The history of the Section of Literary Theory

The Section of Literary History was formed in November 1962 around the Literary Theory Group established in 1959, from the members of the world literature section. It was headed by Lajos Nyírő (1921–2014) until 1985, by József Szili until 1999, András Veres from 2000, Péter Hajdu from 2015, and Zoltán Varga from 2019. The section has always aimed to support catching up to the standards of international literary theory. Pluralism governs both its scientific orientation and theoretical debates, and so the section has served as a workshop for different schools of thought.

The first major step in this mediating work was the volume Irodalomtudomány. Tanulmányok a XX. századi irodalomtudomány irányzatairól (Literary Science. Studies on the Trends of 20th-century Literary Science) (1970, ed. Lajos Nyírő). The volume A marxista irodalomelmélet története. A kezdetektől 1945-ig (The History of Marxist Literary Theory. From the Beginnings to 1945) (1981, eds. Lajos Nyírő and András Veres) was prepared to similarly high standards, examining its subject with exemplary ideology criticism, while the collection of studies Az irodalomtörténet elmélete (The Theory of Literary History) (1989, ed. József Szili) questioned the chances of a state-of-the-art interpretation of historicity.

Beside the followers of the Russian school of formalism and the American New Criticism, the section has also given space to the followers of phenomenological, structuralist, and semiotic approaches, as well as the first Hungarian interpreters of the hermeneutical-reception aesthetic and the empiricist-constructivist position. The members of the section introduced the Hungarian public to Russian, Polish, and Czech structuralism, and they translated the foundational works of Nicolai Hartmann, R. Ingarden, H-G. Gadamer, Péter Szondi (Gábor Bonyhai), R. Wellek, A. Warren, Northrop Frye (József Szili), and H. Markiewicz (Endre Bojtár). Elemér Hankiss (1928-2015) was also a member of the section when he edited the two-volume collection of studies Strukturalizmus (Structuralism) (1971), and he also became an influential representative of structuralism through his own writing (A népdaltól az abszurd drámáig (From the Folk Song to the Absurd Drama), 1969).

Public opinion was persuaded of the importance of learning about literary theory by a series of literary analyses: the two proceedings edited by Elemér Hankiss (Formateremtő elvek a költői alkotásban (Principles That Produce Form in Poetic Creation), 1971, A novellaelemzés új módszerei (The New Methods of Short Story Analysis), 1971), as well as Ismétlődés a művészetben (Repetition in Art) (1980, eds. Iván Horváth and András Veres). Gábor Bonyhai had a significant impact on the development of the methodology of literary interpretation, and this methodological innovation was also taken up in high-school education: the authors of the reform textbooks published between 1979 and 1982 also included members of the section (Endre Bojtár, András Veres).

The work Strukturalizmus után: érték, vers, hatás, történet, nyelv az irodalomelméletben (After Structuralism: Value, Poem, Effect, Story and Language in Literary Theory) (ed. József Szili) was completed at the end of the 1980s, introducing the poststructuralist issues of literary theory. György Kálmán C. introduced speech act theory in the first decade after the change of regime, and he also studied translation theory and the issue of canons, while Ferenc Odorics established the empiricist-constructivist approach in Hungary. Gábor Bezeczky conducted pioneering work in the fields of metaphor, narration, and sociolinguistics, and he analyzed the work of Ernő Kulcsár Szabó in a book-length review (Irodalomtörténet a senki földjén (Literary history in no man’s land), 2008). László Varga achieved significant results in modern drama theory, while István Gránicz did the same in linguistic poetics, Péter Hajdu in the analysis of ancient art and the Hungarian literary history of the late nineteenth century, Éva Jeney in bibliotherapy, and Zoltán Z. Varga in the analysis of autobiography as a genre.

From the mid-1990s the problems of interpreting communities and the dialogical relationship have been foregrounded. Between 2001 and 2004 the Section of Literary Theory was the centre of the Széchenyi project A nemzeti irodalomtörténet-írás módszertani hagyományai és mai lehetőségei (The Methodological Traditions and Present-Day Possibilities of National Literary History Writing) (supervisor: András Veres), which united the work of three universities (Pécs, Szeged, and Miskolc) and the Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Members of the section also worked on the new Hungarian literary history edited by Mihály Szegedy-Maszák (A magyar irodalom történetei (The Histories of Hungarian Literature), 2007).

The book series Opus was edited by Gábor Bonyhai and housed in the Section of Literary Theory. A new sequence of Opus was launched in 2000, with György Kálmán C. and András Veres as editors. All members of the section are involved in the editing of the periodicals of the Institute. Péter Hajdu and Zoltán Z. Varga were editors of Neohelicon, László Varga was the editor-in-chief of Helikon, András Veres editor-in-chief of Literatura, while Éva Jeney was co-editor of the Institute’s review periodical called reciti. Gábor Bezeczky, György Kálmán C., and Dávid Szolláth also participate in the editing of Literatura.

In the past decade the section has also been an important workshop for critical editions and source editions.  Péter Hajdu is series editor of the critical edition of Mikszáth, András Veres that of Kosztolányi, and Gábor Bezeczky series editor of the new source edition of Krúdy’s works. Éva Jeney’s work included the critical source edition of Aladár Kuncz’s book Fekete kolostor (Black monastery); András Veres participated in the critical edition of Attila József’s discoursive prose, and Dávid Szolláth in the publication of the smaller works of Miklós Mészöly.



Research projects

1. Research projects in narratology

Systematic research in narratology has been conducted in the section since 2016. The section continuously conducts intensive research in specific narratological subfields. We publish the results in the thematic sections of periodicals (”Irodalomelmélet, narratológia, szövegértelmezés (Literary theory, narratology, text interpretation)”: Literatura 2016/1-2 and 3; “Narratológiák (Narratologies)”: Literatura 2017/3; “When Narratology Does Not Travel Well”, Neohelicon 2018/2). In 2017 we organized a conference on the potential for a narratological approach to description. Some of the presentations were published as a thematic section in Literatura, while several presentations were published in a thematic compilation in an English-language literary studies journal (Primerjalna književnost). The topic of the 2019 conference is introduction, the beginning of narration in terms of the complete narrative. An English-language selection will be made from the presentations (Frontiers of Narrative Studies). For January 2020 we are planning a conference on narrated space.

2. Research on comparatistics

The section has been participating in comparative research for decades. This topic includes the conferences hosted together with international participants, which have not only addressed purely theoretical issues but also specific issues of comparative literary history. The activities of the section have been boosted by the OTKA K 112415 program (September 2014 – August 2018, supervisor: György Kálmán C.) (Members of the Literary Theory Section participating in the OTKA project: Péter Hajdu, Éva Jeney, Zoltán Z. Varga). A fortunate link to research in comparative studies is the participation of two members of the section in editing the international, multilingual comparative literary studies periodical Neohelicon and leading the Comparative Section of Magyar Irodalomtörténeti Társaság (Hungarian Literary History Association) (Zoltán Z. Varga, Péter Hajdu).

3. Monitoring current trends in literary theory

A task of the section is to continuously monitor the theoretical advancements in European and American literary studies in order to disseminate and practice it in Hungary. Its research area includes all the issues pertaining to the definition of literature, its characteristics, types, modes of being, historicity, methods of interpretation, and social embeddedness. Between 2018 and 2020 the section is paying special attention to the following areas in poetics.

3.1. Ecocriticism Ecocriticism has become a lively and intense discipline, and it obviously also has significance for literary theory, primarily in the ethical dimension. Ecocriticism is not unknown in Hungary, a 2007 issue of Helikon also introduced it, and it has some practitioners, although there might be demand for more active scientific activity in ecocriticism. Monitoring the field and participating in an international ecocriticism conference is Péter Hajdu’s task.

3.2. Autobiography, biography, narratives of trauma, bibliotherapy Beside the narrato-poetic examination of autobiographies, diaries, and memoirs, as well as testimonies written based on historical and personal trauma, in the last few decades the interdisciplinary use of the social and cultural experiences revealed based on these works and genres has also become important. The members of the section have always actively participated in the theoretical and critical reception of this field (Zoltán Z. Varga – autobiography research, Éva Jeney – bibliotherapy). The section participates in monitoring and following the current international trends of this research area, applying it to Hungarian literary history material, the poetic analysis of the poetic interference of factual and referential modes of speech, the description of novel literary forms of autofiction and biofiction, and the analysis of the linguistic and literary depiction of historical and other trauma. To this end, we are planning to participate in Hungarian and international conferences and publish surveys, reviews, and studies on the topic.

3.3. Literary studies and linguistics The relationship between literary studies and linguistics has been the object of study for literary theory at least since the 1960s, its prominence fluctuating depending on the intensity of the relationship. Within the section Gábor Bezeczky and György Kálmán C. are focusing on this topic.

4. Publication of oeuvres and critical research projects by members of the section

The publication of Kálmán Mikszáth’s works

The institute hosted the research project Mikszáth kései kisprózája (Mikszáth’s late prose writing) funded by an OTKA grant between 2007 and 2012 (supervisor: Péter Hajdu), in which work was conducted on the critical edition of the post-1888 short stories (still continuing today). Work on the online critical edition of his post-1887 journalism has also made significant progress.

Collected works of Gyula Krúdy

The first volume of the series, edited by Gábor Bezeczky and László Kelecsényi, was published by Kalligram Kiadó in 1995. The aim of the series is to publish the complete oeuvre. Before the start of the series, roughly half of the short narrative works of Gyula Krúdy had been published, the rest were only available on microfilm. The series is now at volume 25. The publication of the novels is coming to a close, while the publication of the short stories is up to 1902, the end of Krúdy’s first creative decade.

Critical edition of Dezső Kosztolányi’s Complete works

Literary studies have long failed to create a scientifically annotated critical edition of Dezső Kosztolányi’s works that aims for the most complete textual integrity possible. Within the Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the research group led by András Veres has participated in this work, financed by and OTKA grant. The critical editions of Édes Anna (Anna Édes), az Esti Kornél (Kornél Esti), A szegény kisgyermek panaszai (Laments of a poor child) have been published with Kalligram Kiadó during the research project, as well as the first volume of the critical edition of Kosztolányi’s correspondence (1902–1907). 


Special Projects

Research on comparatistics in Eastern Europe: regionalism, intertextuality, historical experience

OTKA K 112415 (September 2014 – August 2018), lead researcher: György Kálmán C. Members of the Section of Literary Theory involved in the project: Péter Hajdu, Éva Jeney, Zoltán Z. Varga.

The aim of the research is to involve Hungarian experts in research on comparative literary studies and to develop a special, Eastern and Central European perspective. Central categories include: regionalism (the regional connection of literatures, their influence on each other, their differences and conflicts); intertextuality (the references, citations, and kinship of the texts); and historical experience (dealing with a shared past and present in literature). The group organizes and attends conferences, and it discusses and publishes studies in thematic journal issues and books.



  • The thematic issue “Komparatisztika-kutatások az ezredfordulón (Research in comparative studies at the millennium)” was published: Helikon, 60, vol. 4. (eds. Hites and Z. Varga).
  • We organized the conference of the Hungarian National Committee of the International Comparative Literature Association (Szeged, 8-9 December, 2014) called “A szinguláris (The singular)”; a round table discussion about the work of György Mihály Vajda was held in the same place.
  • The research group participated in the English-language conference organized by the ICLA Research Committee for Literary Theory in Pécs (“The Realities of Fiction – Fictions of Reality”, 21-23 May, 2015).
  • In 2015 Zoltán Varga Z. participated in the “Dialogic Dimension in Narrating Lives and Life Writing” conference of IABA (International Auto/Biographic Association) Europe, organized in Funchal, Portugal between 26-31 May, 2015.
  • Péter Hajdu participated in the meeting of the ICLA (International Comparative Literature Association) Executive Council in Lisbon, and the conference Fear in/of Literature, where he also delivered a presentation (27 June, 2015-3 July, 2015).


  • In 2015 and 2016 conferences were at the centre of the research group’s work (Veszprém, Vienna).
  • The materials of the 2014 conference in Szeged can be accessed through the “et al” web portal http://etal.hu/elokeszuletben/, edited by György Kálmán C.
  • Dorottya Szávai and Zoltán Varga Z. organized the “Műfaj és komparatisztika – a műfajfogalom esélyei és kihívásai az ezredfordulón (Genre and comparative studies - chances and challenges of the genre concept at the millennium)” conference of the Hungarian National Committee of AILC at the Pannon University in Veszprém, between 13-14 November, 2015. Péter Hajdu, Éva Jeney, and György Kálmán C. were presenters.
  • ICLA/AILC (International Comparative Literature Association) held its 21st world congress in Vienna between 21-27 July, 2016. Péter Hajdu, Zoltán Varga Z., and György Kálmán C. were presenters. Especially successful was the section organized by György Kálmán C., which examined the unique characteristics of Central-Eastern European comparative studies.


  • In 2016-2017 the conference organized together with Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra was of importance, held in September 2016, which hosted 45 presentations in 11 sections. Participants came from universities in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Romania, and Italy.
  • The “Műfaj és komparatisztika (Genre and comparative studies)” thematic issue of Helikon, a selection of the presentations held at the Veszprém conference, including studies by Péter Hajdu, Éva Jeney, György Kálmán C., and Zoltán Varga Z.
  • The texts of the 2016 AILC conference in Vienna were published in Hungarian Cultural Studies, with an introduction by Zoltán Varga Z. and György Kálmán C.
  • Presentations at the narratology conference of the Institute for Literary Studies of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Bohumil Fořt – Masarykova Univerzita, Brno – Krisztián Benyovszky – Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra).

Selected publications of the research group



Opus Irodalomelméleti Tanulmányok (Opus Studies on Literary Theory)

The first volumes of the Opus series were published between 1977 and 1990. The editor-in-chief of the series was Gábor Bonyhai, and its editors were István Hermann and István Szerdahelyi. The books were published by Akadémiai Kiadó.

During this time three important collections were published: A strukturalizmus-vita (The Structuralism Debate) (1-2, 1977), Ismétlődés a művészetben (Repetition in Art) (1980), and Az irodalomtörténet elmélete (The Theory of Literary History) (1-2, 1989).

The aim of the series was, on the one hand, to provide regular and reliable publication opportunities for the most important recent work in literary theory; on the other hand, it wanted to publish the most interesting debates, conferences, and discussions in a format accessible to many people. During the first 13 years a total of 12 books were published, including the influential works of Ferenc Takács, Endre Bojtár, and Sándor Radnóti. In an unpredictable and hectic publishing industry the series was a reliable, although limited venue for theoretical works.

After the change of regime, the series was cut due to the transformation of Akadémiai Kiadó. However, ten years later, in 2000, Opus was re-launched at Balassi Kiadó, edited by András Veres and György Kálmán C. The aim of the series was roughly the same as before. The first piece of the new series contained the collected works of the late Gábor Bonyhai.

Since then, one collection has been published (Az értelmező közösségek elmélete (The Theory of the Interpreting Communities), 2001), and several members of the Section of Literary Theory have published their work in this series. The young generation also often chooses this series to publish their work.

Authors: Zsolt Bagi, Balázs Görföl, István Gránicz, Péter Hajdu, Györgyi Horváth, Iván Horváth, György Kálmán C., András Kappanyos, József Szili, Dávid Szolláth, László Varga, András Veres, Zoltán Z. Varga.

The series Pont fordítva (The other way around)

The Pont fordítva series came about as a result of the research conducted in the Fordítás, közvetíthetőség és kulturális identitás (Translation, communicability, and cultural identity) (NKFP 5/041/04, 2004–2008) grant, supervised by Zsigmond Ritoók.

The series was launched by Éva Jeney, member of the Section of Literary Theory at the Research Center for the Humanities of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Ildikó Józan, researcher at the Department of Comparative Literary Studies of Eötvös Loránd University, in 2005. From the members of the Section of Literary Theory, Péter Hajdu also participated in the work on the series, both as an editor and as an author.

The aim of the series is to present issues of translation from a theoretical and a historical point of view. The series editors have published several collections of articles, which map the Hungarian translation history of ancient texts, with special emphasis on the social-functional determinedness of tradition, as well as the power dynamic mirrored in the translations. The research projects summarized in the publications cover the important literary history issue of what causes influenced the interruption of the history of translation, which “deleted” the previous discourse on translation theory with the translators of the West. Anthologies publishing texts on translation theory present the Hungarian and international theoretical context of the different translations. The volumes contain case studies that provide an overview of Hungarian literature’s chances of translatability into foreign languages, while the volume of interviews with contemporary translators examines issues of the Hungarian reception of foreign literatures.

The authors and editors of the series include Gábor Bezeczky, Attila Ferenczi, Péter Hajdu, Éva Jeney, Ildikó Józan, and Anikó Polgár.