Witold Gombrowicz Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Witold Gombrowicz’s life spanned the extremes of affluence and poverty, obscurity and fame. The youngest of four children in a wealthy landowning family, he was born August 4, 1904, on his parents’ country estate, Maoszyce, in what is today southeastern Poland. His father was an estate manager and industrialist and his mother an educated but conventional woman of her social class. Distant from his father and brothers, the young Gombrowicz found himself in the orbit of his mother and sister, who overprotected him. He suffered from chronic respiratory illnesses, which plagued him all his life and worsened when asthmatic attacks began ten years before his death. Images of choking, strangling, and suffocation recur in his writing. He rebelled against maternal smothering at an early age, and his youthful alienation from his family became a dominant autobiographical theme in his writing (his adult relations with his family were cordial). Balancing the pathological aspect of his biography was his indefatigable sense of humor, with which he deterrorized his psychological and physical ailments.

When Gombrowicz was seven, the family moved to Warsaw, where he received a good education, including private tutoring and attendance at an elite high school. He took a law degree at Warsaw University and, after an apprenticeship with a judge, devoted himself full time to writing. From an early age, he devoured literature, philosophy, and history. His first literary effort, at age sixteen, was a history of his family, based on the four-hundred-year-old family archives. Later, he secretly wrote fiction but achieved satisfying results only during his law apprenticeship, when his first book took shape. Its reception in 1933 was overwhelmingly positive, but a few condescending reviews led him to regard his debut as a failure. Nevertheless, his strong and eccentric personality soon established itself in Polish literary life. His polemical novel Ferdydurke placed him in the spotlight, winning for him zealous admirers and detractors, but his play Ivona, Princess of Burgundia...

(The entire section is 852 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Witold Marian Gombrowicz’s life falls into two main phases, separated by his decision in September, 1939, to stay in Argentina, where he was caught by the outbreak of World War II in Europe. He was born in 1904 into the family of a landed proprietor-turned-industrialist; in 1911, his family moved from a country manor in southern Poland to Warsaw. The most rebellious and whimsical child in his family, Gombrowicz nevertheless graduated from high school and, in 1922, acceding to his father’s wish, began to study law at Warsaw University. After he graduated in 1927, he continued his studies in Paris but soon returned to Poland, where his unorthodox views made it impossible for him to find a job as a lawyer. In all probability, this professional failure hastened his decision to devote himself entirely to writing. In 1933, his first book, a collection of short stories under the provocative title Pamiętnik z okresu dojrzewania (a memoir written in puberty), was published to rather skeptical reviews that generally dismissed the book as “immature.” Nevertheless, Gombrowicz quickly won recognition in the circles of young writers. By the mid-1930’s, he was already enjoying a moderate fame as a colorful personality and fascinating causeur as well as an insightful literary critic. It was, however, his first novel, Ferdydurke, that became a genuine event of Polish literary life. Published in 1937, Ferdydurke provoked a heated critical debate on avant-garde tendencies in modern Polish prose.

Before the war, Gombrowicz managed to publish in magazines...

(The entire section is 651 words.)