Ferenc Molnár Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

After Ferenc Molnár achieved recognition as a playwright, only half-hearted attention was given to his accomplishments in other genres; nevertheless, he produced a respectable body of work in areas outside drama. Molnár always considered himself a journalist, and he achieved distinction in both the Hungarian and the international press. With his many volumes of collected editorials, sketches, feuilletons, and satires, he emerged as a faithful chronicler of life in Budapest and left an indelible mark on Hungarian short prose. As a journalist, he valued keen observation, precise description, and wit. His urbane, vibrant, meticulously constructed short stories reveal a remarkable narrative ability in his realistic characterization, his control of plot and technique, and his consummate skill with dialogue. Molnár also wrote a number of novels that were widely popular at the time of their publication. Although they are characterized by brilliant style, cleverly calculated plots, and sensitively drawn characters, their range is rather narrow. While most of these autobiographical novels are perhaps merely interesting period pieces, A Pál-utcai fiúk (1907; The Paul Street Boys, 1927), a moving tale about youth, is regarded as a masterpiece. Molnár completed his nostalgic autobiography, Utitárs a számzetésben (1958; Companion in Exile: Notes for an Autobiography, 1950), in the United States. This loosely constructed work provides rare glimpses into his rich, colorful life.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Ferenc Molnár’s most significant achievement was, without doubt, in drama. The first Hungarian playwright to become internationally famous, he achieved critical, popular, and financial success both at home and abroad, writing forty-two plays, most of which were performed all over the world. Some twenty-six films and three musical comedies produced in the United States were based on his plays. Although his can be considered a remote language and a scarcely known culture, Molnár overcame the literary isolation of his native land, entertaining audiences of many countries, calling their attention to Hungary, and creating a demand for export dramas. His plays made Budapest one of the theater centers of the world.

At the age of eighteen, Molnár became famous as a journalistic prodigy, two years later as a promising novelist, and, in 1902, as an accomplished playwright. He sustained this popularity all through his life. Rewards were heaped on him. For his distinguished service as a reporter at the front during World War I, he was recognized by the emperor, who conferred the Franz Joseph Order on him in 1916. The same year, his new play, The White Cloud, written in the army headquarters, won for him the Academy’s prestigious Voinits Award and membership in the Kisfaludy Society, an exclusive literary association. In 1927, after the Paris premiere of The Swan, Molnár was decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the president of France. He then received a hero’s welcome in the United States: Theater directors and publishers besieged him with offers, President Calvin Coolidge received him at the White House, and, before his departure, the author was made a staff member of the magazine Vanity Fair.

Molnár fused Hungarian stage tradition and Western influences into a cosmopolitan amalgam, yet his unerring dramatic instinct, dazzling technique, vivid style, and accurate timing were uniquely his own. He wrote only what was natural to him, and he avoided obscure language, pseudo-Symbolism, forced social commentary, and intellectual aloofness. His talent not only entertained but also enlightened. The relativity of truth and the almost indiscernible difference between illusion and reality became Molnár’s major dramatic themes, areas in which he preceded and to a certain extent even inspired Luigi Pirandello.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Györgyey, Clara. Ferenc Molnár. Boston: Twayne, 1980. Major critical biography, which follows the standard Twayne format, examining the life and works of the playwright. Includes index and bibliography.

Hornby, Richard. “The Play’s the Thing.” The Hudson Review 47 (Winter, 1995). Comments on the relevance of Molnár.

Marcus, Frank. Introduction to The Guardsman, by Ferenc Molnár. Translated by Marcus. London: Eyre Methuen, 1978. Marcus provides a complete time line and comments on Molnár and the play.

Rajec, Elizabeth M. Ferenc Molnár: Bibliography. 2 vols. Vienna: H. Böhlaus, 1986. Rajec provides a bibliography of primary and secondary sources in English, German, and Hungarian on Molnár. Includes indexes.

Várkonyi, István. Ferenc Molnár and the Austro-Hungarian “Fin de Siecle.” New York: Peter Lang, 1992. Várkonyi examines the life and works of Molnár as well as intellectual life in Austro-Hungary during the twentieth century. Bibliographical references.