Contemporary Hungarian Literature in London


London has a long history of Hungarian educators, lecturers and teachers living in the city. It should come as no surprise that the first ever English-Hungarian dictionary was published by no other than Zsigmond Wékey who worked for Lajos Kossuth, an important figurehead of the Revolution and War of Independence. Kossuth also happened to live in London for seven years, at the same time when the dictionary was first published in 1852.

As early as the 17th Century, Hungarian teachers have been in demand in the United Kingdom. Their knowledge of Latin made them some of the most respectable and recognised lecturers in the country. But they excelled at other subjects, such as chemistry, where János Bánffyhunyadi stood out, teaching at Gresham College and also being the first ever recorded Hungarian to have settled in London. 

Another recognised lecturer and writer who made a living in London by teaching Latin was Márton Szepsi Csombor, who was also the author of the first Hungarian travel book, Europica Varietas.

 

Today’s Hungarian Writers

On a more contemporary note, authors such as László Krasznahorkai are making it big in English-speaking countries. It is his translator, actually, who describes his prose as a ‘slow lava flow of narrative’. Hungarian-British poet George Szirtes is the one translating Krasznahorkai’s work into English for the United Kingdom. Although his narrative is slow and somewhat heavy, he has managed to develop a cult following for his Kafkian take on existence which can bring nothing but discomfort to the reader. 

Of notable mention is Imre Kerstész, who has been the only Hungarian person to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. A survivor of the Holocaust, his work focused mainly on the devastation of the Jewish people in Europe during the World Wars and as an aftermath of them. He passed away at age 86 in March of 2016
 

Many Hungarian authors have called London home and have used it as a source of inspiration for their works. Arthur Koestler was a British-Hungarian writer who published a handful of fiction, non-fiction, autobiographical, and drama works throughout his life. George Mikes was another successful Hungarian-born British writer whose humour made him stand out amongst fellow authors. His most notable work, which has been published in English numerous times, was How to be an Alien. Another famous playwright was Emma Orczy who only took up writing to help her husband make money. In 1903 the Orczy’s wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel for theater, while she also tried to move around it in novel form. It eventually got picked up at the West End and became a popular play - which pushed the novel - and has since been adapted and replayed several times around the world.