Stanislaw Reymont (May 7 1867 December 5 1925) (the actual name was
Rejment) was a Polish writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1924.
(Stefan Zeromski;, who was considered a better candidate from Polish literature,
was refused as allegedly anti-German.)
The baptism certificate of the future author of Chlopi ("Peasants") indicates that his real surname was Rejment. The change was "ordered" by himself during his debut, as it was supposed to protect him in the Russian-annexed area from any trouble for having published in Galicia a work which would not be allowed under the Tsar's censorship. Kazimierz Wyka, an enthusiast of Reymont's work, surmises that the correction could have been meant also to wipe out any association with the word rejmentowac which in Polish local dialects means "to swear".
He was born in the village of Kobiele Wielkie, near Radomsko as one of nine children of Jozef Rejment, an organist. He spent his childhood in Tuszyn near Lodz, after his father moved there to work in a richer parish. He was defiantly stubborn, so after a few years of education in the local school he was sent by his father to Warsaw into the care of his eldest sister and her husband to teach him his vocation. In 1885, after passing his examinations and presenting "a tail-coat, well-made", he was given the title of journeyman tailor - the only formal certificate of his education.
To his family's annoyance, he did not work a single day in this profession. He ran away to a travelling theatre playing in the province, and in the summer in the "garden theatres" of Warsaw. Without a penny to his name he returned to Tuszyn after a year and, thanks to his father's connections, took up the post of a gateman at a railway crossing near Koluszki for 16 roubles a month. He escaped twice more: in 1888 to Paris and London as a medium with a German spiritualist, and then again to a theatre troupe. After his lack of success (he was not a talented actor), he returned (his longest stay was in Krosnowa near Lipce village) and thought of various projects, e.g. joining the Pauline Order in Czestochowa;.
When his Korespondencje ("Correspondence") from Rogowo, Koluszki and Skierniewice was accepted for publication by Glos ("The Voice") in Warsaw in 1892, he gave up his job. He went to Warsaw with a few roubles in his pocket and a packet of short stories. With a sense of enterprise so characteristic of him and the ability to understand others, he visited the editorial offices of various newspapers and magazines and met writers who became interested in his inborn talent. On A. Swietochowski's advice, he went on a pilgrimage to Czestochowa in 1894 with a crowd of pilgrims and wrote a report about it, seen even today as a classic example of reportage.
Together with this work, he sent his short stories over to different magazines, and encouraged by good criticism decided to write novels - Komediantka ("The Deceiver") (1895) and Fermenty ("Ferments") (1896). No longer poor, he satisfied his passion for travel. He visited Berlin, London, Paris, Italy. Then, he spent a few months in Lodz collecting material for a new novel ordered by the Kurier Codzienny ("The Daily Courier") from Warsaw. The earnings from this book - Ziemia obiecana ("The Promised Land") (1897) enabled him to go on his next trip to France, where he mostly met Polish people (Jan Lorentowicz, Zeromski;, Przybyszewski, Rydel, etc.). His earnings did not allow for that kind of life of travel, however in 1900 he was awarded 40,000 roubles in compensation from the Warsaw-Vienna Railway after an accident in which Reymont, as a passenger, was severely injured. During the treatment he was looked after by Aurelia Szacnajder Szablowska, whom he married in 1902, having first paid for the annulment of her earlier marriage. Thanks to her discipline, he restrained his travel-mania somewhat, but never gave up either his stays in France (where until 1908 he was working on Chlopi which he had begun in 1901) or in Zakopane, or his journey to the USA in 1919 at the Polish government's expense and his stay among the Polish people there. Despite his ambitions to become a landowner (an unsuccessful attempt to manage an estate bought in 1912 near Sieradz), it was not for him. He bought a village Kolaczkowo; near Poznan; in 1920, but spent his winters in Warsaw or in France.
In November 1924 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature over rivals Thomas Mann, Maxim Gorky and Thomas Hardy. Polish public opinion counted on the award for Zeromski, but the prize for the author of Chlopi was welcomed as an appropraite decision as well. He could not take part in the ceremony in Sweden due to his heart illness. The certificate and a cheque for 116,718 Swedish kroner were sent to France where he was being treated. In 1925, when his heart recovered somewhat, he went to a farmers' meeting in Wierzchoslawice; near Krakow, where Wincenty Witos welcomed him as a member of PSL "Piast" (the Polish Peasant Party) and praised his writing skills. Soon after that event, Reymont's health deteriorated. He died in Warsaw and was buried in the Powazki Cemetery;. The urn with his heart was laid in one of the pillars of the Holy Cross Church.
Reymont's literary output includes about 30 extensive volumes of prose. There are works of reportage: Pielgrzymka do Jasnej Gory ("Pilgrimage to Jasna Gora") (1894), Z ziemi chelmskiej ("From the Chelm Lands") (1910 - about the persecutions of the Uniates), Z konstytucyjnych dni ("From the Days of the Constitution") (about the revolution of 1905) and some sketches from the collection Za frontem ("Beyond the Front") (1919). There are numerous short stories on life in the theatre, village life or work on the railway: Smierc ("Death") (1893), Suka ("Bitch") (1894), Przy robocie ("At Work") and W porebie ("In the Clearing") (1895), Tomek Baran (1897), Sprawiedliwie ("Justly") (1899) and a sketch for a novel Marzyciel ("Dreamer") (1908). Then there are the novels: Komediantka, Fermenty, Ziemia obiecana, Chlopi, Wampir ("The Vampire") (1911), which was sceptically received by the critics, and a trilogy written in the years 1911-1917: Rok 1794 ("1794") (Ostatni Sejm Rzeczypospolitej, Nil desperandum and Insurekcja) ("The Last Parliament of the Commonwealth", "Nil desperandum" and "Insurrection"). The critics admit a certain number of similarities between this writing and the writings of the Naturalists, but they stress that it was not a "borrowed" Naturalism, but a record of life as experienced by the writer himself. Moreover, Reymont never formulated any aesthetics of his writing. In that, he was just like other self-taught geniuses, such as Mikolaj Rej; or Aleksander Fredro. With no philosophical education and not being able to read in foreign languages, he avoided any statements that could incline anyone to accuse him of incompetence. He realised that his knowledge of reality was his strong point, not the theory of literature. His ability to remember details was often humorously tested, and he always won. In all his great works the essence of life was head and shoulders above the ideological ambitions of his advisers (like the political leaders of the National Democracy party).
Komendiantka creates the picture of the drama of a rebellious girl from the provinces, who, in a travelling theatre troupe, instead of asylum from the lies of her own surroundings, finds a nest of intrigues and sham. In Fermenty, a sequel to Komediantka, the heroine, rescued after an unsuccessful attempt to kill herself, returns to her family and accepts the burden of existence. Aware of the fact that dreams and ideas do not come true, she marries a nouveau riche who is in love with her. Ziemia obiecana, next to Chlopi Reymont's best novel, is a social panorama of Lodz, full of drastic detail, presented as an arena of the struggle for survival. The success of some means trampling on others. The city destroys those who accept the rules of the rat race, as well as those who do not. The moral gangrene affects equally Germans, Jews and Poles. This dark vision of cynicism, the bestial qualities of men and the law of the jungle, where ethics, noble ideas and holy feelings turn against those who believe in them, are, as the author intended, at the same time a denunciation of industrialisation and urbanisation.
Ziemia obiecana was translated into 15 languages and had two film adaptations; one directed in 1927 by A.Wegierski and A. Hertz and the other in 1975 by Andrzej Wajda.
In Chlopi, an unquestionable masterpiece, Reymont created a more complete and suggestive picture of country life than any other Polish writer. The novel impresses the reader with its authenticity of the material reality, customs, behaviour and spiritual culture of the people. It is even more authentic in that it is written in the local dialect. Not only did Reymont use dialect in dialogues but also in narration, creating a kind of a universal language of Polish peasants. Thanks to this, he presents the colourful reality of the "spoken" culture of the people better than any other author. He set the action of the novel in Lipce, a real village which he came to know during his work on the railway near Skierniewice, and restricted the time of events to ten months in the unspecified "now" of the nineteenth century. It is not history that determines the rhythm of country life, but the "unspecified time" of eternal returns. The composition of the novel astonishes the reader with its strict simplicity and functionality. What is easier than writing a novel about village life, restricting its plot to one year and one place? The titles of the various volumes signal a tetralogy in one vegetational cycle, which regulates the eternal and repeatable rhythm of village life. Parallel to that rhythm is a calendar of religion and customs, which is also repeatable. In such boundaries Reymont placed a colourful country community with clearly drawn individuals. They take part in a complicated arrangement of mutual interaction and in unexpected turns of events. The repertoire of human experience and the richness of spiritual life, which can be compared with the repertoire of Biblical books and Greek myths, has nothing of doctrinal ideas or didactic exemplification. The author of Chlopi does not believe in doctrines or sophisticated talking, but in his own knowledge of life, the mentality of the people described and his sense of reality. It is easy to point to moments of Naturalism (e.g. some erotic elements) or to illustrative motives characteristic of Symbolism. It is equally easy to prove the Realistic values of the novel. None of the "isms" however, would be enough to describe the novel, as the feature of masterpieces is the ability to escape from "isms". The novel was filmed twice (directed by E. Modzelewski in 1922 and by J. Rybkowski in 1973) and translated into 27 languages.
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