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1814 born in Alvinc (now Vinþu de Jos, Romania), from an old Transylvanian baronial family
1823-1834 studies at the Protestant College, Nagyenyed (Aiud), (from 1830) reading Philosophy and Law
1834-1835 attends Parliament, befriends Miklós Wesselényi
1838-1839 becomes a government clerk in Kolozsvár (Cluj)
1839-1840 studies Medicine in Vienna; writes his first novel
1840 settles down in Kolozsvár, one of the leading politicians of the opposition
1844 befriends Ferenc Deák
1846 meets István Széchenyi in Debrecen
1847 moves to Pest, contributes to Pesti Hírlap;
1848 supports Batthyány s government; editor of Pesti Hírlap for half a year
1849 as a pacifist member of Parliament, follows the government to Debrecen, Szeged and Arad; after the surrender at Világos, stays in Nagybánya, presents himself to the military government
1850 dismissed
1855-1869 with interruptions, editor of Pesti Napló, helps to formulate the program of the Deák Party and to prepare the Compromise of 1867; contributes to the work of the Academy
1867-1873 elected President of the Kisfaludy Society
1875 dies in Pusztakamarás

A Widow and Her Daughter

After his earlier, romantic period, at the zenith of his career as a writer, Zsigmond Kemény turned increasingly to the realistic, psychological novel, his approach akin to that of Balzac, Tolsztoj and Dickens. Özvegy és leánya, whose plot he takes from János Szalárdi's Siralmas magyar krónika (A Sorrowful Hungarian Chronicle), is set in 1636. Kemény examines the connections of his heroes' character, personality and fate. The demonic widow of the novel, Mrs Tarnóczy, would sacrifice anything for her passionate obsession for pursuing ever more wealth, and her marked religious fanaticism. She aims to obtain the possessions of the Mikes family, and doing so, she ruins the life of her own daughter, Sára, who is in love with the Mikes's son. Mrs Tarnóczy's obsession, Mikes's recklessness and Sára's own misunderstanding (kidnapped, she believes that she has been captured for the sake of her lover, which turns out false) lead to the greatest tragedy, the girl's suicide. Besides the romantic plot, it is Kemény's unique portrayal of the psyche that is most gripping.


For its plot, the most dramatic work in Zsigmond Kemény's oeuvre relies on Szalárdi's Chronicle as well as the Transylvanian prince János Kemény's autobiography. In the background is the history of the Thirty Years' War, the age of György Rákóczi I, the age of religious fanaticism; the title refers to the movement of the Sabbatarians, who renounced worldly possessions, did not acknowledge the rights of the individual and offered mercy to no-one. The two central characters are unprincipled gentlemen-at-arms: István Kassai, obsessed with material wealth, and another courtier, Simon Pécsi, who, despite his love for wealth and comfort, joins the Sabbatarians - who have nothing left to lose. Dialogues and inner monologues play an important part in Kemény's world, where neither common sense nor moral standards prevail. "If the question were put to me, which classic Hungarian author should be translated, I'd name Zsigmond Kemény....I can well imagine [the] success [of these translations] because what he speaks about really concerns us today. Compared to this, the historical setting is secondary; it only makes this knowledge more exotic." -András Pályi, writer

Cruel Time

This tragic novel concluded Kemény's writing career. Here Kemény returns to György Martinuzzi's age, and creating a plot around the fall of Buda, he contrasts the poetic figure of Elemér Komjáthi and the demonic one of the clerk Barnabás. The two young men are of the same age, both are orphans in a time of war, both have been adopted by the same brothers, István and Dániel Deák, and both fall in love with Dora, one of the older brother's daughters. She chooses Elemér. Barnabás's subsequent frustration, in fact, his paranoia, is coloured by the memory of his father, a wealthy man who was accused of treason and killed, and his mother, who became deranged afterward. The two young men set out for Buda to fight against the Turks, but in an unexpected turn, Barnabás becomes a Turkish spahi in order to kill his rival. He kills Elemér; and, in the end, as he has done to Elemér, he too is beheaded. At the end of this sanguineous story the brothers break down, and Dora becomes an escort of Queen Izabella. Particularly with the portrayal of Barnabás, Kemény undertook a significant experiment in the exploration of the subconscious.

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