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Early career and influences
Vizinczey's first published works were poems which appeared in George Lukacs's Budapest magazine Forum in 1949, when the writer was 16. He studied under Lukacs at the University of Budapest and graduated from the city's Academy of Theatre and Film Arts in 1956. He wrote at that time two plays, The Last Word and Mama, which were banned by the Hungarian Communist regime. He took part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and after a short stay in Italy, ended up in Canada speaking only 50 words of English, and eventually taking Canadian citizenship. He learned English writing scripts for Canada's National Film Board and the CBC. He edited Canada's short-lived literary magazine, Exchange. In 1966 he moved to London.
Vizinczey cites his literary ideals as Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Stendhal and Kleist. His best-known works are the novels In Praise of Older Women (1965) and An Innocent Millionaire (1983).
In Praise of Older Women
In Praise of Older Women: the amorous recollections of András Vajda is a bildungsroman whose young narrator has sexual encounters with women in their thirties and forties in Hungary, Italy, and Canada. "The book is dedicated to older women and is addressed to young men--and the connection between the two is my proposition" is the book's epigraph. Kildare Dobbs wrote in Saturday Night, "Here is this Hungarian rebel who in 1957 could scarcely speak a word of our language and who even today speaks it with an impenetrable accent and whose name moreover we can't pronounce, and he has the gall to place himself, with his first book and in his thirty-third year, among the masters of plain English prose..."
In 2001 it was translated for the first time into French, and became a best-seller in France. It has twice been made into a movie: a 1978 Canadian production starring Tom Berenger as Andras Vayda, and a subsequent 1997 Spanish production featuring Faye Dunaway as Condesa.
An Innocent Millionaire
First published in 1983, An Innocent Millionaire tells the story of Mark Niven, the son of an American actor who makes an uncertain living in Europe. "Mankind, we are told, is divided into the haves and the havenots, but there are those who both have the goods and do not and they live the tensest lives." The boy who spends his childhood in various countries "has no emotional address" and once financial pressures led to the divorce of his parents, he becomes enchanted with the idea of finding a Spanish treasure ship. He finds both love and the treasure ship, but the fortune turns into a nightmare and his happiness with a married woman ends in tragedy.
The novel was praised by critics including Graham Greene and Anthony Burgess. Burgess wrote in Punch that Vizinczey could "teach the English how to write English", praised the novel's "prose style and its sly apophthegms, as well as in the solidity of its characters, good and detestable alike." Burgess ended his review by saying: "I was entertained but also deeply moved: here is a novel set bang in the middle of our corrupt world that, in some curious way, breathes a kind of desperate hope." The London Literary Review called the novel "an authentic social epic, which reunites, after an estrangement of nearly a century, intellectal and moral edification with exuberant entertainment."
Vizinczey has written two books of literary, philosophical and political essays: The Rules of Chaos (1969) and Truth and Lies in Literature (1985).
- In Praise of Older Women (1966)
- The Rules of Chaos (1969)
- An Innocent Millionaire (1983)
- Truth and Lies in Literature (1985)
- The Man with the Magic Touch (1994)
- If Only (2016)
- Der Spiegel 21 (1967), p. 176.
- Truth and Lies in Literature, p. 5.
- First British edition, London: Barrie & Rockliff, 1966.
- Gerald Jacobs, "In Praise of Older Women by Stephen Vizinczey: review", The Telegraph, 16 May 2010.
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