István Örkény Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

As a writer, István Örkény is not easily categorized. In addition to dramatic works, he produced short stories, novels, and screenplays, several of which are adaptations of earlier works. Örkény’s Sötét galamb (dark pigeon) is a stage adaptation of his novel Glória (1957). Macskajáték (1966; catsplay, 1976) and Tóték (1964; the Toth family), two of Örkény’s most celebrated novels, were first conceived as film scenarios but were left unfinished when the original film projects were abandoned. The unused material was salvaged in the form of novels, which were subsequently adapted for the stage and finally recast as two critically acclaimed films: Macskajáték (1974) and Isten hozta, rnagy úr! (1969; welcome, dear major). The difficulty of categorizing Örkény is further demonstrated by his Egyperces novellák (1968; One-minute Stories, 1994). These writings are sketches imbued with wit and concentrated meaning. As the title of the collection suggests, these stories are highly condensed, bearing a relationship to the conventional-length short story analogous to that of the terse haiku to lyrical poetry.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

István Örkény is, more often than not, labeled a writer of the absurd and grotesque. The sardonic and often understated wit that he brought to his writing makes his work unique and readily identifiable. He has been a favorite with many critics and, as far as Hungarian writers go, has enjoyed some commercial success as well. He was practiced and accomplished in several genres: drama, the novel, the short story, and the screenplay. His mature works are historical probes that reach back to retrieve and record the collective psychological plight of a nation—his native Hungary—in its difficult transition from a backward and semifeudal order to a Socialist state characterized by lofty ideals and Stalinist abuses of power alike. The distinctive ambience of Örkény’s plays and other writings is in no small part achieved by his terse, pared-down style, in which rhetoric and decorativeness give way to plain diction and simple syntax.

Örkény was twice the winner of the Attila József Prize (in 1953 and 1967), and in 1970, his The Tóth Family won the Grand Prize for Black Humor in France. In 1973, he was at long last the recipient of the most coveted award in Hungary, the Kossuth Prize.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Bales, Ken. “An American Catsplay.” The New Hungarian Quarterly 19 (Spring, 1978): 198-202. A look at Örkény’s Catsplay.

Brody, Ervin C. Introduction to A Mirror to the Cage: Three Contemporary Hungarian Plays, edited and translated by Clara Györgyey. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993. Introduction contains information about Örkény, in particular, his play Stevie in the Bloodbath, a translation of which is included along with translations of works by György Spiró and Mihály Kornis.

Heim, Michael Henry. Introduction to The Flower Show; The Toth Family, by István Örkény, translated by Michael Henry Heim and Clara Györgyey. New York: New Directions, 1982. Heim, in his introduction to two works by Örkény, provides valuable insights into the writer.

Riggs, Thomas, ed. Reference Guide to Short Fiction. 2d ed. Detroit, Mich.: St. James Press, 1999. Contains information on Örkény’s life and works, particularly with reference to his short fiction