István Örkény ( )

Born in Budapest, the son of a pharmacist, Örkény studied chemical engineering after leaving school and then turned to pharmacy, graduating from Budapest University in 1934. He travelled to London in 1938 and lived in Paris from casual work in 1939. In 1940, he continued his studies at Budapest Technical University, where he graduated in chemical engineering. He was sent to the front on labour service in 1942 and taken prisoner of war in 1943. On his return to Hungary in 1946, he worked as a drama editor for a theatre company. In 1954, he began working as an outside editor for the Szépirodalmi (Literary) publishing company. Although Örkény attempted to meet the requirements of the officially sanctioned Socialist Realism, his short story 'Violet Ink' was attacked by the ideologue József Révai. Örkény took part in the opposition meetings of writers. On September 17, 1956, at the general assembly of the Writers' Union where the first secret elections were held since 1948, Örkény was among the party and non-party opposition writers elected onto a new board. When the revolution broke out, he phrased a statement condemning the role hitherto played by the radio, in which the following sentence became a household word: 'We have lied by night, we have lied by day, we have lied on every wavelength.' He took part in workers' council meetings with Tibor Déry. On November 10, he and fellow writers Déry, Gyula Illyés, László Benjámin and Zoltán Zelk sought asylum at the Polish Embassy in Budapest, but they were only offered temporary refuge and left the building after a few hours. As a member and interpreter for the Writers' Union delegation, he met with K.P.S. Menon, the Indian ambassador in Budapest, whom they sought as an intermediary between Hungary and the Soviet Union. He and five associates signed an open letter of self-criticism, which appeared in September 1957, in the first issue of the literary journal Kortárs (Contemporary), covering their conduct before and during the revolution. However, he was squeezed out of the literary scene in 1957 and subjected to several publication bans. Örkény worked from 1958 to 1963 at the United Pharmaceutical and Nutriment Factory. In the second half of the 1960s, his books were allowed to appear again and his plays were performed. In 1966, his book The Princess of Jerusalem appeared, including his first cycle of 'one-minute' stories and his novella 'Cat's Play'. His absurd drama The Tót Family was a huge success in 1967.

Please send comments or suggestions.

This page was created: Wednesday, 23-Aug-2000
Last updated: Wednes, 12-Sept-2001
Copyright © 2000 The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Top of the page