Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

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*Holy Cross Mountains

*Holy Cross Mountains. Mountain range in the east of Poland in whose Lysica vicinity (the Bald Mountain), the young protagonist Raphael Olbromski first appears, hunting with his uncle Nardzewski. Raphael inherits Nardzewski’s land at the end of the novel and returns to rebuild the war-destroyed house and tend the farm before his final engagement in the Napoleonic Wars in 1812.

Tarniny

Tarniny (tahr-NEE-nih). House of Raphael’s father, situated on the Sandomierian Plateau, to which Raphael returns repeatedly, following his many disgraces. Due to his father’s sternness, Tarniny is a place of punishment and labor. The house acquires a playful aspect only once, on the night of a sleigh party, at which Raphael meets Helena.

*Sandomierz

*Sandomierz (sahn-DO-myehzh). City in eastern Poland where Raphael attends school until he is expelled, following a risky nocturnal boating expedition on the Vistula River. His daring in face of the raging river provides an early glimpse of his recklessly courageous nature. Later, the adult Raphael returns as a soldier to help defend Sandomierz from an Austrian siege. When the defenders are forced to destroy the chapel of St. Jacob, which is being held by the Austrians, Raphael aids the quixotic Prince Gintult in his attempt to prevent the destruction of the holy site. Wartime and peacetime values are painfully juxtaposed as, in spite of the intervention, the chapel holding sacred ashes is destroyed.

Derslavice

Derslavice (dehr-swah-VEE-tzeh). Home of Raphael’s beloved Helena. Raphael’s secret nighttime escapade through snow-covered woods to steal a brief encounter with Helena in her garden ends tragically with his horse being torn apart by wolves, his own severe injuries, and his consequent expulsion from his father’s home.

Vygnanka

Vygnanka (vihg-NAHN-kah). Home of Raphael’s brother Peter, another exile from Tarniny. Peter’s liberal government granted a degree of freedom to his peasants. After Peter’s death, the new owner reverts to the custom of ruthless exploitation.

Grudno

Grudno (GREWD-noh). Seat of Prince Gintult where Raphael resides after Peter’s death and where he first experiences the powerful attraction of Princess Elisabeth Gintult. For the provincial youth, Grudno provides the first glimpse of aristocratic life.

*Italy

*Italy. Prince Gintult’s Italian journeys include Venice, where he is appalled by the sight of Polish soldiers being used for pulling down the sculpted horses of Alexander, and Verona, where he complains about the pillage to General Dombrovski. From Italy, Gintult goes on to Paris, and becomes further disillusioned with the Napoleonic ideal.

*Cracow

*Cracow (KRAH-kow). Former capital city of Poland, where Raphael continues his interrupted education thanks to Prince Gintult’s patronage. Under the dubious influence of his schoolmate Yarymski, Raphael comes to value fashion, cards, and drinking.

*Warsaw

*Warsaw (war-sah). Capital city of Poland, where Raphael is summoned by Gintult to become his secretary. After an encounter with the fun-loving Yarymski, Raphael briefly becomes involved with the city’s gambling and drinking crowd. He also becomes a member of a Masonic lodge, where he once again meets his beloved Helena, who is now married.

Cottage

Cottage. House in the wilderness along the Hungarian border, where Raphael flees with his beloved Helena. There they live in a state of paradisal harmony and happiness, which is eventually brutally interrupted by rape and suicide. The author’s neo-Romantic fascination with the sublimity of nature dominates the entire novel. It is exemplified most poignantly by the descriptions of the mountains, forests, streams and lakes surrounding the cottage.

Stoklosy

Stoklosy (sto-KWO-sih). Home of Raphael’s friend Christopher Cedro. Raphael stays there cultivating the land, until he and Christopher are stirred by a veteran’s tale and decide to join the war effort. Stoklosy represents the rural ideal of life, which the novel constantly juxtaposes with the powerful but morally ambiguous military ideal.

*Antilles

*Antilles (an-TEEL-eez). Island chain in the West Indies to which the veteran whose tale Christopher and Raphael hear at Stoklosy was sent to fight, to defend Napoleon’s interests. There he and fellow Polish soldiers take part in a ruthless suppression of the rebellion of the enslaved black population after fighting in Bohemia, Austria, Germany, Lombardy, the Italian Alps, and France.

*Saragossa

*Saragossa (sar-ah-GOZ-ah). Spanish city in whose siege Christopher takes part, while Raphael remains in Poland. The novel conveys both the energy and ecstasy of war, and the horrors it holds for civilians, particularly women. As in the case of the French campaign in the Antilles, the participation of Polish soldiers in the conquest of Saragossa reveals the bitter irony of their struggle for freedom under Napoleon’s command.

Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Czerwinski, E. J., ed. Dictionary of Polish Literature. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. A survey of eromski’s career, explaining his role in the Young Poland movement and commenting on the impact of his novels. Cites Ashes as one of his best, in which he speaks to his countrymen about their heroism during the Napoleonic era.

Kridl, Manfred. A Survey of Polish Literature and Culture. Translated by Olga Sherer-Virski. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956. Considers eromski the chief spokesperson for the Young Poland movement of the late nineteenth century. Provides a lengthy discussion of several important novels, including Ashes. Examines the structure of the book and comments on the significance of a number of themes.

Krzyanowski, Julian. A History of Polish Literature. Translated by Doris Ronowicz. Warsaw: Polish Scientific Publishers, 1972. Outlines eromski’s literary career and discusses the sociological influences that inspired much of his fiction. Notes that the novelist criticizes the Polish people during the Napoleonic period.

Kuk, Zenon M. “Tolstoy’s War and Peace and eromski’s Ashes as Historical Novels.” Folio: Essays on Foreign Languages and Literatures 14 (December, 1982): 1-7. Comparative study of two novels about the Napoleonic Wars, explaining how each uses materials from history to create fiction with a didactic purpose.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. London: Macmillan, 1969. Sketches the novelist’s career and comments briefly on his major fiction. Remarks on the significance of his choice of the Napoleonic era as the subject of Ashes. Notes his strengths in handling his story compassionately and in dealing with the historical tradition, but faults him for having “a penchant for melodrama.”