Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841-1910)
Orzeszkowa was born on 6th of June into the wealthy Pawłowski family. She was educated in a Warsaw pension for young girls (1852-1857) where she became friends with Maria Wasiłowska (Konopnicka). At the age of 17 she married Piotr Orzeszko (twice her age) and moved to his estate in Ludwinów. She actively participated in the January Uprising by taking charge of a "field hospital" for the underground guerrilla troops, and by helping Romuald Traugutt, the last dictator of the January Uprising, to cross the border into the Królestwo. In 1865, her husband was sentenced to exile in Siberia for joining the guerrillas, and his estate was confiscated. Orzeszkowa therefore moved back to the Grodno area where she was born and where she spent most of her creative life. In 1894, she remarried, legalising 30 years of her relationship with Stanisław Nahorski. Orzeszkowa's literary career can be divided into three subsequent periods:
II. 1877-1891 This is the phase of Orzeszkowa's greatest literary achievements. Her major and best work includes: Meir Ezofowicz (1879); Ghosts (Widma, 1981); Niziny and The Dziurdzia Family (Dziurdziowie ,1855); and finally her masterpieces On the Banks of the Niemen (Nad Niemnem) and The Boor (Cham, 1988). From 1879 to 1882 she ran her own publishing house in Grodno but due to the Russian Censors' intervention, it was closed down. Orzeszkowa was sentenced to internal exile and was not to leave Grodno for five years.
Orzeszkowa believed as fervently as any Romantic in a special calling for literature. But in the case of Positivist writers, its purpose was to educate, to change people's attitudes and values, to root out class, race and sexual prejudices. Both her novels and her journalism were there as aids in the great mission to assure mankind of its right to participate in progress, to prepare them socially and politically for the future, and to assure them of their rightful place with other nations. She fought for the emancipation of women, the rights for illegitimate children and divorced women. She considered the problems of the Jewish communities in the Polish speaking areas, as well as their assimilation into urban society. Thus the didactic element in her early works is strong and up to 1879 quite propagandistic; however, her optimistic view of the power of the written word as a weapon dissolves by the end of the seventies. Her best novels no longer include black and white heroes, a clear narratorial judgement, or simple plots: a note of pessimism is voiced in her hopes for raising society up from depression. Realism takes over from propaganda, and in search of her characters she visited the whole spectrum of social groups (not only engineers, physicians, and teachers). In her novels The Boor and The Dziurdzia Family the influences of Tolstoy and French/German naturalism can be detected. Her writing dealing with the crisis in convictions (written after 1891) are often considered to be her most interesting works.
III. 1892-1910 During the last years of her life, Orzeszkowa came to recognise limitations of her idealism. She became interested in major philosophical, religious and moral dilemmas of human kind. Her works from that period exhibit a lot of psychological insight and apply lyricism as a stylistic device. Among her great artistic achievements are Melancholicy (a collection of short stories), 1896; Ad astra, 1904; and Gloria Victis (memoirs), 1910, published after the relaxation of the censorship laws in Russia. Her last work warns the younger generation after the 1905 revolution not to have high hopes, and to remember the lessons and disappointments of history.
Some Polish male-centered critics claim that Orzeszkowa always remained more a social spokeswoman than a writer but this view can be challenged. Her naiveté and faith in the eventual victory of good over evil permeates most of her early works, even those that end tragically. The conviction that youth, democracy, and work lead to happiness appears to be the main thread of her writings.
Selected Bibliography in English
Orzeszkowa, Eliza. "Miss Antonina." Russian and Polish Women's Fiction. Ed. Helena Goscilo. (University of Tennessee Press, 1985): 206-230.
——— "Mighty Samson," "Meir Ezofowicz". Trans. Harold B. Segel Stranger in Our Midst. Images of the Jew in Polish Literature. Ed. Harold B. Segel. (Cornell UP, 1996): 102-41.
Goscilo, Helena. "Orzeszkowa - Introduction" Ed. Russian and Polish Women's Fiction. Ed. Helena Goscilo. (University of Tennessee Press, 1985): 199-205.
Phillips, Ursula. "The 'Jewish Question' in the Novels and Short Sories of Eliza Orzeszkowa." East European Jewish Affairs, volume 25, Number 2 (Winter 1995): 69-90.
Borkowska, Grazyna. Alienated Women. Trans. Ursula Phillips. (CE University Press, 2001)
Milosz, Czeslaw. "Eliza Orzeszkowa" The History of Polish Literature. (University of California Press, 1983): 303-7.
Krzyzanowski, Julian. " Eliza Orzeszkowa" A History of Polish Literature. Trans. by Doris Ronowicz. (Warszawa: PWN, 1978). 384-87. (Sic! )
Kejna Sharratt, Barbara. "Emancipation of Women in Polish Literature," Essays on Polish Literature and Culture. (Toronto: Easy Printing, 1997): 63-74 (Sic! )
Primary sources in Polish
Orzeszkowa, Eliza. Pisma zebrane. Ed. J. Krzyzanowski. 52 vols. (PWN, 1947-53).
Secondary sources in Polish
Borkowska, Grazyna "Eliza Orzeszkowa — logos i mitos". Pozytywisci i inni. (PWN, 1996):
———. "Orzeszkowa i strategia mimikry", "Orzeszkowa: Autokorekta". Cudzoziemki (Warszawa, 1996): 149-200.
Jankowski, E. Eliza Orzeszkowa. 4th ed. (Warszawa, 1980).
Klosinski, K. Mimesis w chlopskich powiesciach Orzeszkowej. (Katowice, 1990)
Matuszewska, A. Pozycja narratora w powiesciach tendencyjnych Elizy Orzeszkowej. (Gdansk, 1970)
Zmigrodzka, M. Orzeszkowa. Mlodosc pozytywizmu. (Warszawa, 1965)