Maria Dąbrowska Z. Folejewski - Essay

Z. Folejewski

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 Jacobsen's writing, namely, his "love and understanding for the secrets of human life."… [One] can see that this remark can easily be applied to her own work. In her first really important volume, a collection, Ludzie stamtąd ("The People From Yonder," 1927), this formula is partly the key to the work, the key without which some of the stories may easily be misunderstood. The writer depicts here poor peasants trying to penetrate into the sphere of their inner life. In this world, certain thoughts and dreams take place which may seem incompatible with their social and intellectual status; they are possible only on the metaphysical level where a miracle of "inner transformation" can occur. Formally, from the point of view of the principles of Realism, such a literary device can be subjected and indeed was subjected to criticism as excessive poetization of thoughts and feelings normally not considered common to uneducated proletarians. However, in the introduction to the second edition of this volume, Dąbrowska defended her right to this approach, using the argument that even from the social point of view it can be justified by a natural desire of such people to break out of their existing social conditions. (p. 11)

[Already] in her short story collections certain features of novelistic composition were clearly present. The volume Ludzie stamtąd bears all the marks of a uniform larger structure, with the typical novelistic preamble followed by a number of dramatic conflicts, and then by the anti-climax of philosophical reflection and the acceptance of fate.

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(The entire section is 1254 words.)