September 13, 2019



Between 1883 and 1887 he wrote his legendary trilogy, a fictional recounting of the glories and trials of the seventeenth-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Among many historical events, the novels cover the Khmelnytsky Uprising of Ukrainian Cossacks, the Swedish invasion of Poland, and wars between Poland and the Ottoman Empire. The books both secured Sienkiewicz fame in Poland and abroad, and reinforced Polish nationalism and international sympathy for the Poles' cause.

As his fame grew, Sienkiewicz became more involved in Polish nationalism and philanthropy, founding or supporting projects for starvation relief, schools, and the construction of tuberculosis sanatoriums. In 1896 he published his most celebrated novel, Quo Vadis, set amid the persecution of the early Church in Nero's Rome. The work sold 800,000 copies in the United States in eighteen months. In 1905 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. [...]

Sienkiewicz's depiction of the ideal hero represents both an anthropomorphized vision of Poland and the kinds of Polish men and women that were required to secure and maintain a sovereign, independent Polish nation. Sienkiewicz's Poland is a glorious nation with a profound martial and religious legacy, but one suffering internal intrigues at the hands of vain, selfish Polish nobility who leave the nation vulnerable to external assaults from Germans, Russians, Cossacks, and Turks. This mirrored the Poland of his own day, which ceased to exist after its eighteenth-century partition by the competing powers of Germany, Austro-Hungary, and Russia. These not only oppressed the Polish people but also often actively sought to suppress their culture and language.

Poland required the kinds of citizens who drank deeply from their heritage and who refused to be cowed by tyrannical powers. They, says Sienkiewicz, must avoid the extremes of merciless, utilitarian violence so common among their subjugators and the apathy and sensual nihilism that enticed the disaffected youth. They must instead pursue a purity and righteousness that would appeal to foreign sympathizers and prove essential to building a soon-to-be-realized flourishing Polish civic society. In contrast to the old Poland, which disastrously catered to the interests of the landed nobility, the new Poland would exemplify the Christian virtues of charity and self-sacrifice.

Sienkiewicz's vision for the good life represents a pedagogical lesson for both Poles and Americans. It repudiates moral decadence in favor of restrained, pious virtue and civic obligation, one that is fiercely patriotic and proud of its heritage. These qualities were clearly evident in the Polish citizens who resisted the Nazis and Soviets. Indeed, these traits enabled two generations of Poles to endure--and overcome--Soviet domination.

...his depiction of the Steppes actually describes what he saw in the American Plains.
Posted by at September 13, 2019 7:44 AM