Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is very much of a piece with Witold Gombrowicz’s other plays and novels. Ferdydurke (1938; English translation, 1961), a novel about a thirty-year-old man turning into an adolescent, is the author’s fullest expression of a certain immaturity he finds in the human character. As his other novels Pornografia (1960; English translation, 1966) and Kosmos (1965; Cosmos, 1966) suggest, Gombrowicz has little faith in the wisdom of civilization. Rather than growing into responsible roles, many of his characters seem coerced into adopting guises.
Although the playwright’s characters seem to speak nonsensically at times, and although his depiction of society is satirical, it is perhaps going too far to say that his dramas are absurdist in the sense that they imply that there is no meaning in existence. Gombrowicz was a skeptic and certainly saw the vacuity of social relationships, but he was not a nihilist. Indeed, many of his characters have a compulsion to put their world in order, even if that order is rather trivial or ridiculous.
It is perhaps inevitable that Gombrowicz, a Polish writer who left Poland in the 1930’s and took up a life of exile in Argentina, should be suspected of writing allegory. His plays and novels are sometimes interpreted as elaborately indirect studies of the way his country has been oppressed by other nations, chiefly Germany and the former...
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