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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Generation West : Hungarian modernism and the writers of the Nyugat review MacDonald, Agnes


This dissertation examines how the Nyugat review played an essential role in the development of literary and cultural modernism in early twentieth century Hungary. My chief argument is that modern Hungarian literature and culture, under the auspices of Nyugat, are part of that Central European canon which had shaped some of the most influential literary and critical theories. The review nurtured over one-hundred and twenty writers, artists and intellectuals who left a lasting impact on Hungarian literature and culture. These authors are known as the Nyugat-generation, a term which I adopt as Generation West. They contributed to the journal in Budapest between 1908 and 1941. My dissertation focuses on three of the most important contributors to Nyugat: Margit Kaffka, Dezső Kosztolányi and Antal Szerb and their respective works, Colours and Years, Esti Kornél, and Journey by Moonlight. They exemplify their generations’ perspectives and illuminate the course of Nyugat over three distinct periods. Inspired by the modernist currents of Western Europe which they espoused, these writers along with other members of the Generation West experienced “in-betweenness,” a condition characterized by the values of the traditional and the modern, East and West, nation and the individual, and feudal and bourgeois, which marked and also fuelled their output. Nyugat has come to epitomize the experience of Hungarian identity expressed through the themes of nationhood, nostalgia and commemoration. To demonstrate the journal’s legacy in Hungary today, I conclude by analyzing the events of the Nyugat 100-year anniversary that took place in 2008. My dissertation tells the story of how a community of writers and artists from a small nation in East-Central Europe instituted a profound literary and cultural movement under the aegis of a journal. I consider my study a call for reworking models of literary and cultural history and for expanding existing epistemologies of modernism.

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