Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The artistic journey of Witold Gombrowicz was a long and varied one. After establishing a reputation as a controversial novelist during the 1930’s, he nearly starved during the first years of his voluntary exile in Argentina, where he often tagged along at funerals of strangers simply to partake of the luncheon given afterward. Later, thanks to some Spanish translations of his works which he did in concert with a group of young Argentinian writers, and the opportunity to publish his works in the Polish emigre press in Paris, Gombrowicz was, during the 1950’s, at last able to devote his time once again to his artistic vocation. Since that time, his fame has grown so that even the Communist regime in Poland, which accused him of cowardice and treason for not returning to fight for Poland in 1939, in 1987 permitted the first nearly complete edition of his works to be published in Krakow, with very little censorship.

The fruit of Gombrowicz’s return to literary activity in the 1950’s is his Diary. Not only is the Diary an integral part of the literary output of this most famous modern prose writer of Poland, but it also has great significance for those who wish to understand more fully the novels and dramatic works of its author. The Diary of Witold Gombrowicz can be classified as the only “official” piece of literary criticism touching the Gombrowicz canon. In the Diary, Gombrowicz also shows himself to be an outspoken critic of art and culture. The comments which he makes concerning Poland and Polish culture are quite interesting for students of that country, coming as they are from the fresh perspective of a highly intellectual emigrant, able to look upon his own tradition with a certain distance.

Like Milosz’s Zniewolony umysl (1953; The Captive Mind, 1953), Gombrowicz’s Diary is valuable as a historical document which gives a firsthand glimpse of an important period of time (the first twenty years of the People’s Republic of Poland), from the pen of a man deeply concerned with and knowledgeable about the country of his birth.

Above all, the Diary of Witold Gombrowicz is a book about truth. Sincerity— even in jokes—is the main characteristic of these three volumes. For a person seeking fresh perspectives for understanding any of the myriad topics covered in this work, the Diary is an excellent place to start—or finish.