Literature and Culture

Gábor Vaderna

Women’s Poetry in the Middle of the 19th Century

In 1863 János Arany published a short article in Koszorú, the periodical he was editor of. He presents a German book of poetry and, includes a poem in translation. The author is a certain Johanna, and the title is simply Frauenleben (Women’s Life). What was the reason for his interest in this book? Why did he decide to devote a complete article to the poetry of an unknown German woman who wrote about the minutia of bringing up children? The answer is in Arany’s periodical itself. In the three volumes published one will find a surprisingly great number of texts about women’s literature. There are writings of women writers, poems by Janka Wohl, Hajnalka, Dalma, Flóra, short stories of Júlia Jósika, and literary texts about women as well (like What are women like? by Mór Jókai and Women in Front of the Mirror by Pál Gyulai), and essays (like the famous About Women, Especially from an Aesthetic Point of View written by Imre Madách, not long before his death). In this period women’s poetry expanded significantly. The most notable enemy of the new generation of women in literature was a friend of Arany, Pál Gyulai. At the end of the 1850s he published a series of reviews in Pesti Napló that initiated a dispute known as the „woman writer debate”. Arany’s periodicals joined in the debate. Arany himself wrote a long review about a woman poet (Malvina), and occasionally he commented on the topic in editorial notes. By strict editorial control he wanted to put an end to a certain branch of women’s poetry prevalent in contemporary publications and to select from among pieces of women’s literature using quality standards. This research is to find out by what social and aesthetic criteria women’s poetry was assessed in the second half of the 19th century.

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