Rewriting history


  • Zoltán Varga Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest; University of Pécs, Pécs



Diary, writing memoir, modern Hungarian literature, World War 2


The paper tries to analyse how the irruption of history was transformed into an artistic and intellectual challenge in the autobiographical works of Sándor Márai. Márai who started to keep his diary in 1943 inspired by his readings of the diaries of André Gide sought to construct an authentic space of presence, safe from historical time and from the discourses of public opinion, in order to devote himself to researching the singularity of his existence and his “lived time”. But the programme of his diary was progressively changed: although Márai had started recording his daily observations and reflections with a similar detachment from public affairs as Gide, during the course of the war, his diary became more and more determined by public discourses. The Hungarian writer shifted his perspective from the individual to the collective, the aphoristic discourse giving way to passionate accusations. His reflection, which earlier belonged to the order of cognition, turned later into the order of ethic, in a mixture of moral reflection, political commitment, expression, and performative verbal action. But the overshadowing of the aesthetic experience of the world during the chaotic years of his intellectual and artistic confusion also had its dangers, namely the incursion of semi-public political and ideological discourses in Márai’s wartime diaries. In the reformulation of his wartime experiences thirty years later – in the Memoir of Hungary – Márai succeeded in finding a new artistic form to represent his past. The complexity of narrative structures and temporal composition, the dramatic and metaphorical correlation of the changing social, national and psychological components of identity represented in the Memoir of Hungary creates a particular literary (aesthetic) effect, which in turn intensifies our reading experience and encourages the reader to go beyond the ideological constructions of official historical writing.

Author Biography

Zoltán Varga, Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest; University of Pécs, Pécs

Zoltán Z. Varga (1970) is senior researcher of the Department of Literary Theory, and lecturer at the Department of Modern Literary History and Theory of Literature at the University of Pécs, Pécs. Hungary. He wrote his Ph. D. thesis about problems of the autobiographical fragments in modern Hungarian literature. He published several papers in Hungarian and in French about historical and theoretical questions of autobiography. E-mail: