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...
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