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|Władysław Reymont (1867-1925) - Stanisław Władysław Rejment|
Polish writer and novelist, whose work offer a vast panorama of Polish life in the last quarter of the 19th century. Wladyslaw Reymont was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924; a year later he died. He is best known for The Peasants, an epic, four-part novel of peasant life. It is almost entirely written in peasant dialect. Reymont considered it his best work.
"I still have many things to say and desire greatly to make them public, but will death let me?" (from Reymont's note to the Swedish Academy, 1924)
Władysław Stanisław Reymont was born in Kobiele Wielke, a
small town in southern Poland near Lodz, a fast-growing industrial
city, which was at that time occupied by Russia. Reymont spent his
childhood in the country and later depicted in his books the life of
the peasants, their customs and work. His father, Josef Rejmont, was
the village organist, who supported with his meagre income a large
family; Reymont was the fift of twelve children. Josef tried to teach
his children to play the piano, Reymont was more interested in reading,
and devoured books whenever he had the change. Among his favorites were
Robinson Crusoe and novels by Walter Scott. Reymont's
family was very patriotic and rigidly Roman Catholic. His mother,
Antonina (neé Kupczynska) had taken with her brothers in the
insurrection of 1863.
After third grade, Reymont left the school and his home – he had failed to pass the entrance examinations for a secondary school in Lodz. At that time the schools were also instruments of Russification; students were not allowed to speak Polish inside the school. Reymont was admitted to the tailor's guild as a journeyman in Warsaw. During this period he became interested in theatre and developed a lasting love for the stage. Reymont was not able to finish his journeyman years. When the Russian authorities suspected him of taking part in a strike in Lodz, he was expelled from the guild.
At the age of seventeen Reymont began his wandering years. He joined a travelling acting company but soon found out that he lacked the necessary talent. He also unsuccessfully joined a monastery as a novice. Later he worked in the railways and in a factory. Reymont's railroad job paid very little, but it provided him opportunity to write. He produced feverishly short stories, poems, dramas and novels without end. Like Maxim Gorky, Reymont relied on experience, and used his adventures as raw material for his fiction. Between the years 1884 and 1894 he kept diary, which helped him in his literary apprenticeship. After being injured in a railroad accident, Reymont received substantial settlement, that brought him financial independence, without the need to earn a living from other work.
In 1893, Reymont moved to Warsaw. There he gained success with Pilgrimage to the Mountains of Life (1894), which explored the mood of a group of people on pilgrimage to Jasna Góra. The book attracted the attention of the closed circle of Polish intellectuals and writers by its portrayal of the collective psychology. Reymont's first novel, The Comedienne (1896), dealt with theatrical life, and was followed by a sequel, Ferments. It told about the rebellion of a young woman, who realizes that the revolt against the laws of society must end in failure.
The Promised Land (1899) was about the rapidly growing
industrial city of Lodz and the cruel effects of industrialization on
textile mill owners. "For that land people were born. And it sucked
everything in, crushed it in its powerful jaws, and chewed people and
objects, the sky and the earth, in return giving useless millions to a
handful of people, and hunger and hardship to the whole throng." (from The Promised Land)
Reymont painted a kaleidoscopic view of people,
places, generations, nationalities. The narrative technique adopted
influences from film, cutting from one scene to another. With this
novel, Reymont gave perhaps the first literary expression to the concept of the
"lodzermensch". Initially the type was associated with the
predominantly German-Jewish entrepreneurial class.
Reymont saw industrialization as a huge beast that swallows
human resources, anticipating modern environmental debate. Noteworthy,
Reymont depicted Jews as krajowy cudzoziemiec (domestic
foreigners); they are the involuntary villains with Germans,
who in pursuing their dream of the "promised land"
have turned Poland into a jungle "in which, if you have good
strong claws, you may fearlessly go ahead and do away with your
neighbours; else they will fall upon you, suck you dry, and then toss
your carcass away."
Andrzej Wajda's film adaptation of the book from 1974 was not shown in American movie theaters due to accusations of anti-Semitism, but it received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film. "Not all of Mr. Wajda's 19th-century excesses sit comfortably in the 20th century. Too many secondary characters are stereotypes of Jews, especially a repulsive, piggish woman with whom Karol has an affair, and her merciless, vengeful husband. There is so little historical perspective on these characters that Mr. Wajda's own judgment seems to have failed him." (Caryn James, The New York Times, February 5, 1988)
In 1902, Reymont married Aurelia Szablowska, a nurse he had met while
recuperating from the railroad accident. They went to Paris, where
Reymont finished his major work, The Peasants. It first
appeared in serialized form in the magazine Tygodnik Ilustrowany
(1902-6). Upon the publication of the final volume, it was compared to
the best works of Thomas Hardy and Émile Zola and earned Reymont the Nobel Prize in literature.
The narrative structure followed the
seasons from autumn to summer and the church holidays and religious
rituals interwoven with the rhythm of the season. In the plot Reymont
focused on the love affair of Antek Boryna, the son of the Maciej, a
wealthy peasant, with his father's young and sensual stepmother, Jagna.
This love triangle is resolved by the old man's death and Antek leaves
Jagna because "one has to plow in order to sow, one has to sow in order
to harvest, and what is disturbing has to be weeded out, like a bad
weed." Because Reymont had used a local dialect, the novel, especially
its dialogue, was not easy to translate into another language. However,
the first volume came out in Russian in 1904 and a German translation
was published in 1912. In France Reymont's work received much attention
through Franck Louis Schoell's translation. Reymont planned to write a sequel to the tetralogy, but never started the work.
Although Reymont continued to write prolifically, he did not gain the same popular and critical success that greeted The Peasants. His later works include The Dreamer (1910), about a lonely railroad employe, and an occult novel, The Vampire (1911), which deals with Theosophic spiritualistic problems. Reymont returned to Poland in 1914. During World War I Reymont spent much time in Warsaw and Zakopane. He traveled in the United States in 1919 and 1920 in search of materials – Reymont did not speak English but interpreters served as go-betweens. In the 1920s he settled on his own estate, Kolaczkowo. The the first volumes of The Peasants appeared in Swedish in 1920; four years late he was awarded the Nobel prize. By that time he was too ill and unable to travel to Stockholm to attend the award ceremony. The money enabled him to buy a country estate. Reymont died on December 5, 1925, in Warsaw.
In his early novels Reymont depicted the life of workers in a naturalistic style with short sentences. Later he became interested in spiritualistic movement and wrote three-volume historical novel ROK 1974, an interpretation of Polish political and social life in the close of the 18th century. The work was meant to equal Henryk Sienkiewicz's famous trilogy about Poland in the middle of the 17th century, Ogniem i mieczem, Potop, and Pan Wolodyjowski (1884-1888). Reymont focused on the last years of the Polish Republic, before its partition among Russia, Prussia, and Austria. He was an ardent supporter of Jan Paderewski, a pianist, diplomat and politician, who was for a short time Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland.
For further reading: Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont by Julian Krzyzanowski (1937); "Chlopi" Reymonta by Maria Rzeuska (1950); Les paysants de Ladislas Reymont by F.L. Schoell (1925); Wladislaw Stanislaw Reymont by J.R. Krzyzanowski (1972); Reymont: Opowiésc biograficzna by Barbara Kocowna (1973); A History of Polish Literature by J. Krzyzanowski (1978); Studie über die "Chlopi" und Dorfnovellen Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymonts by P.M. Boronowski (1994); Encyclopedia of Wold Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); 'Land of Promise: Reflections on Andrzej Wajda's Merchants of Lodz' by Jan Epstein, in Through a Catholic Lens: Religious Perspectives of Nineteen Film Directors from around the World, ed. by Peter Malone (2007); 'The Peasants (Chłopi)' by Katarzyna Szmigiero, in The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present, edited by Michael Sollars (2008) - See also: Henryk Sienkiewicz, Polish writer who received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905