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Kóbor, Tamás

(1867–1942), writer and journalist. Tamás Kóbor was born in Pozsony (Pressburg; today Bratislava) as Adolf Bermann. His family moved to Budapest when he was three years old. The name Tamás Kóbor, which he adopted as a young artist, is a Hungarian version (translated by János Arany) of Tam o’ Shanter, Robert Burns’s famous character. Kóbor studied law and started his literary career at the journal A Hét, whose editor in chief was his brother-in-law, the poet József Kiss. Kóbor was a principal contributor to numerous other journals and newspapers, including Magyar Hírlap, Pesti Napló, Pesti Hírlap, and Az Újság. His most significant works were short stories and novels.

Kóbor was keenly aware of social injustice, and his oeuvre—both his literary works and his journal articles—is informed by his sensitivity to social issues that were surfacing in Budapest. His novels—which critics often read in the context of naturalism—include astute sociological and psychological observations. Kóbor was most concerned with the terrible poverty of the city and the existence of sharp social differences. Through the lives of many of his characters—most successfully in his novel Budapest (1901)—he depicts the appalling psychological and moral effects of poverty. In his novels and short stories, he explores the dangers (including prostitution and the disintegration of families) inherent in the desire to move up the social scale. In his partly autobiographic novel Ki a gettóból (Out of the Ghetto; 1911), Kóbor describes life in the poor Jewish district of Budapest. Here, and in the novel’s sequel, Hamupipőke őnagysága (Madame Cinderella; 1911), the special problems of Jews surface, including their connection to tradition and the seeming contradiction between tradition and upward social mobility.

As a liberal journalist, Kóbor was a man of stature in prominent Hungarian political circles at the turn of the century, during the last period of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy as well as in the so-called consolidation period of István Bethlen between the two world wars. Kóbor experienced growing antisemitism as a shock and personal tragedy. Even though the issue eventually broke him, he initially tried to fight it by writing a series of articles on the “Jewish Question” in Az Újság. The Zsidó Lexikon (Jewish Lexicon; 1929) stated that these articles were most important defenses of Jews of Hungary. His only daughter, Noémi Kóbor, a writer, was killed in the Holocaust.

Suggested Reading

“Kóbor Tamás, Budapest regényírója,” Budapesti Negyed 23 (1999), special issue devoted to Kóbor, including a study by Gábor Sánta, “A kiábrándult urbanitás poétája,” pp. 12–48; Tamás Kóbor, A tisztesség nevében (Budapest, 1898); Tamás Kóbor, A csillagok felé (Budapest, 1899); Tamás Kóbor, Az élet ára (Budapest, 1903); Tamás Kóbor, Pók Ádám hetvenhét élete (Budapest, 1923); Tamás Kóbor, Hamlet az irodában (Budapest, 1934).