my aim to analyze both the first and second wave of modernism in Hungary so as to reveal the analogous relationship between the argument that Western European modernism is alien to the Hungarian literary style and language and the anti-Semitic argument stating that assimilation of the Jews is superficial.


Modernism, Anti-Semitism, Assimilation, Anxiety of Assimilation, Nyugat, Tibor Déry, Lajos Kassák, Miklós Szentkuthy

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