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Biography

1863 born in Agárdpuszta
1868 the family moves to Budapest
1870-75 in five years they live in five different places
1879 father dies
1882 receives his diploma as a teacher
1882-86 works as an elementary school teacher and journalist
1889 moves to Szeged and works as a journalist
1893 political journalist in Budapest
1895 begins his career as a poet and prose writer
1897 moves to Eger and lives in seclusion
1899 travels to Constantinople to prepare for his historical novels
1910 corresponding member of the Hungarian Academy of Science
1922 dies in Eger

The Lamp
1894

Gárdonyi’s first stories reflect the vicissitudes of his younger years spent as a teacher and show how an ambitious young man must suffer under the oppressive influence of secular and ecclesiastical powers. “The schoolteacher,” says Gárdonyi “is a lantern that shows the path for others, but consumes himself in the process.”

My Village
1898

These are short stories based on the writer s experiences as an elementary school teacher. The village he writes about is a confined, orderly world, this time embellished by Gárdonyi s nostalgia for nature and simple people. Many stories are idyllic, but they never lie; the writer s intention was to present a love of life which can overpower suffering. The book s most memorable characters are elderly people and children; Gárdonyi s sympathies were for his naïve and vulnerable little students, whose future was almost always determined by their poverty and the strict laws of the community. The writer s love and affection for them is evident; the little sketches lyrical reports are written in a pure and economic style.

The Invisible Man
1901

A novel about the age of Attila the Hun, it is based on the historical account of the rhetorician Priscos. The narrator is one of his slaves and students, Zéta, the pessimistic and philosophising writer s mouthpiece. Gárdonyi writes in the Preface: In fact, I am Zéta. And I can tell you: no one knows me. People can know only one s face, but the face is not the man. The man is behind the face. The man is invisible. The romantic and picturesque story is full of love (the freed slave Zéta is in love with a noble girl who is in love with Attila, but in the end Zéta finds his true love to be another woman) and war (monumental descriptions of military processions and a decisive battle between the Huns and the Romans), and ends with the legendary funeral of Attila.

The Wine
1901

Gárdonyi s best and most successful play, which, by adding popular art music, he reformed the 19th century genre about peasants at that time a stylised and unbearably romantic genre. This play is based on a simple situation (a peasant, celebrating the return of his brother, drinks too much, beats his wife, who leaves him, and their reconciliation happens in the last act), and is a natural and psychologically well-motivated work.

Stars of Eger
1901

Gárdonyi's most popular novel was written in 1899 and appeared in sequels in the journal Pesti Hírlap, but he continuously revised the text, condensing and correcting it up until the final edition that he lived to see in 1913. The novel is compulsory reading in schools, but it would be a mistake to consider it juvenile literature; Gárdonyi's aim was to call the nation to a joining of forces in order to survive in the continuous competition of great powers. In order to show the period of Turkish occupation of Hungary in the 16th century with the greatest historical fidelity, he carefully examined the documents and literature of the times and ended up with a romantic, but true depiction of the siege of Eger. The story begins with an idyllic picture: two children are bathing in a brook, Gergő (Gergely), the orphan of a blacksmith and Vicuska (Éva), the daughter of a wealthy man. They are disturbed by a Turkish soldier, who takes them as prisoners. As they travel with the other Turkish captives, they overhear two bandits planning to rob their village. They escape during the night, go home and with the help of a brave Hungarian soldier they organize the defence of the village. Dobó, the defender, takes Gergő with him to the court of the noble Bálint Török, who raises him together with his own sons. Eight years later the young Gergely plans to blow up the sultan, but fails, and becomes a prisoner. While in captivity, he gets hold of the secret map of the fortress of Eger. He manages to escape again and returns home to meet his childhood love, Éva, but discovers that they havemoved to the royal court of Buda. There he meets the young woman and they exchange vows of love. Meanwhile Bálint Török and the infant king receive the Turkish sultan, who cheats him, takes Buda by force and drags him off to captivity. Gergely is determined to go to Constantinople and help him escape. Before setting off, he receives the news that Éva is to be forced to marry a captain, elopes with her from the wedding and marries her. Together with Török's son, they travel to Constantinople dressed as Italian musicians where they meet the old prisoner, but they can't help crying and that gives them away. They have a narrow escape, but they must leave Bálint Török behind. Almost ten years pass. The single-eyed Turkish soldier, who snatched them at the beginning of the story, now kidnaps the six-year-old son of Éva and Gergő because he wants to get back his ring, his lucky charm, that was taken away from him after the siege of the village. As the Turks now start off to the siege of Eger, Éva goes after the single-eyed villain and with the help of Gergely's old map manages to enter the fortress. Dobó, the captain of Eger, prohibits her to reveal her identity, for the Hungarians are in great need of Gergely's strategic powers. The enemy is far superior in numbers and the king fails to send the promised relief force. A long and heavy siege follows, where even the women of Eger take part. After the hard-fought battle the Hungarians win, Éva and Gergely meet again and only their son is still missing. At the end of the book a Turkish woman brings him back to them in exchange for her own imprisoned son.

Poplar Leaves
1904

Gárdonyi once called poetry “the queen of all genres”, and wrote mostly idyllic but quite fresh verses which caught the eye of such fastidious critics as Dezső Kosztolányi, who considered them an example of Hungarian primitive poetry. The secret of these poems, says Kosztolányi, is the artfulness of simplicity. Gárdonyi combined the naïve perspective of a child with the complicity of a modern soul.

Prisoners of God
1908

This story, placed in 13th-century Hungary, deals again with the problem of unrequited love. The central character is Jancsi, the gardener of the new cloister built on Margaret Island, who falls in love with the king s daughter, the humble and God-fearing Margit (Margaret). The girl is consecrated to God and gradually becomes a pure, and fanatical, nun. The novel is a sensitive and impressive presentation of spiritual love in the Middle Ages, full of contemplations of God, religion, life and women. People in the outer world are greedy, malignant and fallible, but one cannot find his or her peace among the walls of a cloister, for it is a cold and rigorous world, peopled by the convicts of God.

Long-haired Danger
1912

A continuous series of short stories about women, love and marriage, the frame story is about twelve older gentlemen who gather together on Christmas Eve to relate why they have remained unmarried. Some tales are cynical, some romantic, some humorous, some sad. Behind the seeming misogyny, there is a punchline: the leader of the gentlemen is just preparing to marry.

The Novel of Ida
1920

Another romantic story by a writer notorious for his misogyny, this novel is about a young painter, who contracts a marriage of convenience, but gradually and reciprocally falls in love with Ida, his wife, a young woman freshly out of the convent. The psychologically well-motivated novel is full of reflections on modern art.

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