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Ferenc MOLNÁR
( 1878 - 1952 )

» The Hungry City (1901)
» The Devil (1907)
» Liliom (1909)
» The Boys of the Pál Street (1909)

Biography

1878 born in Budapest
1887-95 studies in Law in Budapest and Geneva
1902 first play staged
1908 The Devil a great success on the stages of Europe
1914-15 war correspondent on the front
1927 receives the French Honorary Order; President Coolidge receives him in the White House
1934-36 travels within Europe
1940 moves into the Plaza Hotel in New York where he lives until his death
1952 dies in New York City

The Hungry City
1901

Az éhes város (1901, The Hungry City) Molnár was only twenty-two years old when his first novel was published and was met with tumultuous acclaim. The protagonist of the roman à clef is a typical member of the Hungarian petit bourgeois, Pál Orsovai, whose sole goal is to be admitted into the higher social circles of Budapest. In order to cure his case of consumption, he travels to the Adriatic Sea where he becomes acquainted with an American girl, marries her and receives a fortune as a dowry. He returns to Budapest, where he is immediately celebrated. Parallel to Orsovai s fate is that of a poor Italian dock worker, who is not celebrated by anyone; he is even put into prison where he in fact dies of starvation. Orsovai does not fare better, however, as his wife realizes that she is just being used and divorces him. Pál s true love, Anna, however, is married and does not return his love. Orsovai commits suicide, and his body is carried to the same mortuary where the dock worker s body lies. The novel is somewhat sketchy, but compensates by its superb description of the age and characters and its elegant style.

The Devil
1907

Az ördög (1907, The Devil) The play, which was Molnár s first real international success, is the stereotypical portrayal of the female as a seductress, their cunning and unpredictable womanliness, the victims of which are the weak males. The two main characters - who in the past had been in love with one another - are Jolán, a jealous banker s wife, and János, a young painter. One day, the banker unsuspectingly takes his wife to the artist so that a painting may be made of her scantily dressed. While she is hesitating to undress, the devil appears in the form of Dr. Kovács, a cynical Mephisto, who from that moment on does everything in his power to lead the woman into adultery; he separates the painter from his fiancée and convinces Jolán to send János a love letter. In the end, the triumphs and Jolán caves in. Written with an Oscar Wilde-like elegance, it does not shrink from proclaiming that there s only one real woman: another man s wife.

Liliom
1909

Liliom (1909, Liliom) Molnár s most well-known and most frequently performed play first appeared as a short story. Although its first stage performance was unsuccessful, it later enjoyed tumultuous acclaim and after its Viennese premiere in 1913, it became world famous. The legend of the suburban thug, Endre Závoczski, otherwise known as Liliom, is presented as a story of slums on the outskirts of Budapest and is truly Molnár s most strongly autobiographical work, in which he elaborates on the story of his marriage to Margit Vészi. Psychologists contend that the protagonist s sadistic-masochistic brutality is the consequence of Molnár s own insecurity. The story is simple: Liliom marries a maid, Juli, and as a result loses his job. He is unwilling to work and whiles away his time by playing cards and ranting and raving at home. In his rage, he often hurts his wife. When he receives the news of her pregnancy, he decides to commit a robbery in order to obtain money. But even before the crime, he plays away his cut of the money. The robbery backfires and rather than be caught by the police, Liliom stabs himself in the heart with his own knife. In the throes of death, he begs his wife for forgiveness The play does not, however, end here; Liliom ends up in heaven, where he is promised that he may return to the earth in 15 years and redeem himself. He appears as a beggar and wants to give his 16-year-old daughter a gift, but she refuses. In a fit of anger, he slaps the girl s hand, forfeiting his chance of redemption. His wife, however, had long since forgiven him. The play is in essence a drama about a person who would have deserved a better fate and his inability to adapt.

The Boys of the Pál Street
1909

The Boys of Pál Street (A Pál utcai fiúk) (1907) The “ground”, the vacant lot between two tenements, stands for freedom for the turn-of-the-century teenagers, and more than that: for the infinite and the imagination. The stronger boys, the Red-Shirts, having their headquarters in the Botanical Garden, lay claim to the possession of the boys of Pál Street, so as to gain more space for their ball games. In the few-day-long story of the novel, one can follow the preparation for and the process of this exciting battle. But it is about more: if unaware of it, the boys learn the roles of life, in this novel written with a sense of humour and empathy, moral issues are decided upon, like courage, honesty, tact or humanity; and moreover, the fight demands a victim. As if it were not enough that the stronger rival gang wants territory, one of the Pál Street boys, Geréb, becomes a traitor. On the other hand, the only “ranker” of the troop, the smallest one, Ernő Nemecsek, bravely enters the enemy’s grounds, defending the honour of the Pál Streeters. Since he is alone and is “so small that he can’t be beaten up”, the leader of the Botanic Garden troop finds him a lighter punishment for eavesdropping on their conference, so they make him swim in his clothes. Unfortunately it has been the third time for Nemecsek, who had been in the Garden the day before with two friends (that time in complete secret), and first by chance, the second time when seeking a hiding place, he had ended in the water. The small boy catches cold and goes down with pneumonia, and later when he flees from his bed to fight for the “ground,” he sacrifices his life for freedom. This way he never learns that on the place of the ground that was so hard to defend, the building contractor has planned to raise a new building. School plays a smaller part in the novel, it is the boys’ own laws, habits and associations that are more crucial. The children from Pál Street have an “association” with strict laws, where they vote, elect their president, expel, reprimand or honour their members, just like in adult society. Molnár treats this in lighter, farsical scenes. He portrays the boys with great psychological credibility, all are distinct characters. János Boka for instance is not only a clever strategist but has deep responsibilities, and Feri Áts, the leader of the Botanic Garden gang, is an equally deserving enemy, if his troop has some violent and crooked members. In Hungary, generations have grown up reading Ferenc Molnár’s juvenile novel, which has been translated to several languages. In 1969, arranged by Zoltán Fábri and Bohem Endre and directed by Zoltán Fábri, The Boys of Paul Street was adapted to a successful film, and in 2005, in the Big Book Contest, it proved to be the country’s second most popular novel.

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