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Biography

1825 born in Komárom
1841-42 studies at the Calvinist College of Pápa; makes friends with Sándor Petőfi
1842-44 studies law in Kecskemét, later in Pest; paints portraits
1847 becomes the editor of the fashionable magazine Életképek, making it the forum for young radical thinkers
1846 member of the young poets' society, The Society of Ten (-Young Hungary-)
1848 one of the leaders of the republican youths on 15th March
1849 founds the pacifist Esti Lapok; a popular journalist contributing from 1854 to the semi-literary weekly, Vasárnapi Újság
1858 editor of a humorous weekly, Üstökös (Comet); corresponding, then (1861) regular member, (1892) member of the board of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences
1860 member of the prestigious Kisfaludy Society
1861-1896 MP and a confident of Kálmán Tisza (liberal PM from 1875)
1863-1882 editor of A Hon (The Land) supporting Tisza's politics
1894 celebrating his 50-year jubilee as a writer, the Academy launches the 100 volume of his proze (1894-1898) that comes with 100,000 forints as a "national gift"
1897 named a member of the House of Lords by the king
1899 marries the 20-year-old actress, Bella Nagy
1904 dies in Budapest

The Baron s Sons
1869

The decade following the Reconciliation of 1867 between Austria and Hungary brings a favourable change in Jókai s style (as in A kőszívű ember fiai, 1869, The Baron s Sons). The new Jókai hero is the socially sensitive industrial entrepreneur, the ingenious inventor or diplomat, whereas aristocrats become increasingly comical. But his protagonists meet with difficulty, the prejudice of the aristocracy prevents their marriage (Eppur si muove!, És mégis mozog a föld!, 1872, And Yet the Earth Moves), and clerical narrowness stops their action (Egy az Isten, 1877, There is only one God). Life in the modern city is a new element (Fekete gyémántok, 1870, Dark Diamonds), and so is science fiction (A jövő század regénye, 1872-74, The Novel of the Coming Century). But the necessity of industrial development is contrasted with Rousseau s utopia in Az arany ember (1872, Timar s Two Worlds, or The Man with the Golden Touch).

The Man with the Golden Touch
1872

Jókai's novel is rich in adventure, romance and revenge. It opens with an almost exotic landscape: the Saint Borbala is cruising up through the "Iron Gate" the most dangerous strait of the Danube. She is in a hurry; the upper parts of the river might get frozen, the weather threatens with storm, there is pestilence downstream, and customs officers are looking for smuggled goods. She's carrying wheat, the property of a mysterious Greek merchant travelling with his daughter. Soon it turns out that a Turkish gunboat is following suit. Mihály Timár, the boatswain of the ship, risks his life three times to save the ship and her passengers. After all the dangers are over, they embark on an island, and get food and shelter from the woman who lives there with her daughter. During the night, however, an irritating young man, Theodore Krisztyán arrives, claims to be the little girl's fiancé, blackmails the woman and disappears by the morning. The mother, Tereza, tells her story to Timár. She used to live happily with her merchant husband, until his friend, Theodore s father, escaping from bankruptcy, left him to pay his debts. The commissioner of the lost goods, Athanasy Brazovics, wanted to be recovered even for his lost huge profit, and ultimately Tereza's husband committed suicide. It was then that the woman managed to escape to this uninhabited island with the newborn Noémi. The grown-up Theodore now threatens to tell the authorities how they usurp the island, unless they give him goods they produce on the island. The blackmailer embarrasses the Greek merchant as well, who confides to Timár that he is a Turkish nobleman running away from the sultan. Knowing that Krisztyán, an infamous spy, has recognized him, he has taken poison. Timár is to bury him secretly to the river, and take her daughter, Timea, with 1000 golden crowns to their relative, Athanasy Brazovics, who is also the owner of the Saint Borbala. On her way upstream, the ship springs a hole and sinks. Timár takes the girl to Brazovics, who is unsatisfied with the 1000 crowns, and when he learns that even his ship is sunk, renders Timea a semi-servant. His own daughter, Athalie, gets jealous of the new cousin, especially that her fiancé, lieutenant Kacsuka, is only willing to marry her with a big enough dowry. She plays a dirty game and makes Timea believe the lieutenant is going to marry herself. Meanwhile Timár makes a huge profit out of selling the wheat from the ship cleverly. On the wreck he finds one sack full of jewels, which he keeps for Timea but uses some of the money for his company. From now on whatever he touches becomes gold. He learns how to deal with his competitors. Just before Athalie's wedding, he leads the greedy Brazovics into a business that would only start paying him back in 20 years. On the day Timea finds out whose marriage it is, Timár proposes to her, and the wretched girl accepts him. Yet Athalie's wedding is cancelled, because Brazovics gets a stroke learning the truth about his speculation. Soon the Brazovics household is auctioned, and it is Timár who buys up the whole. He would be happy with the revenge, but Timea insists on keeping both Athalie and her mother in their home. Timár suggests paying Kacsuka the dowry he demands, but Athalie will not marry him. The proud woman now plays the role of the humble servant, spying on the new couple. She indulges in their unhappy life, as the heart-broken Timea remains cold. Meanwhile Timár remembers the women on the island, and buys them the land for 90 years When he goes to tell them the good news himself, he immediately falls in love with the 16-year-old Noémi, and from now on, letting everybody believe he is on business, he spends a part of the year there in forbidden love, with a guilty conscience. Suddenly Krisztyán turns up and learning that he cannot blackmail the women any longer, he attempts to shoot his rival. Although Timár disarms him, he is unwilling to burden his soul any more, sends Krisztyán on business to Brazilia. But he cannot deceive his conscience; he hopes the man will die there, one way or another. He now lives in two contradictory lies: the faithful Timea has even started to deal with his business letters, still not inquiring about his absences, Noémi on the other hand gives life to their son. When the child dies in diphtheria, Timár gets depressed, but it is only at Tereza's death that he realizes, Noémi needs help. He wants a divorce. At home Athalie leads him into a secret chamber next to Timea's room, where his wife is presently expecting Kacsuka. But what a shame, the lieutenant has just fought for Timar's own honour with a dirty-mouthed stranger (Krisztyán). Timár flees to his house next to Lake Balaton, ready to kill himself, when Krisztyán, a run-away convict by this time, arrives, and blames him with all the things that burden Timár's own conscience and with some more (for instance, with killing Timea's father). He almost manages to kill the older man. They fight and Timár gains the upper hand but lets the other go once again. Ironically, the man wearing Timár's clothes falls into the half-frozen lake, the ice closes above his head, and he dies. Timár now lives happily with Noémi and their second child, and after ten years, Timea is ready to marry the faithful Kacsuka. But Athalie intervenes: she tries to kill her cousin. When Timea is unwilling to name her attacker, from an anonymous letter (written by Noémi's child) they learn about the secret chamber, where the blood-caked sword is found. Athalie is convicted, but she can still avenge herself on Timár, telling Timea that her first husband must be alive.

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