Bruno Schulz Biography


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

When Bruno Schulz was born, in 1892, Drohobycz was a small Polish town in Galicia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Poland had lost its independence and was partitioned; it became independent in 1918, when Schulz was twenty-six years old. Drohobycz had a population of about thirty thousand, largely Jewish and Polish.

Schulz’s family was Jewish and spoke Polish. His father, Jakub, was the owner and bookkeeper of the textile fabrics shop described in his son’s stories. Bruno was the youngest of three children; he was educated at home and in a school named for Emperor Franz Joseph. The merchant profession to which his parents belonged separated them from the Hasidim, and Schulz never learned Yiddish; although he knew German he wrote in Polish, the language of his immediate family. After completing high school, he studied architecture in Lwów for three years, until the outbreak of World War I. He taught himself to draw and produced graphics, hoping to make art his career. Instead, he obtained the post of teacher of drawing and handicrafts at the state high school, or gimnazjum, named for King Wadysaw Jagieo, in Drohobycz. He was to teach in the school for seventeen years, until his death in 1942.

In the 1920’s it was only drawing and painting that Schulz practiced openly, in full view of his friends; he kept his literary works to himself, sharing them with few people in Drohobycz. It was through correspondence with friends in distant cities that Schulz began his literary career. Cinnamon Shops began in the letters he sent to Deborah Vogel, a poet and doctor of philosophy who...

(The entire section is 668 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bruno Schulz (shults) is one of the greatest figures in Polish modernist literature of the period between the world wars and one of the most original European fiction writers of the first half of the twentieth century. He was born in the small town of Drohobycz in the Polish province of Galicia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today part of Ukraine), the son of a Jewish merchant, Jakub Schulz, and his wife, Henrietta Schulz. His family’s faith was Mosaic, but the language they mostly spoke was Polish. Schulz went a step further than his parents toward cultural assimilation by not adhering to any specific religious creed and writing exclusively in Polish (except for one short story written in German, which has not survived).

A morbidly shy and reticent man, tormented all of his life by a sense of inadequacy, Schulz was also burdened with all the psychological consequences of his status as an outsider. He entered Polish literature as a member of an ethnic minority, a first-generation intellectual, and a newcomer from a remote province. This fact perhaps explains why from the very beginning he cared so much about the stylistic mastery of his prose: In order to be taken seriously, he had no choice but to dazzle the critics with an unquestionable brilliance.

One of the most striking characteristics of Schulz is the contrast between his rich, fertile, unbridled imagination and the fact that he spent most of his life in his backwater hometown of Drohobycz. After graduating from the local high school in 1910, he spent five years in Lvov and Vienna, studying architecture and painting; however, for the rest of his life he resided mainly in Drohobycz, toiling as an underpaid, overworked high school teacher of arts and crafts. Drohobycz finally became the place and cause of his death as well. Schulz was caught there by the Soviet invasion in 1939 and the Nazi invasion in 1941. Under the German occupation, he survived for a while thanks to a Gestapo agent who hired him to decorate his house. During a roundup on November 19, 1942, however, he was shot by another Gestapo agent, who held some grudge against Schulz’s protector.

As his surviving letters show, throughout his life Schulz was painfully aware that his creative potential was being constantly stifled by the pressure of everyday reality. Another paradox of his career is the contrast between his remarkable accomplishment as a writer and the meagerness of his output: His entire oeuvre consists of two slender collections of short stories, along with a few volumes of letters and essays....

(The entire section is 1054 words.)