Volume V, Number 1, Spring 2009

"In Memoriam Országh László edited by Lehel Vadon" – Review by András Csillag

András Csillag is professor at the Department of Modern Languages and Cultures, College of Education, University of Szeged, Hungary. E-mail:

In Memoriam Országh László.
Születésének 100. évfordulójára [On the centenary of his birth.]
Vadon Lehel (ed.)
Eger: EKF Líceum Kiadó, 2007.
390 pages.
ISBN: 978-963-9417-73-1

In 2007, to commemorate the centenary of his birth, students and scholars paid tribute to the memory and the outstanding achievements of eminent scholar and educator László Országh (1907-1984), the ‘grand old man’ of British and American Studies in Hungary. Commemorative events were held in his honor in Szombathely, his birthplace, in Debrecen, where he taught as a professor, and in Budapest, where he lived.

A most important contribution to the remembrance was the publication of the memorial volume In Memoriam Országh László by the Eszterházy Károly College in Eger. Its editor, Lehel Vadon, currently a professor at the American Studies Department in the same institution, was himself a student and later a friend of Országh’s. Professor Vadon is a distinguished scholar and bibliographer in the field of American Studies in Hungary and the author of numerous reference books, especially on American literature. Vadon was also the editor of a previous memorial volume dedicated to Országh, Emlékkönyv Országh László tiszteletére, published in 1993. Both books contain a number of essays on Országh and on topics in English and American Studies by disciples, colleagues, and friends of this great man of letters.

The 2007 centenary anthology is dominated by recollections, essays, and studies on Országh’s life and oeuvre. From the biographical sketches written by Vadon and other distinguished contributors, such as Zoltán Abádi Nagy, Zsolt Virágos and Miklós Kontra, emerges the image of an outstanding linguist, literary scholar, educator, and mentor. Országh, who held doctorates both in linguistics and literature, produced excellent works in the field of British and American Studies which are indispensable for the profession to this day.

Following World War II, Országh was soon appointed head of the English Department at the University of Debrecen. Despite the politically unfavorable climate of the Communist regime, he managed to organize a new department by recruiting talented instructors, developing a departmental library, and writing or compiling textbooks and readers while advising students on their theses and doctoral dissertations. His tenure was suspended between 1950 and 1957, when all university departments of western modern languages in this country were closed down by the hard-line, Stalinist government of that bleak period. After the 1956 revolution, he continued his work in Debrecen – among other activities – by launching Hungarian Studies in English (now Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies), the English-medium scholarly periodical of his department, and by establishing links with British and American universities and research institutes. This enabled his colleagues and students to travel there to study or to attend international conferences. In sum, until his retirement in 1969, Professor Országh managed to make his English Department a highly respected institution both in Hungary and abroad.

As a linguist, Országh’s name is best known for his modern English–Hungarian and Hungarian–English dictionaries, which have truly been best-sellers with numerous editions published and millions of copies sold throughout half a century. The Országh dictionaries have played a major role in teaching and learning English for generations of Hungarian speakers and have represented essential tools for translators and for international communication between Hungary and the English-speaking world. His monograph on English loan words in the Hungarian language, Angol eredetű elemek a magyar szókészletben (1977), is a masterpiece of lexicology. The seven-volume monolingual dictionary of the Hungarian language, A magyar nyelv értelmező szótára (1959-1962), edited by Országh, was assessed by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Letters as the greatest achievement of 20th-century Hungarian lexicography.

Országh’s contribution to British Studies and the study of Hungarian–English cultural ties was also remarkable. He wrote an impressive number of books and papers on various subjects from Shakespeare to the origins of the English novel. He said: “One of the principal subjects of my research has been the history of intellectual contacts between Great Britain and Hungary in the last 400 years.” No wonder he was awarded the prestigious honor of Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in 1979.

Professor Országh, however, was not only an authority on these subjects. He was also an advocate of American Studies in this country. In 1967, he published the first comprehensive survey in Hungarian of the history of American literature, Az amerikai irodalom története. At the same time, he outlined the most important tasks involved in promoting research in American Studies followed by the publication of Bevezetés az Amerikanisztikába (Introduction to American Studies) (1972), a pioneering handbook which contributed to a more systematic study of the discipline. Since then, Országh has generally been recognized as the founder of American Studies in Hungary. With his intellectual guidance and perspective, he had a considerable influence on scholarship in the field for many years.

The volume In Memoriam Országh László contains excellent biographical essays and recollections on Országh’s various undertakings and achievements, and it is supplemented with bibliographies of publications written both by and about this renowned scholar. They all bear witness to the fact that Országh was a linguist, a man of letters, an educator and a mentor in the finest sense, a true scholar who believed in the irrevocable nature and meaning of words.