Mihály Vörösmarty Biography


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

As the oldest of nine children in a noble but impoverished Roman Catholic family in western Hungary, Mihály Vörösmarty could obtain a higher education only with the help of wealthy patrons. After attending the gymnasium at Székesfehérvár and Pest, and losing his father when he was seventeen, he had to accept the post of private tutor with the aristocratic Perczel family. At the same time, he continued his studies toward a law degree. These years of servitude and the hopeless love he felt for his employer’s daughter left marks of sensitivity, wariness, and pessimism on his character.

In 1823, Vörösmarty obtained a position as a law clerk while maintaining his post with the Perczel family. He had been writing poetry and drama since he was fifteen, and the lively company of his peers contributed to the further development of his talent, making him conscious of the importance of patriotic literature. During this time, he also made contact with the restless noblemen of the countryside who were conducting a determined campaign of resistance in the face of the absolutist Viennese government. Under their influence, Vörösmarty wrote the first of his anti-Habsburg poems and a number of expressive, complex historical dramas. The memory of unhappy love and the realization of limitations placed upon him by a rigidly structured society continued to haunt him, and in 1826, he left the Perczel household. His goal to “become an independent man and a writer” was instrumental in his decision to settle in Buda, which was emerging as the cultural center of Hungary. Faced with squalor and the indifference of the reading public, he was on the verge of giving up his literary activities and setting up a law practice, when he was offered the editorship of the Tudományos Gyüjtemény, one of the most prestigious journals in Hungary. He edited this publication and its supplement, the Koszorú, from 1828 to 1832. While this provided him with a steady income, the drudgery of the work and disheartening political developments occurring at the time, made his voice somber and pessimistic.

During the early years of the 1830’s, the Reform movement gained new momentum, and the cultural life of Hungary was also invigorated by the publication of Aurora, the first genuine literary monthly, edited by József Bajza, Ferenc Toldy, and Vörösmarty. The poet’s financial situation had improved. His works were regularly published,...

(The entire section is 1003 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Widely considered Hungary’s greatest nationalist writer, Mihály Vörösmarty (vuh-ruh-SHMAHR-tee) wrote during Hungary’s social reforms era of 1825-1849. In contrast to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the eighteenth century saw Hungary’s Magyar language become almost obsolete with the upsurge of German and Latin in the arts, particularly in literature. By the early nineteenth century, however, a movement toward Hungarian patriotism had begun, and by the time Vörösmarty came of age, he was writing during a period of patriotic and linguistic nationalism and literary rejuvenation. Some writers of this period, including Vörösmarty, are credited with enriching the Magyar language by inventing new words and usages.

Born into a Catholic family that remained impoverished despite ties to nobility, Vörösmarty was schooled by Cistercian monks at Szekesfejervar and later by the Piarist clergy at Pest. When his father died in 1811, the family’s poverty increased. By age fifteen, and for many years thereafter, Vörösmarty earned money for his law studies by hiring himself out as a private tutor. Writing poetry in addition to his studies, he lived an often penurious existence and supplemented his income by writing reviews and other pieces for newspapers. Eventually, he left his law studies and devoted himself to his literary efforts. His first widely successful published work was Zalán futása (the flight of Zalán), an epic poem detailing Hungary’s conquest by Árpád during the ninth century. This heroic epic helped mark a literary shift from classical to the more romantic in Hungary and revived the genre of the epic poem, neglected in Hungary since the seventeenth century. The poem’s publication also served to solidify Vörösmarty’s acceptance among the established writers of the day, such as Sandor Kisfaludy and his brother Karoly Kisfaludy, and Ferenc Kolcsey, author of Hungary’s national anthem, “Himnusz.” Its impressive artistic quality notwithstanding, Zalán futása owes a portion of its success to the nation’s increased patriotism of the time. Vörösmarty’s tribute to Hungary’s glorious past was just what the Hungarian people wanted, and he endeavored to give them...

(The entire section is 913 words.)