Bence Erika: Virtuális irodalomtörténet [Virtual History of Literature]

Philobiblon – “Lucian Blaga” Központi Egyetemi Könyvtár, Kolozsvár

Bence Erika “Virtuális irodalomtörténet” című kötetéről

Abstract: The papers in this volume introduce us to the possibilities of referential reading of 19th and 20th century and contemporary texts, giving a new interpretation of Hungarian classical works or analysing older and new works of the Vojvodinian Hungarian Literature. The analyses in the volume serve as a pattern of a modern researcher’s and reader’s approach, and encourage readers to study the presented works.

Keywords: Hungarian literature from Vojvodina, social and historical contexts, topoi

The scientific approach and the horizon of interpretation adopted in the 18 essays gathered in Bence Erika’s volume Virtuális irodalomtörténet [Virtual History of Literature]  place the literary works analysed in a broader, interdisciplinary, cultural-historical and anthropological context. The textual analysis of the pieces of literature investigated in the volume intermingles with the socio-literary interpretation of the writings, the two levels of analysis mutually interpreting each other. Basing on a number of Hungarian literary texts written in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, the essays focus on different possibilities of referential reading.

In the studies that appeared in the chapter “References in Literature and Public Life” the classical literary-historian approach is enriched with additional explanations provided by auxiliary sciences. For example, basing on a folkloric motif taken from Katona József’s Bánk bán (a 19th century drama written during the Hungarian Reform Era), the author investigates folk beliefs about twin birth (“Problems Regarding the Bánk Bán and the Mic-Bán Legends”). Bence Erika also demonstrates the key role of this side episode in creating the atmosphere of tragic irony in the “transcendental space” of the drama. The birth of septuplets must have had a mythical meaning in the 13th century, while in the 19th century Hungarian drama it may have referred to a second conquest of the Carpathian Basin promising the rise of a family at the very moment of its tragic fall.

Analysing the referential aspects of Kisfaludy Károly’s novelette Tihamér written in 1825, the author reveals the influences of the European chivalric romance, the romantic turning to the past and of the exotic geographical and cultural spaces on this early historical novel.

The essay on Mikszáth Kálmán’s writings draws readers’ attention to the role the anecdotes narrated by people gathered around a table play in the shaping of the plot. The author also highlights a number of elements that link the writer from Upper Hungary with her native land dedicating a whole subchapter to the presentation of the Vojvodinian references that appear in Mikszáth’s works. The analysis of Baloghy Imre’s historical novel entitled A paplak históriája [The History of the Vicarage] and of the system of motives that appear in Papp Dániel’s short stories trigger a redefinition of both the concept of the homeland and the Bácska-feeling.

The reinterpretation of the works written by classics of Hungarian literature such as Mikszáth Kálmán or Kosztolányi Dezső results in a number of new elements that facilitate the understanding of these works. Born in the Vojvodinian town of Subotica, in his 1925 novel Aranysárkány [The Golden Kite] Kosztolányi recreates the atmosphere of his birthplace. Analysing the symbols which appear in the novel Bence Erika proposes a new genre this work should be categorised into, claiming that the tragic story of secondary school teacher Novák Antal is actually an anti-bildungsroman, a novel of (d)evolution. Arguing for the uselessness of the version abridged for young readers, the author draws the attention on a thematic link between Kosztolányi’s novel and an earlier piece of Hungarian literature (an aspect which has only been mentioned in an essay written by Egyed Emese), considering Liszner Vili’s figure (the student that beats up his teacher) as the alter ego of Lúdas Matyi [Mattie the goose-boy], the protagonist of the epic poem written by Fazekas Mihály at the beginning of the 19th century. The analysis of the motives which appear in the novel such as the secret, the bogy, the mud, the dust, the kite, the gunshot, the chest, the sparrows, the snake or the wolf lead the author to the conclusion that Novák Antal - the protagonist - ends up finding himself in a crisis of values, and, realizing the failure of his own ideals on education, commits suicide.

The interpretation of Vojvodinian literary texts (Herczeg Ferenc’s novels, Gulyás József’s early poems, Giró Nándor’s fiction) cannot be carried out successfully without making reference to the Hungarian literary traditions. Bence Erika rightly points out that Herczeg Ferenc, a Vojvodinian writer of national stature, had to face particular challenges when he decided to revive Jókai Mór’s literary traditions in a multicultural environment.

The second part entitled “The Possibilities of Referential Reading” is also dedicated to studies that provide interpretations of literary works written about Vojvodina. The author claims to have identified a new genre determined by a certain ‘spatial code’: “three major movements can be identified in the Vojvodinian fiction characteristic to the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 21st centuries: the channel, the town and the border novels.” – writes Bence Erika in her essay entitled “Műfaj(típus) konstruáló fogalmak a vajdasági magyar irodalomban” [Concepts Constructing Genre-(types) in the Hungarian literature of Vojvodina] (in: Virtuális irodalomtörténet 92). Although the works cited present events of great historical and social significance, the main emphasis is laid on the influence that the macro-events unfolding in the background have on private lives: “stories gravitating around personal ways of life prevail over mass experience, intellectual movements, ideas and intellectual contents gain more importance than ostentatious deeds” (ibid.). Interpreting the three Hungarian novels written in Vojvodina in the 1930s, which gravitate around the traumatic experience of the First World War, Bence Erika reaches the conclusion that, as a common denominator, all the three novels focus on the strengthening of the social approach and on the appearance of grotesque elements: “the three novels view the illusory picture of the ‘just war’ and that of the ‘good soldier’ through a distorting mirror” (“Az első világháború tematizációja az 1930-as évek vajdasági magyar irodalmában” [The Thematisation of the First World War in the Vojvodinian Hungarian Literature of the 1930s], ibid. 111). In the study entitled “Átszállások a vajdasági magyar irodalomban” [Transitions in the Hungarian Literature from Vojvodina] the metaphors of journey, railway, change and arrival are examined. An interesting feature of this essay is that it highlights Kosztolányi’s influence on Danilo Kiš’s novels, and follows the way the elements of Serbian writer’s prose-poetics can be traced in Esterházy Péter’s works.

The work entitled “A multikulturalitás és a többnyelvűség balkáni mítoszai” [The Balkan Myths of Multiculturalism and Multilingualism] analyses the metaphors of the Monarchy, of nostalgia and outcastedness, as well as the attempts on the spiritual reconstruction of the multicultural homeland as they appear in works written at the turn of the millennium mirroring the trauma caused by the collapse of the multiethnical Yugoslavia.

Regarding the various aspects of contemporary literature, the author is particularly interested in the ones dealing with situations the whole community is involved in, for example the biblical hypotext in Gion Nándor’s novel, the meanings of the limes in Jung Károly’s poetry or the meanings of the barbarian in Balázs Attila’s novels, Fenyvesi Ottó’s authoreflexive metaphors of Vojvodina or the feasts described in Végel László’s Novi Sad novel entitled Neoplanta.

It has been known since Aristotle that the receiver can experience the joy of recognition even if the thing described is not to their liking. Thus, even if we are not familiar with all the texts analysed by Bence Erika, we can experience the joy of recognition when, investigating the metaphors and context analyses that appear in the works presenting different dimensions of minority life, we can spot a number of similarities hidden under the existing discrepancies.

The writings included in the volume provide a comprehensive insight into a modern researcher’s attitude towards her field of study. The methodological precision and scientific accuracy adopted in the studies help readers to become initiated in the analysed phenomena and to have a more extensive understanding of literature. Thorough preparation and background work together with a well-established theoretical framework serve as prerequisites to accurate observations. One of the strengths of Bence Erika’s writings reside in the fact that, relying on the most up-to-date theories, classical texts are approached from a peculiar point of view, enriching with new methods our possibilities of text interpretation. Analysing Kontra Ferenc’s unconventional writing Angyalok regénye [Angels’Novel], the author of the essay carries out an interesting interdisciplinary experiment by adopting the Fibonacci sequence and the golden section as structuring principles of the work.

The Balkan myths of multiculturalism and multilingualism, the way they appear in the Hungarian literature in Vojvodina are, in all probability, familiar to East-Central-European readers. Approached from Bence Erika’s perspective, the virtual Hungarian literature from Vojvodina can be equally regarded as genuinely Hungarian or as genuinely European.


Tapodi Zsuzsanna

Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania,

Faculty of Economics, Socio-Human Sciences and Engineering,

Miercurea Ciuc



Philobiblon. Transylvanian Journal of Multidisciplinary Research in Humanities

“Lucian Blaga” Central University Library