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.)

Witold Gombrowicz Biography

(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.)

Witold Gombrowicz Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Witold Gombrowicz (gawm-BRAW-veech), one of the greatest twentieth century innovators of Polish prose and drama, was born on the estate of his father in Maoszyce (about 125 miles east of Warsaw). He was educated privately at home before he was sent to the Wielopolski Lyceum in Warsaw in 1915. Between 1923 and 1926 Gombrowicz studied law at the University of Warsaw, where he obtained his master’s degree. Though he detested the legal profession, Gombrowicz believed that this course of study would provide him with knowledge set in an exact discipline.

During an ostensibly academic sojourn in France following his graduation Gombrowicz led a questionable social life. Eventually, when his father refused to support him any longer, Witold was forced to return to Poland, where he obtained a modest position in the Warsaw courts.

The young writer’s first short stories soon made their appearance: Seven tales were published in 1933 under the collected title Pamitnik z okresu dojrzewania (diary from the period of maturing). After the publication of this work Gombrowicz left his legal career and dedicated himself entirely to literature. In 1934 he wrote his first drama, Iwona, which was, however, not staged until many years later. Gombrowicz also published a few critical articles and polemics in Varsovian literary gazettes. Following Iwona, two years’ work on his first preserved novel was crowned in the year 1937 with the publication of Ferdydurke, which became Gombrowicz’s best-known, best-received, and most successful work of fiction.

In this early work the main problem Gombrowicz addressed throughout his entire later period—the problem of form and chaos—is already articulated. “Form” is shorthand for the repressive, conformist forces that individuals struggle against despite...

(The entire section is 756 words.)