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||Henry(k) Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) - psydonym Litwos|
Polish novelist, a storyteller, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905. Henryk Sienkiewicz's most famous novels include the widely translated and several times filmed Quo Vadis? (1896). His strongly Catholic worldview deeply marked his writing. Sienkiewicz's works have been published in 50 languages.
"And Peter understood that neither Caesar nor all his legions could overcome the living truth, -- that they could not overwhelm it with tears or blood, and that now its victory was beginning. He understood with equal force why the Lord had turned him back on the road. That city of pride, crime, wickedness, and power was beginning to be His city, and the double capital, from which would flow out upon the world government of souls and bodies." (from Quo Vadis?)
Henryk Sienkiewicz was born to a well-to-do family in Wola Okrzejska, a town in Russian-ruled Poland. Because of economic difficulties, the family sold their rural property and moved to Warsaw. Sienkiewicz attended Warsaw Gymnasium and in 1866 he entered the Polish University (Szkola Glowna). He studied law and medicine, and later history and literature. While a student he started to write newspaper columns. Inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas, Sienkiewicz composed his first historical story, Ofiara (The Sacrifice), of which no manuscript is known to survive. After finding himself penniless, he left the university without receiving a degree. He worked in the 1870s as a freelance journalist, and wrote short stories and novels. His first novel, Ma marne (1872), depicted student life. In 1874 he was a co-owner and editor of the biweekly Niwa.
Sienkiewicz went to the United States in 1876, and published his letters in the newspaper Gazeta Polska. The actress Helena Mofjeska and her friends had planned to establish in California a settlement, and Sienkiewicz was as an advance agent. The journey also inspired several short stories, among them 'Latarnik' (1882). He returned to Warsaw at the end of 1879, and became co-editor of the conservative newspaper Slowo (1882-87), where he published his early novels. He was a founding member of the Mianowski Foundation and a co-founder and president of Literary Foundation (1899). In 1881 he married Maria Szetkiewicz; she died in 1885.
Inspired by Walter Scott and French historical novels Sienkiewicz started to work in 1882 on his own trilogy of historical novels. Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword) was published in 1884. It was followed by sequels Potop (1886, The Deluge) and Pan Michael (1888). All these works were carefully researched and written in an exciting, fast-paced style. Sienkiewicz showed his skills in creating colorful characters, which also fascinated readers outside Poland. In 1893 Sienkiewicz married Maria Romanowska; she was 28 years his junior and left him soon after the marriage.
Ogniem i mieczem was Sienkiewicz's first novel in a historical trilogy dealing with the period from 1648 to the time of King John III (John Sobieski) at the end of the 17th century. Following the example of Alexander Dumas père, Sienkiewicz added in the colorful narrative a patriotic message. The novel describes a series of wars Poland conducted in its defence over the course of the 17th century. The first part takes its subject from the war between Poland and the Ukraine, while its sequel, Potop deals with the Swedish invasion of the country. Pan Wołodyjowski concludes the story with the theme of a Polish-Turkish war. On the surface the work is an almost classical type of adventure novel, with an uplifting effect. There are invincible heroes, spectacular duels, everlasting friendships, and heroic deaths. Sienkiewicz tells about the nation's past glories and defeats in such manner that people can identify with the fictitious heroes, and believe in the resurrection of Poland. During World War II a number of freedom fighters assumed their pseudonyms from the trilogy.
Sienkiewicz traveled widely, spending time in Africa in 1891, where he contracted malaria, and visiting Italy for his novel Quo Vadis? It depicts the persecution of the Christians in first-century Rome during the reign of the Emperor Nero, but it can be read as Sienkiewicz’s contribution to the struggle of the Polish people against repression. The main plot is a love story of a Roman patrician, Vinicius, and a Christian girl, Lygia, who is of royal descent. Nero plays the role of sinister tyrant, personifying the decadence of the Empire. Among the other real historical characters are the writers Petronius (d. 66), a rich aesthetician, and Seneca (d. 65), who opposes Nero. Petronius meets Paul who tells him: "The whole world is trembling before you, and ye are trembling before your own slaves, for ye know that any hour may raise an awful war against your oppression, such a war as has been raised more than once. Though rich, thou art not sure that the command may not come to thee to-morrow to leave thy wealth; thou art young, but to-morrow it may be necessary for thee to die." Quo Vadis? conveys the message of faith and hope and was a huge success. It was one of the first novels adapted for the screen. In the early 1900s two versions were made, one French and one Italian. Jerzy Kawalerowicz's adaptation of 2001, supported by Pope John Paul II, was filmed in Tunisia, Poland and France.
Sienkiewicz was given in 1900 an estate by the Polish government at Oblegorek, near Kielce. In 1904 he married Maria Babska, his niece, who was 14 years younger than he. Sienkiewicz's last important novel, Krzyzacy (1900, The Teutonic Knights), was set in medieval Poland at the time of its conflict with the Teutonic Order. This novel clearly referred to the policy of the then German state towards the Poles. While his heroes in Ogniem i mieczem affected the course of history, now they do not play a major role, but then history determined the condition of their lives. W pustyni i w puszczy (1911, In Desert and Wilderness), written for children, was located in the deserts and savannas of Africa in the year of Mahdi's rebellion and the capture of Khartoum. Its lively details were partly based on the author's travels in Africa. Prusse et Pologne (1907) attacked the Prussian government's land policy in Prussian-occupied Poland.
With the outbreak of WW I, Sienkiewicz fled to Switzerland. He was a member of the Swiss Relief Committee for the War Victims in Poland. Sienkiewicz died of heart failure in Vevey on November 15, 1916. His body was returned to Poland eight years later. "To appraise him objectively is quite a task," wrote the Polish Nobel writer Czeslav Miloz in The History of Polish Literature ( 1983), "for he combined a rare narrative gift with shortcomings that are serious enough to disqualify him from the title of a truly great writer." In his statement about the Nobel prize Sienkiewicz said that "it has been said that Poland is dead, exhausted, enslaved; but here is the proof of her life and triumph." Although Sienkiewicz has been criticized for lack of philosophical depth, he is generally regarded as a serious and important novelist. However, Stanislaw Brzozowski (1878-1911), the leading critic of early modernism, attacked him fiercely; his treatise on the author appeared in 1903. The best-known pioneer of modernist Polish fiction, Witold Gombrowicz, has called Sienkiewicz "the first-rate secondary writer" but nevertheless recognized the magic of his narrative skill.
For further reading: The Patriot Novelist of Poland Henryk Sienkiewicz by Monica Gardner (1926); Henryk Sienkiewicz. Kalendarz zycia i tworczoski by J. Krzyzanowski (1956); Henryk Sienkiewicz: A Retrospective Synthesis by Waclaw Lednicki (1960); Un "best-seller" 1900: "Quo Vadis?" by Marja Kosko (1960); Henryk Sienkiewicz: A Biography by Mieczyslaw Giergielewicz (1968); Henryk Sienkiewicz, ed. by K. Wyka and A Piorunova (1968); Trylogia Sienkiewicza by Z. Szweykowski (1973); Twórczosc Henryka Sienkiewicza by J. Krzyzanowski (1976); The History of Polish Literature by Czeslaw Milosz (1969, 2nd edition 1983); A History of Polish Literature by Julian Krzyzanowski (1978); The Trilogy Companion by Jerzy Krzyzanowski (1991); Sienkiewicza "Powiesci z lat dawnych by Tadeusz Bujnicki (1996) - See also: Wladyslaw Reymont, Polish writer who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924; Ben-Hur (1880) by Lew Wallace.