Countess Kata Bethlen de Bethlen (1700–1759), sometimes known in English as Katherine Bethlen, was a Hungarian writer, one of the earliest in her country to write memoirs. She was born on November 25, 1700, in Bonyhád, Hungary, and died on July 29, 1759, in Fogaras, Hungary (now Făgăraș in Romania).
Family and marriages
Kata Bethlen was active in the cultural and intellectual life of Hungary as a member of the important Bethlen family. She was the niece of the Chancellor of Transylvania Miklos Bethlen, as well as, in her second marriage, the wife of the son of a later Chancellor, Mihály Teleki. Her first marriage was politically motivated, she was forced at age 17 to marry her Roman Catholic half brother. The antagonism between her Protestant views and the Catholicism of her husband's family had a great effect on her. Her husband's family denied her access to her children, and her daughter's malicious teasing was mentioned in her writing. She remarried after death of first husband. Her second marriage was happier than the first, but her husband and the children of that marriage died early, after which Kata Bethlen assumed the epithet "orphan." She was mistress of her husband's large estates, and active in fostering education in Transylvania, much of which is described in her writing. As a patron of Peter Bod (Hungarian), the Protestant scholar and publisher, she supported printing and scholastic reform. The library Bod assembled for her was one of the most important of the age. While he was her chaplain (1743–1749) he collected over 500 manuscripts in addition to books, however in 1847 a fire destroyed the library.
She published her writings under the titles Védelmező, erős paizs in 1759 (Protecting, Strong Shield); Bujdosásnak emlékezetköve in 1733 (The Memoirs of her Exile), also the collected work which includes her letters, Gróf Bethleni Bethlen Kata életének maga által való rövid leírása written 1759, but published 1762 (A Short Description of the Life of Countess Kata Bethlen Written by Herself). Her writings mirror more than personal troubles, they also reflect political struggles of the day and the duties and tasks of the leading families in this conflict.
Her letters show her to be clever and skillful; she encouraged industrial development on her estates, established gardens and nurseries to propagate better stock, had a paper-mill and glass works, and employed numerous artisans including embroiderers. She studied natural science to counteract the effect of natural disasters, and helped her tenants to adopt progressive farming practices. Further, she learned medicine and pharmacology to better minister to the needs of her community and contributed generously to the advance of learning by establishing schools and scholarships, particularly the education of girls, which she felt sadly neglected. Her diary was written primarily as a personal response to the pressures her husband's family put on her to convert, as a Protestant unhappily married to a Catholic. Her autobiography counts as a fine example of Baroque literature.
Kata Bethlen is a good representative of the Hungarian baroque and unites the literature of her day with that of the Reform period of the 19th century. Her works show an interesting blend of traditional meditative lyrics and the popular genres of the day and her strongly Puritanical views. She followed in style the memoirs of János Kemény and Kilos Bethlen, work closely related to Francis Rákóczi. Her letters are compared to those of Mme de Sévigné and others at the Court of Louis XIV.
- Wilson, Katharina M (1991). An Encyclopedia of continental women writers. New York: Garland Pub. pp. 122–123. ISBN 9780824085476.
- Boynton, Victoria (2005). Encyclopedia of women's autobiography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. p. 203. ISBN 9780313327377.
- Zirin, Mary Fleming (2007). Women & gender in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Eurasia a comprehensive bibliography. Armonk, N.Y: M.E. Sharpe. p. 631. ISBN 9780765624444.