Maria Dąbrowska Zbigniew Folejewski - Essay

Zbigniew Folejewski

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Maria Dabrowska's] collection People from Yonder can be treated as a highly realistic presentation of the farm laborer's world. This by itself was a novel and important phenomenon in the history of Polish literature which, being traditionally a literature of the gentry, had rather neglected the life of the lower social classes. (p. 23)

Dabrowska, like Turgenev in Russia, took up the theme of landless peasants mainly as an artistic motif, and not as a purely social problem. But as in Turgenev's case, Dabrowska's volume was often discussed as a work of political nature, and some critics discussed its merits and demerits in this light. Considering Dabrowska's involvement in professional and social organizations with some political affiliations, this confusion of Dabrowska the agitator and Dabrowska the writer is not surprising. (p. 24)

However, the publication of People from Yonder made it obvious that the author did not resort to fiction in order to propagate political slogans, but to express her deep interest in the lives of the people she had observed closely during her childhood in Russow. There was an element of true epic in this attempt to capture a certain form of life at the moment when it was already disappearing. (p. 25)

It was said that the volume People from Yonder made the young author famous, and decided her entire career. Indeed, she became an acknowledged writer almost overnight, greeted almost unanimously by the reviewers as a new big name. Even where there were reservations, Dabrowska's keen sense of observation and the purity and simplicity of her language and style were acknowledged…. [In her] seemingly loosely assembled collection of stories there was from the beginning a well-balanced and artistically motivated unity of structure. It is here, in this first notion of a larger unit, of an artistic synthesis developing out of earlier fragmentary efforts, that the actual break-through took place in Dabrowska's career…. [It] is not only the unity of social and topographic milieu and the unity of realistic method in its re-creation; there is also a clear line of composition in which the seemingly separate stories serve the function of traditional chapters in a novel. Consequently there is an interesting interplay of two technical devices: Each of the stories follows, of course, the basic principles of short-story technique, such as the unity and uniqueness of motif, setting, and mood, and the significance of final effect. However, at the same time, each of these separate units is subordinated to the structural principles of a larger unit which in this case resembles the form of a traditional novel. One could point out the particular novelistic form, namely that of Zola's La terre or Reymont's The Peasants, as being constructed on similar, almost biological principles of the natural course in nature and in the life of people close to nature. The course of this natural biological process in Dabrowska's volume described an almost full circle, the main difference from the above-mentioned novels lying in the fact that in People from Yonder, the vision of human life goes beyond the concept of naturalism…. The emphasis in Dabrowska's work is shifted from the biological and materialistic ground to the psychological and moral sphere. (pp. 25-6)

Dabrowska is not particularly interested in strictly formal experiments in prose. Her short stories are quite conventional from the point of view of their formal features, although she fully utilizes the achievements of psychological realism. In the field of the novel the situation is quite similar: Dabrowska comes up with a work which follows the best tradition of the realist novel, and that tradition in Poland was quite impressive both in scope and in depth. (p. 39)

[Nights and Days] does not provide any formal or ideological surprises. But the artistic fulfillment, and the note of deeply human concern and integrity in facing the most vital problems of human life in the past and in the present, combine in an admirable way the main achievements of both realist and modern writing. Interest in individual destinies, fine psychological analyses, the concept of style, all these things bear witness to the author's relationship to her time. At the same time, however, there is nothing loose, accidental, or strictly experimental in her novel, and the individual problems of her heroes are not hanging in the air of social indifference; the fate of each person in the novel is a symbol of the fate of the collective, and the world-outlook of each of the main protagonists is a reflection of the important issues of the collective life. No wonder that the appearance of the novel became the greatest literary event of the decade in Poland…. [All the volumes of this large novel] were greeted by the almost unanimous enthusiasm of both critics and readers. (p. 41)

[The cycle's] tetralogical structure has its internal logic; on the one hand, there is the natural—the biological, as it were—rhythm in the eternal cycles of human life, rotating as the seasons rotate in nature, and on the other hand there are both the ideological and the strictly artistic rhythms dictating this composition. (pp. 41-2)

Of course, the main personages in [Nights and Days], Bogumil Niechcic and Barbara, his wife, and their daughter Agnieszka, are representatives of a larger group. Of course they may be called "typical" both as representatives of these groups and also as representatives of a certain kind of character. But they are, above all, individual human characters, created by the artistic power of the writer, each one of them living in the particular reality not imitated but evoked by the artist as something independent and unique, though, at the same time, highly real. Human heart, human soul as something sacred and infinitely valuable by itself, but at the same time as something that can hardly exist for itself, without the element of love and of compassion for other human beings, this is, perhaps, the most important factor in Dabrowska's work. It crystallized very early in her life and it remained with her as possibly the only true "guiding thought."

Perhaps the best illustration of this is the fine portrait of Agnieszka Niechcic, the young daughter of Bogumil and Barbara. In the process of changes depicted in Nights and Days, Agnieszka represents the generation which already is free from the tradition of possessing land as the symbol of social status; she possesses a new set of values, based entirely on character, profession, ideas, and a somewhat vague program, connected with bettering the political, social, and economic lot of people. Like the author herself, she leaves home to go abroad for study, and like the author herself, she studies natural sciences in Switzerland. Like the author herself, she finds a man who is an active political agent with radical socialist affiliations. But this, of course, does not mean that Agnieszka is the author's only porte parole. Dabrowska herself stated emphatically that if any of the personages expresses her own views, then it is above all Bogumil. Actually, all three of the main personages can be said to express some of the author's ideas. Only when taken together and supplemented by many other figures in the novel can they give a sum of things that are close to the author's heart. This polyphonic ideological concept is in agreement with the practice of realism.

Agnieszka, nevertheless, often seems to express better than any other person in the novel some of the thoughts which were … the most essential in Dabrowska's concept of human life and of the place of an individual in society. (pp....

(The entire section is 3180 words.)