He was born in Komárom, in the Kingdom of Hungary (present-day Komárno in Slovakia). His father, József, was a member of the Ásva branch of the ancient Jókay family; his mother was a scion of the noble Pulays. The lad was timid and delicate, and therefore educated at home till his tenth year, when he was sent to Pozsony (today: Bratislava in Slovakia), subsequently completing his education at the Calvinist college at Pápa, where he first met Sándor Petőfi, Sándor Kozma, and several other young men who subsequently became famous.
After his father's death when Jókai was 12, his family had meant him to follow the law, his father's profession, and accordingly the youth, always singularly assiduous, plodded conscientiously through the usual curriculum at Kecskemét and Pest (part of what is now Budapest), and as a full-blown advocate succeeded in winning his first case.
The drudgery of a lawyer's office was uncongenial to the ardently poetical youth, and, encouraged by the encomiums pronounced by the Hungarian Academy upon his first play, Zsidó fiú (The Jewish Boy), he flitted, when barely twenty, to Pest in 1845 with an MS. romance in his pocket; he was introduced by Petőfi to the literary notabilities of the Hungarian capital, and the same year his first notable romance Hétköznapok (Working Days), appeared, first in the columns of the Pesti Divatlap, and subsequently, in 1846, in book form. Hétköznapok, despite its manifest crudities and extravagances, was instantly recognized by all the leading critics as a work of original genius, and in the following year Jókai was appointed the editor of Életképek, the leading Hungarian literary journal, and gathered round him all the rising talent of the country.
He married the great tragic actress, Róza Benke Laborfalvi, on 29 August 1848. On the outbreak of the revolution of 1848, the young editor enthusiastically adopted the national cause, and served it with both pen and sword. Now, as ever, he was a moderate Liberal, setting his face steadily against all excesses; but, carried away by the Hungarian triumphs of April and May 1849, he supported Kossuth's fatal blunder of deposing the Habsburg dynasty. He was present at the surrender at Világos (now Şiria, Romania) in August, 1849. He intended to commit suicide to avoid imprisonment, but was spared by the arrival of his wife, with whom he made a difficult journey on foot through Russian lines to Pest.
Jókai lived for the next fourteen years the life of a political suspect. Yet this was perhaps the most glorious period of his existence, for during it he devoted himself to the rehabilitation of the proscribed and humiliated Magyar language, composing in it no fewer than thirty great romances, besides innumerable volumes of tales, essays, criticism and faceti. This was the period of such masterpieces as Erdély aranykora (The Golden Age of Transylvania), with its sequel Török világ Magyarországon (The Turks in Hungary), Egy magyar nábob (A Hungarian Nabob), with its sequel Kárpáthy Zoltán, Janicsárok végnapjai (The Last Days of the Janissaries), Szomorú napok (Sad Days).
On the re-establishment of the Hungarian constitution by the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, Jókai took an active part in politics. As a constant supporter of the Tisza administration, not only in parliament, where he sat continuously for more than twenty years, but also as the editor of the government organ, Hon, founded by him in 1863, he became a power in the state, and, though he never took office himself, frequently extricated the government from difficult places. In 1897 the king appointed him a member of the upper house. In 1899 he created a country-wide scandal by contracting a marriage with Bella Nagy, a young actress.
Jókai was extremely prolific. It was to literature that he continued to devote most of his time, and his productiveness after 1870 was stupendous, amounting to some hundreds of volumes. Stranger still, none of this work is slipshod, and the best of it deserves to endure. Amongst the finest of his later works may be mentioned the unique and incomparable Az arany ember (A Man of Gold, translated into English, among others, under the title The Man with the Golden Touch), the most popular A kőszívű ember fiai (The Heartless Man's Sons), the heroic chronicle of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, and A tengerszemű hölgy (Eyes like the Sea), the latter of which won the Academy's prize in 1890. He was also an amateur chess player (see: Mór Jókai Museum in Balatonfüred).
His jövő század regénye (The novel of the next century - 1872) is accounted an important early work of Science Fiction though the term did not yet exist at the time (see). In spite of its romantic trappings, this monumental two-volume novel includes some acute observations and almost prophetic visions, such as the prediction of a revolution in Russia and the establishment of a totalitarian state there, or the arrival of aviation. Because it could be read as a satirical allegory on Leninism and Stalinism in the Soviet Union, the book was banned in Hungary in the decades of the Communist régime. (Its "Critical Edition" was delayed until 1981.)
The greatest collections of his works:
- Összes művei. Nemzeti (Jubileumi) Kiadás. (Complete Works, "National Edition") 1894-1898, 100 vols.
- Hátrahagyott művei. (Late and Uncollected Works; the Sequel of the "National Edition") 1912, 10 vols.
- Összes művei. Centenáriumi kiadás. (Complete Works, "Centenary Edition") 1925-1932, 100 vols.
- Összes művei. Kritikai kiadás. (Complete Works, "Critical Edition") 1962-, in advance.
- "Hétköznapok" (Weekdays), 1846
- "Vadon virágai" (Flowers of the Wild) 1848 - short stories
- "Forradalmi és csataképek" (Pictures of Revolution and Fight), 1850 (in English: Hungarian Sketches in Peace and War - a selection by Imre Szabad, 1854) (**)
- "Erdély aranykora" (The Golden Age of Transylvania), 1852 (in English: Midst the Wild Carpathians - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1894) (**)
- "Török világ Magyarországon" (Turkish World in Hungary), 1852 (in English: The Slaves of the Padishah - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1902) (**)
- "A kalózkirály" (The King of the Pirates), 1852-53 (in English: The Corsair King - translated by Mary J. Safford, 1901) (***)
- "Egy magyar nábob" (A Hungarian Nabob), 1853 (in English: An Hungarian Nabob - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1898) (**)
- "A fehér rózsa" (The White Rose), 1854 (in English: Halil the Pedlar - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1901) (**)
- "Janicsárok végnapjai" (The Last Days of the Janissaries), 1854 (in English: The Lion of Janina - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1897) (**)
- "Kárpáthy Zoltán" (Zoltán Kárpáthy), 1854
- "Szomorú napok" (Sad Days), 1848-56 (in English: The Day of Wrath - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1900) (**)
- "A régi jó táblabírák" (The Good Old Justices), 1856
- "Az elátkozott család" (Doomed Family), 1858
- "Szegény gazdagok" (Poor Rich), 1860 (in English: Poor Plutocrats - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1899) (**)
- "Politikai divatok" (Political Fashions), 1862
- "Az új földesúr" (The New Squire), 1863 (in English: The New Landlord - Translated by Arthur J. Patterson, 1868) (**)
- "Felfordult világ" (An Upturned World), 1863
- "Mire megvénülünk" (By the Time We Grow Old), 1865 (in English: Debts of Honor - translated by Arthur B. Yolland, 1900)
- "Szerelem bolondjai" (Maniacs of Love), 1868
- "A kőszívű ember fiai" (The Heartless Man's Sons), 1869 (in English: The Baron's Sons - translated by Percy Favor Bicknell, 1900) (**)
- "Fekete gyémántok" (Black Diamonds), 1870 (in English: Black Diamonds - translated by Frances Gerard [Geraldine Fitzgerald], 1896) (**)
- "Eppur si muove - És mégis mozog a Föld" (And Yet It Moves), 1872
- "Az arany ember" (The Golden Man), 1872
- English translations published: Timar's Two Worlds - translated by Hegan Kennard, USA, 1888; Modern Midas; The Man with the Golden Touch
- "A jövő század regénye" (The Novel of the Next Century), 1872-74 (A Novel of the Coming Century) *
- "Enyim, tied, övé" (It's Mine, It's Yours, It's His), 1875
- "Egész az északi pólusig!" (Up to the North Pole!), 1875
- "Az élet komédiásai" (Comedians of the Life), 1876
- "Egy az Isten" (God is One), 1876 (in English: Manasseh - translated by Percy Favor Bicknell, 1901) (**)
- "Névtelen vár" (Nameless Castle), 1877 (in English: The Nameless Castle - translated by Sarah Elisabeth Boggs, 1898) (**)
- "Szép Mikhál" (Pretty Mikhál), 1877 (in English: Pretty Michal - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1891) (**)
- "Görögtűz" (Greek Fire), 1877
- "Rab Ráby" (Ráby the Prisoner), 1879 (in English: The Strange Story of Ráby - anonymous, 1909) (**)
- "Egy hirhedett kalandor a 17. századból" (An Infamous Scoundrel from the 17th Century), 1879 (in English: Told by the Death's Head - translated by Sarah Elisabeth Boggs, 1903) (**)
- "Szabadság a hó alatt vagy a Zöld könyv" (Freedom under the Snow; or, The Green Book), 1879 (in English: The Green Book - translated by Mrs. Waugh [Ellis Wright], 1897) (**)
- "Páter Péter" (Friar Péter), 1881 (in English: Peter the Priest - translated by S. L. Waite & A. L. Waite, 1897) (***)
- "Akik kétszer halnak meg" (Those Who Will Die Two Times), 1881-2
- "Szeretve mind a vérpadig" (Loved up until the Scaffold), 1882
- "Egy játékos, aki nyer" (A Player Who Wins), 1882
- "Bálványosvár" (The Castle of the Idols), 1883
- "Minden poklokon keresztül" (Through All the Hells), 1883
- "A lőcsei fehér asszony" (The White Woman from Lőcse), 1884
- "A cigánybáró" (The Gipsy Baron), 1885
- "Életemből" (From my Life), 1886
- "A kiskirályok" (The Viceroys), 1886
- "A három márvány fej" (The Three Marble Heads), 1887
- "A lélekidomár" (The Trainer of the Souls), 1888-9
- "Gróf Benyovszky Móricz életrajza", (The Biography of Count Móricz Benyovszky) 1888–1891
- "A tengerszemű hölgy" (The Lady with the Eyes like the Sea), 1890 (in English: Eyes Like the Sea - translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1893) (**)
- "Gazdag szegények" (Rich Poor), 1890
- "Nincsen ördög" (The Devil does not Exist), 1891 (in English: Dr. Dumány's Wife - translated by Frances Steinitz, 1891) (**)
- "Rákóczy fia" (Rákóczy's Son), 1891
- "A fekete vér" (The Black Blood), 1892
- "A két Trenk - Trenk Frigyes" (The Two Trenks - Friedrich Trenk), 1892-3
- "Fráter György" (Brother George), 1893
- "Sárga rózsa" ([Yellow Rose), 1893 (in English: The Yellow Rose - translated by Beatrice Danford, 1909) (**)
- "De kár megvénülni!" (What a Pity to Grow Old!), 1896
- "Öreg ember nem vén ember" (An Old Man is not a Tottery Man), 1899
- "Egetvívó asszonyszív" (A Woman's Heart Wins the Heaven) 1902
- "A mi lengyelünk" (Our Man from Poland), 1903
- "Ahol a pénz nem isten" (The Place Where Money is not a God), 1904
- "Párbaj Istennel" (A duel with God)
Other English Editions (**):
- "Life in a Cave" - a short novel for children, translated by Linda Villari, 1884
- "In Love with the Czarina" - short stories, translated by Lewis Felberman, 1893
- "The Tower of Dago" - a short novel, anonymous, 1899
- "A Christian but a Roman" - a short novel, anonymous, 1900
- "Tales from Jókai" - selected and translated by R. Nisbet Bain, 1904
Source (**): Lóránt Czigány: A magyar irodalom fogadtatása a viktoriánus Angliában 1830-1914 (Budapest, Akadémiai, 1976) ISBN 963-05-0786-2
Source (***): http://www.gutenberg.org
- The Greatest Literature of All Time - Science Fiction at www.editoreric.com
- Névy László, Jókai Mór
- Hegedűs Sándor, Jókai Mórról
- H. W. Temperley, "Maurus Jokai and the Historical Novel", Contemporary Review (July 1904).
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "article name needed". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
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- Works by Mór Jókai at Hungarian Electronic Library
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- Works by Mór Jókai at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Mór Jókai at Find-A-Grave
- Mór Jókai's works: text, concordances and frequency lists