Dąbrowska, Maria 1889–1965
Dąbrowska, a short story writer, novelist, critic, journalist, and playwright, was one of Poland's greatest contemporary writers. Noce i dnie, a family chronicle composed of four novels, established her fame as a writer concerned with the preservation of human dignity in the midst of the changing social structure of pre-Revolutionary Poland. Her political involvement and experience as a social worker are frequently reflected in her thematic material. Essentially a realist employing traditional narrative techniques, Dąbrowska describes everyday lives, yet develops her narrative to achieve an epic scale.
[When Noce i dnie (Nights and Days) first appeared, the] public (and probably some critics as well) already were a little weary of [recent] experiments in novelistic structure. Accordingly it was with relief and joy that they greeted a book the essential trait of which was simplicity—simplicity in all its component elements: structure, language, characters and the type of life portrayed. With regard to the structure Dąbrowska reverted to an old novel form, which might be called that of a chronicle. Like a chronicle, such a novel 'begins at the beginning' with the genealogy of the characters; the narration of events then follows in chronological order and continues for a longer or shorter period of time; it could, for that matter, continue indefinitely, presenting the history of one, two, three or more generations. Such method brings the structure of the novel closer to the normal course of human life and endows it with the charm of 'authenticity.' The latter trait becomes even more pronounced because of the kind of the characters, the method of their treatment and the langauge of the novel. The characters are simple and average. In addition to the two leading heroes there appears a crowd of secondary persons, frequently without any essential necessity, especially in the latter volumes of the novel. This also corresponds to 'the way things are in life.' The author's narrative is also of the simplest kind; it flows slowly, in a broad...
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When Maria Dąbrowska entered the literary scene in Poland with her first short stories, "We Francji" ("In France"), "Janek" ("The Little John"), etc., she was under the influence of the Polish literary tradition, but she was soon to absorb impulses from such important literary sources as Scandinavia, England, and Germany (less observable are French contemporary influences). Polish literature at the time was mainly the continuation of West-European Realism with some admixture of Romantic dreams on the one hand, and on the other, of utilitarian ideas of literature as an instrument for bringing about social and political changes…. [From] an early stage Dąbrowska succeeded in avoiding epigonism and in striking new, fresh, and independent notes in her stories based on authentic observations and a true human and artistic outlook.
Dąbrowska's rapidly widening literary horizons were due to her interest and studies, and later professional and social work in Belgium, England, Scandinavia, and other countries. One of the more important early literary encounters which left a deep trace in Dąbrowska's work was her contact with the work of the Danish writer, Jens Peter Jacobsen, whose novel Niels Lyhne she translated into Polish and preceded with a penetrating introduction which reveals some aspect of her own artistic credo. Especially characteristic is her remark on what she believes constitutes one of the most essential elements of...
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[Maria Dąbrowska was] a major writer and a moral force in her nation under several vastly different political régimes.
Never an habituée of literary cafés, all through her life she remained a provincial in the same noble sense that Flaubert had been a provincial in France and Faulkner in the United States—an uninhibited artist contributing to universal values, not as a cosmopolitan, only as a supremely civilized voice coming from a backwater. That salt-of-the-earth quality of her work was never belied by the public attitudes of the frail looking woman; in an age of political promiscuity and moral indifference she grew into a monolithic figure respected by both friends and foes. (p. 3)
[Dąbrowska's] mind was pragmatic, liberal, objective. Doctrines did not mean much to her…. [Political] and economic theory, she maintained [in an article on Russian socialism], is good if it increases human well-being; well-being must never be limited to a party, or to one class of people. The social background in her artistic prose is therefore not massive; it is broken up into a multitude of patches, like that world of the French pointillistes, who never painted in long strokes of brush so as to obtain a smooth surface, and, instead saturated the picture with brilliantly colored dots. (pp. 3-4)
In fiction her approach to life remained realistic, although contemplative. In one of her public confessions,...
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[Maria Dabrowska's] collection People from Yonder can be treated as a highly realistic presentation of the farm laborer's world. This by itself was a novel and important phenomenon in the history of Polish literature which, being traditionally a literature of the gentry, had rather neglected the life of the lower social classes. (p. 23)
Dabrowska, like Turgenev in Russia, took up the theme of landless peasants mainly as an artistic motif, and not as a purely social problem. But as in Turgenev's case, Dabrowska's volume was often discussed as a work of political nature, and some critics discussed its merits and demerits in this light. Considering Dabrowska's involvement in professional and social organizations with some political affiliations, this confusion of Dabrowska the agitator and Dabrowska the writer is not surprising. (p. 24)
However, the publication of People from Yonder made it obvious that the author did not resort to fiction in order to propagate political slogans, but to express her deep interest in the lives of the people she had observed closely during her childhood in Russow. There was an element of true epic in this attempt to capture a certain form of life at the moment when it was already disappearing. (p. 25)
It was said that the volume People from Yonder made the young author famous, and decided her entire career. Indeed, she became an acknowledged writer...
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