Boleslaw Prus

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Bolesław Prus

Bolesław Prus (pronounced: Missing image

[bɔ'lεswaf 'prus]; August 20, 1847May 19, 1912), born Aleksander Głowacki, was a Polish journalist, short-story writer, and novelist. He is one of the most important figures in Polish letters, and one of the most distinctive in world literature.

An indelible mark was left on Prus by his experiences as a 15-year-old soldier in Poland's 1863 Uprising, in which he suffered severe battle contusions and imprisonment by Tsarist Russian authorities. At age 25 he settled into a distinguished 40-year career in journalism. As a sideline, he began writing short stories.

Between 1886 and 1895 Prus completed four major novels. Perennial favorites with his countrymen are The Doll and Pharaoh. The Doll describes the romantic infatuation of a man of action who is frustrated by the backwardness of his society. Pharaoh, Prus' only historical novel, while reflecting the Polish national experience, also offers a unique vision of ancient Egypt at the fall of its 20th Dynasty and New Kingdom.



Born Aleksander Głowacki, Bolesław Prus fought in Poland's 1863 Uprising, the orphaned younger brother of an insurgent leader, Leon Glowacki. (Leon during the Uprising developed a mental illness that would end only with his death in 1907.) On september 1, 1863, twelve days after his sixteenth birthday, Prus suffered severe battle contusions and was captured by Tsarist Russian forces. Eventually released on account of his youth, in 1866 he completed high school and enrolled in science at Warsaw University.

His studies were cut short by financial straits and dissatisfaction with the educational experience. In 1869 he enrolled at the newly opened Agricultural and Forestry Institute in Puławy, where he had spent part of his childhood; he was, however, soon expelled after a classroom confrontation with a Russian professor. Henceforth he studied on his own while supporting himself as a tutor, factory worker, and from 1872 a journalist. Journalism would become his school of writing.

After he began regular weekly newspaper columns, his finances stabilized, permitting him to marry a cousin. The couple never had children of their own. A foster son — the model for Rascal in chapter 48 of Pharaoh — would in 1904, at age eighteen, shoot himself dead on the doorstep of an unrequited love. Prus may in 1906, at fifty-nine, have had a son who would die in a German camp after the suppression of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

Prus, as a disciple of August Comte's Positivist philosophy — although he was a talented writer, at first best known for his humorist writing — early on thought little of his journalistic and literary productions; hence he adopted a pen name, "Prus" being his family coat of arms. In 1882 he assumed the editorship of a Warsaw daily, resolving to make it "an observatory of societal facts" — an instrument for fostering the development of his country, which between 1772 and 1795 had been partitioned out of political existence by three of its neighbors. After less than a year, however, Nowiny (News) folded, and Prus resumed writing columns. In time he adopted the French critic Hippolyte Taine's concept of the arts, including literature, as a second means, alongside the sciences, of studying reality; and as a sideline he turned his hand to penning short stories.

Eventually he would compose four major novels on great questions of the day: The Outpost (1886) on the Polish peasant; The Doll (1889) on the aristocracy and townspeople, and on idealists struggling to bring about social reforms; The New Woman (1893) on feminist concerns; and his only historical novel, Pharaoh (1895), on mechanisms of political power.

Pharaoh is unique in nineteenth-century literature as a novel on political power. The protagonist learns that "those who displease the servants of the gods" are vulnerable to cooption, seduction, subornation, defamation, intimidation or assassination. Perhaps the chief lesson, belatedly absorbed by Ramses, is the importance, to power, of knowledge or science.

Pharaoh, depicting the demise of Egypt's New Kingdom three thousand years earlier, also reflects Poland's loss of independence a century before, in 1795: an independence whose post-World War I restoration Prus would not live to see. On may 19, 1912, at his Warsaw apartment, Prus' forty-year journalistic and literary career ended with his death. The beloved agoraphobic author was mourned by the nation that he had striven, as soldier, thinker and writer, to rescue from oblivion.

Half a century later, on December 3, 1961, a museum devoted to Prus was opened in the Małachowski Palace at Nałęczów, where Prus had vacationed for thirty years.

It has been observed that, while Prus espoused a Positivist outlook, much in his fiction writing shows qualities compatible with pre-1863-Uprising Polish Romantic literature (although he himself wrote little verse). Indeed, he held some of the Polish Romantic poets, such as Adam Mickiewicz, in high regard. Prus' novels in turn, especially The Doll and Pharaoh, with their innovative composition techniques, blazed the way for the 20th-century Polish novel.

The Doll was considered by Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz to be the best Polish novel. The New Woman was deemed by Joseph Conrad to be "better than Dickens" (a favorite author of Conrad's). Pharaoh, a brilliant evocation of "the oldest civilization in the world," became Joseph Stalin's favorite novel, prefigured the fate of President John F. Kennedy, and continues to point analogies to our own times. The Doll and Pharaoh, two of the preeminent achievements in Polish literature, are available in good English translations.

In 1897-1899 Prus serialized in the Warsaw Daily Courier (Kurier Codzienny) a monograph on The Most General Life Ideals (Najogólniejsze ideały życiowe), which systematized ideas that he had developed over his career regarding happiness, utility and perfection in the lives of individuals and societies. In it he returned to the society-organizing (i.e. political) interests that had been frustrated during his Nowiny editorship fifteen years earlier. A book edition appeared in 1901 (2nd, revised edition, 1905). This work retains interest especially for philosophers and social scientists.

Another of Prus' learned projects remained incomplete at his death. He had sought, over his writing career, to develop a coherent theory of literary composition. Intriguing extant notes from 1886-1912 were never put together into a finished book as intended.

Chief novels

See also


  • Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Art of Bolesław Prus), 2nd edition, Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972.
  • Krystyna Tokarzówna and Stanisław Fita, Bolesław Prus, 1847-1912: Kalendarz życia i twórczości (Bolesław Prus, 1847-1912: Calendar of Life and Works), edited by Zygmunt Szweykowski, Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1969.
  • Gabriela Pauszer-Klonowska, Ostatnia miłość w życiu Bolesława Prusa (The Last Love in the Life of Bolesław Prus), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1962.
  • Stanisław Fita, ed., Wspomnienia o Bolesławie Prusie (Reminiscences about Bolesław Prus), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1962.
  • Stefan Melkowski, Poglądy estetyczne i działalność krytycznoliteracka Bolesława Prusa (Bolesław Prus' Esthetic Views and Literary-Critical Activity), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1963.

External links

Template:Wikisource author Template:Wikiquotepl:Bolesław Prus de:Bolesław Prus


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