Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although Wadysaw Reymont (RAY-mahnt) is remembered and celebrated chiefly as an epic novelist, his contribution to Polish literature includes a number of volumes of novellas and short fiction. Many of the scenes and characters that appear in the longer works, notably in The Comedienne and The Peasants, find their origins—in far cruder, less refined form—in the earlier short pieces. The most important collections and single editions of these works that significantly shaped the author’s later masterpieces are “Pielgrzymka do Jasnej Góry” (1895; a pilgrimage to Jasna Góra), Spotkania(1897; meetings), “Lili” (1899), Burza (1907; the storm), Z ziemi chemskiej (1910; from the Chem territory), and Za frontem (1919; beyond the front).

There is evidence (confirmed in the author’s correspondence and other sources) that Reymont attempted a number of plays, including a dramatization of The Peasants. A drama titled Za póno (too late) was staged in Paris and Warsaw in 1899, but no texts of these dramatic works have survived. Reymont’s letters, particularly his impressions of travels abroad, have been published in uncollected editions.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

During his lifetime, Wadysaw Reymont achieved a reputation of some note among Polish readers. After the publication of The Comedienne, his subsequent works were anticipated with great interest and even impatience, particularly the long-awaited final volumes of The Peasants. The long works, once they did appear, were not always met with unanimous accolades. Some reviewers complained that the author lacked a solid ideological point of view; others found the characterizations insufficiently developed, stereotyped, and unconvincing. Reymont’s prominence, however, is not a result of the political content of his oeuvre or the paradigms of Polish society he chose to depict in his fiction; rather, his contribution stems from the epic, panoramic overview of the particular social class or professional milieu he so ably described. Reymont’s most rewarding scenes present crowds: masses of peasants, underpaid laborers, or impoverished traveling actors. His keen attention to detail, together with his photographic memory (which captured not only visual but also all encompassing sensual images), served to portray accurately not specific heroes but heroic classes, not the greatness of individuals but the grandeur of universals.

This ability to present lucid, descriptive accounts of the essence of Polish national character, pastimes, and traditions led to Reymont’s quick acceptance by an international audience. Translations of the major works (notably The Promised Land and parts of The Peasants) into Russian, German, and Swedish appeared soon after the original, prompting the author’s candidacy for the Nobel Prize in Literature as early as 1918. Because of external political considerations, however, Reymont was not awarded the world’s highest literary honor until 1924, at which time—according to the Swedish press—the Nobel was bestowed on the author ostensibly for The Peasants but also as an expression of “the sympathy of the Swedish people for the spiritual culture of that highly gifted Polish nation in the moment of triumph of a resurrected Poland.”


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gregory, A. Ladislas Reymont, Romain Rolland, Bertrand Russell. Del Mar, Calif.: CRM, 1971. A comparative study.

Krzyanowski, Jerzy R. Wadysaw Stanisaw Reymont. Boston: Twayne, 1972. An introductory guide.

Mikos, Michael, and David Mulroy. “Reymont’s The Peasants: A Probable Influence on Desire Under the Elms.” The Eugene O’Neill Newsletter 10, no. 1 (Spring, 1986). A comparative study that emphasizes Reymont’s wide influence.

Miosz, Czesaw. The History of Polish Literature. 2d ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. This standard history pinpoints Reymont’s importance to Polish literature.