(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

With Fire and Sword is the first volume of Sienkiewicz’s celebrated trilogy of life under the Polish Commonwealth of the seventeenth century. It opens almost in the midst of battle between the rebellious Cossacks of the Ukraine, in the southeasternmost reaches of Polish-ruled territory. Led by Bohdan Hmyelnitzki, the rebellious Cossacks press into the interior of the commonwealth from the wild lands on the border. Hmyelnitzki has allied himself with the foreign Tartars, which appalls Pan Yan, the Polish officer sent by Prince Yeremi to keep order. There are all sorts of shifts and maneuverings, along with murders, as the two sides sort themselves out. Hmyelnitki first must get rid of some Cossack rivals, which he does by accusing them of traitorous association with a Polish spy. To a certain extent, Hmyelnitzki seems more concerned about internal rivals than the ostensible enemy.

Intertwined with the military adventure story is the story of Pan Yan’s love for the princess Helen, a sweet and pure girl mistreated by her greedy relatives. Throughout the book Pan Yan is both trying to defeat the Cossack rebellion and get back together with Helen, who has fallen into Cossack hands. He has trouble doing this, however, because he himself is captured at one point and at another point is ill and exhausted, so it is his servant Jendzian and his friend Zagloba who rescue Helen.

Zagloba, who is often compared to William Shakespeare’s...

(The entire section is 494 words.)


(Essentials of European Literature)

It was December, 1647, in the wilderness of steppeland and marsh, when Lieutenant Yan Skshetuski found a Cossack traveler who had been attacked by unknown enemies. Grateful to Skshetuski for assisting him, the Cossack rode off after pledging friendship with the young officer.

Prince Yeremi Vishnyevetski had sent Pan Yan Skshetuski to the Khan to obtain that ruler’s aid in punishing certain Tartars who had raided the prince’s estates beyond the Dnieper. Pan Yan broke his return journey at Chigirin. There, at the inn of Dopula, he learned that the man whose life he had saved was a rebel Cossack who had escaped to the Saitch, the Cossack territory, where he too could threaten Prince Yeremi’s domain.

When Pan Yan left Chigirin, he was anxious to get to Lubni, where a pleased prince awaited him. Along the way, Pan Yan had occasion to aid the widow of Prince Constantine Kurtsevich and her orphaned niece, Princess Helena, with whom the lieutenant fell in love. The five sons of Princess Kurtsevich and a young man named Bogun joined them. Bogun’s animosity toward Pan Yan convinced the lieutenant that the man was jealous because of Helena. Bogun was an adopted sixth son of the Princess Kurtsevich.

The party stopped at the family estate, Rozlogi, which rightfully belonged to Helena but which was in the hands of the aunt and her sons. Pan Yan offered not to interfere with the present ownership of Rozlogi if the princess would give him Helena as a wife. The princess promised to send Bogun away and to bring Helena to Lubni.

Confiding in Prince Yeremi, Pan Yan confessed his love for Helena. Much to Pan Yan’s joy, the indulgent commander offered to care for Helena as a daughter. Later, wishing to learn about Hmelnitski’s activities in the Saitch, Prince Yeremi sent Pan Yan there. This mission gave the lieutenant a chance to stop at Rozlogi on the way.

After Pan Yan had passed through Kudak, the key city commanding the Saitch, his party was attacked by a group of tartars, Cossacks, and Zaporojians, and Pan Yan was taken prisoner.

Hmelnitski had become the hetman of the Saitch. Tugai Bey, hetman of the Tartars, was his ally. Pan Yan had carried three letters in which Prince Yeremi requested safe conduct for his envoy. The men to whom these letters were addressed were massacred by the savage Cossack Brotherhood of the Saitch. Hmelnitski, recognizing Pan Yan as his rescuer on the steppes, persuaded Tugai Bey not to order the lieutenant’s death.

From the Saitch rode Hmelnitski and the Zaporojians and Tartars. From Chigirin, under young Pototski, marched the armies of the king. In the enemy camp Pan Yan mourned his inability to help his ruler. After days of battle the Commonwealth army fell under the onslaught of the attackers. Next Prince Yeremi himself came to quell the rebellion. Deciding to retreat to the Dnieper, Hmelnitski released Pan Yan, who hurried at once to Rozlogi. He found the house in ruins.

During the battle Bogun had found out about Princess Kurtzevich’s plan to marry Helena to Pan Yan. He went to Rozlogi, killed the princess and two of her sons, and was himself wounded. One of his allies, Zagloba, turned against him and rescued Helena. In disguise, the pair of fugitives escaped in the darkness to seek refuge and safety. After Bogun had burned Rozlogi, Prince Yeremi, learning of the raid, sent soldiers to find Helena. When the search proved unsuccessful, the prince tried vainly to console Pan Yan, whose grief nearly drove him mad.

The prince and his followers, forced to retreat from Lubni toward the Dnieper, left their rich estates and towns behind them. Harried by...

(The entire section is 1503 words.)