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|Władysław Reymont (1867-1925) - Stanisław Władysław Rejment|
Polish writer and novelist, whose work offer a vast panorama of Polish life in the last quarter of the 19th century. Wladyslaw Reymont was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924; a year later he died. He is best known for The Peasants, an epic, four-part novel of peasant life. It is almost entirely written in peasant dialect. Reymont considered it his best work.
"I still have many things to say and desire greatly to make them public, but will death let me?" (from Reymont's note to the Swedish Academy, 1924)
Władysław Stanisław Reymont was born in Kobiele Wielke, a small town in southern Poland near Lodz, a fast-growing industrial city, which was at that time occupied by Russia. Reymont spent his childhood in the country and later depicted in his books the life of the peasants, their customs and work. His father, Josef Rejmont, was the village organist, who supported with his meagre income a large family; Reymont was the fift of twelve children. Josef tried to teach his children to play the piano, Reymont was more interested in reading, and devoured books whenever he had the change. Among his favorites were Robinson Crusoe and novels by Walter Scott. Reymont's family was very patriotic and rigidly Roman Catholic. His mother, Antonina (neé Kupczynska) had taken with her brothers in the insurrection of 1863. After third grade, Reymont left the school and his home – he had failed to pass the entrance examinations for a secondary school in Lodz. At that time the schools were also instruments of Russification; students were not allowed to speak Polish inside the school. Reymont was admitted to the tailor's guild as a journeyman in Warsaw. During this period he became interested in theatre and developed a lasting love for the stage. Reymont was not able to finish his journeyman years. When the Russian authorities suspected him of taking part in a strike in Lodz, he was expelled from the guild.
At the age of seventeen Reymont began his wandering years. He joined a travelling acting company but soon found out that he lacked the necessary talent. He also unsuccessfully joined a monastery as a novice. Later he worked in the railways and in a factory. Reymont's railroad job paid very little, but it provided him opportunity to write. He produced feverishly short stories, poems, dramas and novels without end. Like Maxim Gorky, Reymont relied on experience, and used his adventures as raw material for his fiction. Between the years 1884 and 1894 he kept diary, which helped him in his literary apprenticeship. After being injured in a railroad accident, Reymont received substantial settlement, that brought him financial independence, without the need to earn a living from other work.
In 1893 Reymont moved to Warsaw. There he gained success with Pilgrimage to the Mountains of Life (1894), which explored the mood of a group of people on pilgrimage to Jasna Góra. The book attracted the attention of the closed circle of Polish intellectuals and writers by its portrayal of the collective psychology. Reymont's first novel, The Comedienne (1896), dealt with theatrical life, and was followed by a sequel, Ferments. It told about the rebellion of a young woman, who realizes that the revolt against the laws of society must end in failure.
The Promised Land (1899) was about the rapidly growing industrial city of Lodz and the cruel effects of industrialization on textile mill owners. "For that land people were born. And it sucked everything in, crushed it in its powerful jaws, and chewed people and objects, the sky and the earth, in return giving useless millions to a handful of people, and hunger and hardship to the whole throng." (from The Promised Land) Reymont painted a kaleidoscopic view of people, places, generations, nationalities. The narrative technique adopted influences from film, cutting from one scene to another.
Reymond saw industrialization as a huge beast that swallows human resources, anticipating modern environmental debate. Noteworthy, Reymont depicted Jews as krajowy cudzoziemiec (domestic foreigners); they are the involuntary villains with Germans, who in pursuing their dream of the "promised land" have turned Poland into a jungle "in which, if you have good strong claws, you may fearlessly go ahead and do away with your neighbours; else they will fall upon you, suck you dry, and then toss your carcass away." Andrzei Wajda's film adaptation of the book from 1974 was not shown in American movie theaters due to accusations of anti-Semitism, but it received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.
In 1902 married Aurelia Szablowska, a nurse he had met while recuperating from the railroad accident. They went to Paris, where Reymont finished his major work, The Peasants. It first appeared in serialized form in the magazine Tygodnik Ilustrowany (1902-6). Upon the publication of the final volume, it was compared to the best works of Thomas Hardy and Émile Zola. The narrative structure followed the seasons from autumn to summer and the church holidays and religious rituals interwoven with the rhythm of the season. In the plot Reymont focused on the love affair of Antek Boryna, the son of the Maciej, a wealthy peasant, with his father's young and sensual stepmother, Jagna. This love triangle is resolved by the old man's death and Antek leaves Jagna because "one has to plow in order to sow, one has to sow in order to harvest, and what is disturbing has to be weeded out, like a bad weed." Because Reymont had used a local dialect, the novel, especially its dialogue, was not easy to translate into another language. However, the first volume came out in Russian in 1904 and a German translation was published in 1912. In France Reymont's work received much attention through Franck Louis Schoell's translation.
Although Reymont continued to write prolifically, he did not gain the same popular and critical success that greeted The Peasants. His later works include The Dreamer (1910), about a lonely railroad employe, and an occult novel, The Vampire (1911), which deals with Theosophic spiritualistic problems. Reymont returned to Poland in 1914. During World War I Reymont spent much time in Warsaw and Zakopane. He traveled in the United States in 1919 and 1920 in search of materials – Reymont did not speak English but interpreters served as go-betweens. In the 1920s he settled on his own estate, Kolaczkowo. The the first volumes of The Peasants appeared in Swedish in 1920; four years late he was awarded the Nobel prize. By that time he was too ill and unable to travel to Stockholm to attend the award ceremony. Reymont died on December 5, 1925, in Warsaw.
In his early novels Reymont depicted the life of workers in a naturalistic style with short sentences. Later he became interested in spiritualistic movement and wrote three-volume historical novel ROK 1974, an interpretation of Polish political and social life in the close of the 18th century. The work was meant to equal Henryk Sienkiewicz's famous trilogy about Poland in the middle of the 17th century, Ogniem i mieczem, Potop, and Pan Wolodyjowski (1884-1888). Reymont focused on the last years of the Polish Republic, before its partition among Russia, Prussia, and Austria. He was an ardent supporter of Jan Paderewski, a pianist, diplomat and politician, who was for a short time Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland.
For further reading: Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont by Julian Krzyzanowski (1937); "Chlopi" Reymonta by Maria Rzeuska (1950); Les paysants de Ladislas Reymont by F.L. Schoell (1925); Wladislaw Stanislaw Reymont by J.R. Krzyzanowski (1972); Reymont: Opowiésc biograficzna by Barbara Kocowna (1973); A History of Polish Literature by J. Krzyzanowski (1978); Studie über die "Chlopi" und Dorfnovellen Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymonts by P.M. Boronowski (1994); Encyclopedia of Wold Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999) - See also: Henryk Sienkiewicz, Polish writer who received Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905