A LONG WAY TO THE NOBEL PRIZE
MILENA KINDZIUK, WOJCIECH DUDKIEWICZ
A way of Władysław Reymont to acknowledgment by readers and to the Nobel Prize was long and tough. Before the Nobel prize winner, whose 150th birth anniversary is just being celebrated, became a reporter and writer, he had done various jobs
Although ambition of his father – the head of family with nine children and an organist in one of towns near Łódź – was to educate his son, he was not willing to study. In addition he was fractious, so he was sent to his oldest sister and her husband in Warsaw to be brought up. Here he learnt a profession of a tailor, so he is thought to have self-taught, without the general education. In order to gain the title of an apprentice, he presented a tail-coat sewn by himself, which supposedly fit him very well. Thanks to it, he passed his vocation exam, but he had never worked as a tailor.
He was trying to do various jobs. He was an actor – as it turned out, he did not have any qualifications for it – in wandering theatre troupes, a caretaker, railway worker, lineman – these works helped him survive; he was very close to join a religious order. He was observing life from various perspectives, he got to know customs of various groups. He often changed a place of residence, travelled a lot, gaining a lot of experiences. He began writing relatively late, nearly before the age of thirty when he decided that he would write to earn for living.
A pilgrimage to Jasna Góra
In fact his name was Rejment and changed his surname on the occasion of his litarature debut. Kazimierz Wyka, a literature expert, thought that it was to blur the association with the world ‘rejmentować’, meaning in cant something like ‘curse’.
The fact that he could write and publish, was decided about by the opinion of Ignacy Matuszewski, known as a critic in Warsaw at the turn of XIX and XX centuries, thanks to whom he published a novel ‘Death’ in a magazine ‘Voice’ in 1892. Other novels were edited in a magazine in Cracow ‘Thought’.
It was a good beginning which gave him courage to move from Łódź to Warsaw without any money and get down to work of writing. Among his acquaintances he was considered as an extremely perceptive person – which is a feature of a good journalist and writer – and accurately, synthetically reflecting the essence of things.
An attempt of possibility was expressed by Reymont in a report ‘A pilgrimage to Jasna Góra’, written after he had set off in a foot pilgrimage to Częstochowa, on the 100th anniversary of Kosciuszko Insurrection. This report was a breakthrough in his literary career.
During next dozen years Reymont wrote a few novels which entered literature history for ever. He published his novels in newspapers. He created week by week, later in books versions, in which he did very little changes.
The first novel – ‘Comedienne’ was published as a book in 1896, and another one – its continuation: ‘Ferments’- a year later. The main hero of the both novels is Janka Orłowska, a daughter of a head of a railway station in a small town, who ran away from Warsaw to begin an acting career and taste life in a big city.
The ‘Promised land’ – one of two most popular novels by Reymont, was initially published in newspapers. In a novel, published separately in 1899, he created a thrilling, cruel and demonic picture of Łódź – a developing capitalistic metropolis. The novel is based on the fates of three friends: Karol Borowiecki, Moryc Welt and Maks Baum. As a literary critic Artur Hutnikiewicz evaluated, the title ‘Promised land’ to which poor people and adventurers are coming from all over the world, turns out to be a land of curse, suffering and destruction.
The literary masterpiece is, undoubtedly, ’Peasants’. This is the most successful novel by Reymont, initially published in sequels in newspapers as well, in which at the background of four seasons, the author creates a rich picture of a village in Łowicz. Critics agreed that creating such a rich picture of life, work and customs in the village, Reymont also created a successful realistic novel with elements of naturalism, colourful peasant epic and a timeless myth of human life and nature. The title peasants live not only in harmony with nature, but also in the rhythm of religious practices. They take care about customs and traditions, take part in wedding receptions, funerals and parties. Moreover, the language of the novel is specific: folk language, dialect is used in dialogues – stylization, created by Reymont, has excellent artistic values. The writer was an excellent stylist. It was this novel for which Reymont received the literary Nobel prize in 1924.
When Poland regained its independence, Poles wanted to grant the Nobel prize to the representative of their nation: they meant raising the prestige of the young country. The triumph of Reymont also appeared due to the ‘Promised Land’, whose translation appeared in Sweden before the ‘Peasants’ and which was known to members of the Swedish Academy.
Reymont did not have weak competitors. – Theoretically he had little chance in this competition. He had three rivals. The first one was Thomas Hardy, the second – Maksym Gorki and the third – Thomas Mann, whom it was a miracle to overcome – says prof. Jan Tomkowski from the Institute of Literary Studies of the Polish Science Academy.
In Poland Reymont was ‘a competitor’ of Stefan Żeromski, as his historic trilogy was an attempt of rivalry (‘Year 1794’) with ‘Ashes’ by Żeromski, but – as Hutnikiewicz said – ‘an attempt not reaching the level of that literary work’.
Undoubtedly, Władysław Reymont got inscribed in the cards of literature history of Young Poland for ever as its prominent representative. So, no wonder that when in 1925, nearly over a year from receiving the Nobel Prize and two weeks after Żeromski had died, Reymont died which was perceived as a significant end of the epoch.