MOLNÁR, FERENC (originally Neumann, 1878–1952), Hungarian playwright and novelist. Born in Budapest, Molnár's first novel, Az éhes város ("The Hungry City," 1900) was a historical picture of Budapest, and particularly of its Jewish quarter. The children's story, A Pál utcai fiúk (1907; The Paul Street Boys, 1927), was Molnár's outstanding work. Another of his social novels, Andor (19182), symbolized the young Jewish intellectual destroyed by the defects of his own character. During World War I Molnár was a war correspondent, and some of his experiences appeared in his Egy haditudósíto emlekei ("Memoirs of a War Correspondent," 1916). In Molnár's books, which brilliantly expose contemporary Hungarian social problems, the central figure is always a weak-willed Jew who makes himself ridiculous by trying to imitate his surroundings.
It was as a dramatist that Molnár was most distinguished. His witty dialogue owes much to Oscar Wilde. His ideas are sometimes fantastic, but never ridiculous. His first play was A doktor úr ("The Lawyer," 1902). He achieved world fame with Az ördög (1907; The Devil, 1908); the tragicomedy Liliom (1909; Eng. vers., 1921), A testör (1910; The Guardsman, 1924); and A farkas (1912; The Tale of the Wolf, 1914). All these characters deal with the problems of a changing society, and the characters are, almost without exception, Jews fighting to improve their image, sometimes turning into caricatures in the process. The Guardsman inspired Oscar *Strauss' musical comedy The Chocolate Soldier; Liliom became the musical Carousel (1945), by Richard *Rodgers and Oscar *Hammerstein. Molnár also wrote lyrical, symbolic dramas. Most of his plays have been translated into English. There are two anthologies of his stage works, Plays (1927) and The Plays of Ferenc Molnár (1929, 19372); and a prose anthology, Husbands and Lovers (1924). During the end of the 1930s, antisemitism drove Molnár from Hungary, and he lived in France and Switzerland, but immigrated to the U.S. in 1940. His last major work was the autobiographical Útitárs a számúzetéshen (1958; appeared in English as Companion in Exile, 1950).
B. Halmi, Molnár Ferenc… (Hung., 1929); Magyar Irodalmi Lexicon, 2 (1965), 263–6; S.J. Kunitz and H. Haycroft (eds.), Twentieth Century Authors (1942), 970f.