The Life of Mór Jókai

The extensive oeuvre of the great romanticist Mór Jókai evokes the past of the Hungarian nation and guides his readers on the road that led to forming the bases of a new political system in Hungary.

The Hungarian novelist was born 195 years ago.

Mór Jókai was born into a noble family in Komárom, Northwestern Hungary on 18 February, 1825. At birth he was registered as Móric Jókay but during the Hungarian revolution of 1848 he changed the “y” in his last name into to an “i” to formally refuse the positive discrimination the noblemen were endowed with. In his biographical work (1907), the great Hungarian storyteller Kálmán Mikszáth described the young Jókai as a shy and lonely but happy child whose imagination knew no bounds. He studied German in Bratislava, went to the Reformed College of Pápa where he met the late Hungarian poet and revolutionist Sándor Petőfi, and got a degree in law after two years of training in Kecskemét.

Funzine Favourite Quote

The smallest lie is a greater sin than the greatest crime honestly confessed.” (Pretty Michal, 1877)

However, he never practiced law as he was able to make a living with his literary works from the age of 21: his very first novel titled Weekdays (1846) brought him success. The following years revolved around his friendship with Petőfi and their preparations for the revolution. By 1848 they became the leaders of the young revolutionists. However, in September of the same year the differences between their political views damaged their relationship. Although both Jókai and Petőfi viewed the reformation of the old feudal system as something crucial for the prosperous future of Hungary, Petőfi was uncompromising whereas Jókai was open to negotiations. After the defeat in 1849, both of them were forced to live in exile. While hiding in a small village in the Bükk Mountains, Jókai published his writings in different journals under the pen-name János Kovács and reflected credit on the glorious events and people of the revolution.

The main works of Mór Jókai

  • The Corsair King (1957)
  • The Baron’s Sons (1869)
  • The Dark Diamonds (1870)
  • The Man with the Golden Touch (1872)
  • Pretty Michal (1877)
  • Eyes Like the Sea (1890)

A few years later his procession as the key figure of Romanticism in Hungary began. He became the advocate of hope in the oppressive times of the late 19th century. Jókai wrote ceaselessly with natural ease in a very smooth style, using his inexhaustible imagination. The characters and places are vividly described in his novels that focus on benignity. As he refused to accept inhumanity in its all forms, his inhumane characters are the symbol of everything evil and sinful whereas the benign but fallible protagonists are preachers of virtues. Additionally, Jókai managed to evoke the Hungarian history in a way that even today’s readers feel personally attached to long gone centuries that led from the Enlightenment through the revolution of 1848 to a civic Hungary. He wrote his greatest novels after the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867: in The Baron’s Sons (1869) Jókai paid tribute to the war of independence, whereas The Dark Diamonds (1870) records the bourgeois society in Hungary. However, the most prominent of all his works is The Man with the Golden Touch (1872) that follows Timár, a decent middle class man who searches for happiness just to lose faith in society.

Towards the end of his life, Jókai’s optimism was complete with a slight doubt towards the social development of the period, which cleared his vision: the great romanticist novelist was more realistic in the 1870s than ever before. Even though he became more clear-sighted, he remained a cheerful and philanthropic man who never ceased to believe in humanity, the beauty of life and justice.