Szerb, Antal

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SZERB, ANTAL (1901–1945), Hungarian author and literary scholar. Szerb, who was born in Budapest, became one of Hungary's greatest authorities on European literature. He began his career as an author by writing poetry and stories in the literary periodical Nyugat and essays on the Hungarian classics of the early 19th century designed for the educated reader. Szerb achieved his peak with his monumental work, Magyar irodalom történet ("The History of Hungarian Literature," 2 vols., 1934), which ran into 13 editions. Another important work was his A világirodalom története ("History of World Literature," 2 vols., 1941). Free from superficiality or generalization, these books developed an interesting and even exciting literary style. Szerb made a masterly attempt to integrate Hungarian writing into the mainstream of world literature. Three of his other works are Stefan George (1926), Az udvari ember ("The Courtier," 1927), and Vörösmarty tanulmányok ("Vörösmarty Studies," 1930). As a writer Szerb was a combination of the scholar-teacher and artist. His work was a fusion of meticulous accuracy and imagination, and his humor and irony, his lightness of touch, and his perspicacity make his books genuine classics. Szerb converted to Catholicism as a young man, undoubtedly under the influence of his teacher, the priest-poet Sándor Sik, himself a converted Jew. Toward the end of his life, however, according to his associates, he even became a "zealous Jew." During World War ii he rejected opportunities of self-preservation and escaping, and late in 1944 was sent to the Balf concentration camp in western Hungary, where he was murdered by guards.


Magyar Irodalmi Lexikon, 3 (1965), 222–4.

[Baruch Yaron]