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Ignotus, Hugó

(1869–1949), writer, poet, critic, and editor. Hugó Ignotus’s father, Leo Veigelsberg (1846–1907) was a publicist and editor in chief of the leading German-language Hungarian daily Pester Lloyd. Ignotus (he formally adopted this pseudonym) was born in Pest but spent his childhood with his maternal grandfather in the Hungarian great plains. He went to high school in Budapest and completed law studies. While still young, he joined the editorial staff of the modernist literary weekly Hét (The Week), founded by József Kiss in 1890, and worked there between 1891 and 1906. Ignotus’s first book, A slemil keservei (Complaints of the Schlemiel; 1891), a narrative poem, received a favorable review by the leading literary critic of the time, Pál Gyulai.

Ignotus was a radical bourgeois and a Mason; he mediated a Western and urban spirit and was one of the first adherents of Freudian psychoanalysis in Hungary. He strongly fought against social backwardness and what he saw as feudal–capitalist reactionary forces in Hungary, even though as a publicist he often wrote anonymous political articles for papers supporting the government. Ignotus rejected both the positivist traditions of nineteenth-century literature and criticism and the exclusiveness of the populist movement, and he supported modern Western literary schools and Hungarian progress. As a literary leader he was a proponent of the autonomy of literature, of l’art pour l’art (art for art’s sake)—art independent from politics. Ignotus attributed great significance to racial elements; he argued in favor of assimilation because it brings new elements to a recipient community and thereby transforms it.

Ignotus is best known for his activities as a journalist, critic, and organizer. In 1908, he founded Hungary’s leading literary magazine of the first half of the twentieth century, Nyugat (West), with Lajos Hatvany and Miksa Fenyő. Ignotus served as its editor in chief until 1929, when in the changed, more conservative atmosphere he was dismissed from the editorial board. He was considered one of the most influential Hungarian literary critics of that time; indeed, the critic Aladár Komlós wrote that Ignotus’s impressionistic essays, articles, short stories, critical writings and commentaries (Emma asszony levelei 1893–1906 [Letters of Mrs. Emma 1893–1906]; 1985, among many others) “demonstrate an outspokenly Hungarian character and the dynamism of the Jewish brain.” Ignotus’s collections of lyrical short stories and especially his dramatic poems expressed the feelings and attitudes of a modern urban man (especially noteworthy are Versek [Poems]; 1895 and Ignotus verseiből [From the Poetry of Ignotus]; 1918). During the counterrevolution of 1919, Ignotus fled Hungary; although he returned to Budapest, he finally lived mostly in Vienna and Berlin. His personal story illustrates the failed dream of a Hungarian–Jewish symbiosis. According to some sources, he abandoned the Jewish faith during his years abroad.

From 1924, Ignotus again regularly wrote for Világ (The World), Pester Lloyd, and occasionally other Hungarian newspapers. In 1925, he was among the first to support Attila József, the great Hungarian poet of the interwar period; in 1932, Ignotus also recognized the talent of the young Miklós Radnóti.

In 1938, Ignotus moved to the United States. He settled in New York, worked for film companies, and won one of the city’s literary awards. Though he was ill, he accepted the invitation of the Hungarian government to return to Hungary in December 1948. He received the Pro Arte Prize that year and the Baumgarten Prize in 1949.

Suggested Reading

Oszkár Gellért, “Ignotus,” in Kortársaim, pp. 176–181 (Budapest, 1954); Lajos Hatvany, Irodalmi tanulmányok, vol. 1, pp. 374–394 (Budapest, 1960); Aladár Komlós, “Ignotus,” in Ignotus válogatott írásai, pp. 5–34 (Budapest, 1969); László Németh, “Ignotus,” in A Minőség forradalma: Kisebbségben, pp. 1577–1586 (Budapest, 1999); Tamás Ungvári, The “Jewish Question” in Europe: The Case of Hungary (Boulder, Colo., 2000).



Translated from Hungarian by Veronika Szabó