Mary Gluck’s The Invisible Jewish Budapest: Metropolitan Culture at the Fin de Siècle, which discusses the intellectual and ideological history of “Jewish Budapest” in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is not a monograph, but rather a collection of essays. The common element found in the six chapters, which constitute distinctive/separate studies, is the image of an emerging Jewish cultural and even political presence in what was then a swiftly growing and modernizing Central European metropolis. Gluck focuses on the special contribution made by Budapest Jewry in molding a modern city from the Hungarian capital. This seems to have been a central problem for some contemporaries, as indicated by the term “Judapest” (coined by the Viennese mayor Karl Lueger in the 1890s) then applied to the city (3). To what extent and in what sense can this past image of Budapest be evidenced from a historical perspective? Gluck, who has already dealt with the intellectual history of Budapest in her first book, on György Lukács and his circle (Georg Lukács and His Generation, 1900–1918 ), and has expertise in the history of the modern urban culture of fin-de-siècle Paris, holds that Budapest’s and Central European modernity was “closely associated with” a special sort of Jewish experience (3). The thesis concerned has been shared by some other scholars (William O. McCagg, Steven Beller, and Viktor Karády), mainly American, but it has also been disputed by some others (Péter Hanák, György Kövér, and Gábor Gyáni). The argument advanced in the book is based on the detailed description of contemporary modern man, exemplified by flânerie, or an urban modernity manifesting itself through production and consumption of both mass media (the popular press) and urban mass culture (the music hall, the Orpheum). Gluck assumes that both flânerie and urban mass culture have a strong and obvious connection to the freshly acculturated and assimilated Jewish constituency of the city. How was it possible that Jews could have successfully become one of the most basic modernizing forces in fin-de-siècle Budapest? The answer that may or has to be given to this question is lacking in this book. It could only be provided with the aid of a social-historical analysis both of Budapest’s Jewish population and of the entire urban society, which, however, is missing from Gluck’s approach. The thesis according to which Jews were indispensable for giving a modern spiritual and cultural profile to the metropolis relates in this book only to the realm of popular culture. One can add that the cultural modernism that appeared some time later, at the outset of the twentieth century—as Péter Hanák has already and plausibly demonstrated in his book on the cultural history of fin-de-siècle Budapest and Vienna (The Garden and the Workshop: Essays on the Cultural History of Vienna and Budapest )—was initiated or practiced mainly by a group of intellectuals who were not of a Jewish origin. The last topic discussed by Gluck pertains to Jewish bourgeois identity, which according to her allegedly corresponded at that time to bourgeois identity per se in Hungary. That is not less a hotly debated issue nowadays. So it is a pity that Gluck neglects to reflect the more recent historical research and debates going on in today’s Hungary in connection with this problem. This follows in part from Gluck’s very formal and sporadic accounting for Hungarian historical discourse in the field, despite her probable familiarity with all of it. The thesis advanced on the alleged fall and disappearance of a political and spiritual liberalism holding sway in Hungary until at least the 1880s is also an important contribution to the present-day historical discourse. Gluck tends to explain this fall with the traumatic event of the Tiszaeszlár blood libel, which led to the culmination of a quickly emerging antisemitism in Hungary. This, however, is an exaggeration, as the antisemitic mass movements engendered by Tiszaeszlár did not at that time put an end to the political or ideological dominance of Hungarian liberalism. They actually meant a great challenge to the then-ruling liberal influence, but did not result in an anti-liberal shift similar to the one that had happened a decade before in the Cisleithanian part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The main merit of the book lies in Gluck’s highly sophisticated analyses of a truly complicated Jewish, Jewish-Hungarian (Jewish-Magyar) identity construct of the day. The examples showing the birth and precise character of a new metropolitan personality were taken from either economic and political life (represented by Mór Wahrmann, the wealthy Jewish banker and public figure), journalism (Adolf Ágai), the arts (Endre Nagy), or (popular) culture (Károly Somossy). Illustrated with a great number of photographs exemplifying the visual representation of fin-de-siècle Budapest, the book provides deep insight into how a city in Central Europe was able to capitalize on the rich capacities concealed in its complex socioethnic makeup, within which acculturated middle-class Jews had a predominant and innovative role throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press.
The American Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 1, 2018
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