The Other Life of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz
no-image, The Other Life of Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz
#language & literature
The publication of previously unknown letters and diaries of poet, writer and dramatist Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz casts a new light onto an already controversial figure. Meet the co-founder of the experimental pre-war Skamander group, a subtle aesthete who was also condemned for his political opportunism, a caring husband preoccupied with homosexual love affairs throughout his life.
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz aged 20 with his dog Niels, 1914., photo:. Stawisko Museum Archives/FOTONOVA
Iwaszkiewicz was born 120 years ago, and his life and work has already been the subject of many a scrupulous publication. Yet, the recent publication of archive letters and private diary entries has changed the readership’s approach to the classic.
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz was born on the 20th of February, 1894, in Kalnik, near Kiev. After graduating from junior high school in Kiev, he enrolled in a music conservatory and simultaneously took up studies at the Kiev University Law School. He never completed his higher education, a fact of which he wasn’t too proud. The literary debut of Iwaszkiewicz came in 1915 with the poem Lilith. After the end of the first World War, Iwaszkiewicz moved to Warsaw, where he had lived with his mother for a brief two years after the death of his father in 1902.
57 years of marriage with a writer
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz married the daughter of a wealthy entrepreneur, Anna Lilpopówna in 1922. In spite of the popular rumours that he secured his material status through marriage with the only child of wealthy parents, such a claim is somewhat doubtful. The writer actually did not use the money of his father in law, and made great efforts to sustain his own family. After the birth of his first daughter, Anna’s family offered the couple a house in Stawisko near Warsaw. Iwaszkiewicz accepted this offer, but it was a sacrifice he agreed to in order to ensure his wife a sense of safety and comfort. The writer constantly searched for an asylum outside of the house ruled by Aniela Pilawitzowa, Anna’s strict aunt.
Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (Witkacy), Portrait of Anna and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1922) - stolen from Stawisko in 2005, the painting was found in 2011, photo: courtesty of the Anna and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz Museum in Stawisko
After the death of Anna’s father, the house in Stawisko was ruled by a family council, whose first move was to ensure Jarosław did not benefit from any of the inherited money. The family began to trust Iwaszkiewicz only after their plenipotentiary who managed their money nearly ruined Stawisko with his gambling habits. Iwaszkiewicz paid off the indebted house with what he gained with his writing. Before the war, from 1923 to 1925, he was the secretary of Maciej Rataj, a Speaker of the Lower Chamber of the Polish Parliament; he also worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 1932 to 1936, Iwaszkiewicz was a diplomat in Copenhagen and in Brussels.
In a biography of Iwaszkiewicz entitled Inne życie (Another Life), Radosław Romaniuk tackles the challenge of deciphering real persons behind the writer’s literary protagonists. Mieczysław Kozłowski turns out to have been the central figure of the Oktostychy (Octostichs) collection from 1917. Władysław Kuświk, who is in the spotlight of the Lato 1932 (Summer 1932) series of poems, was in fact a shepherd from the Stawisko farms, and later a chauffeur of the Iwaszkiewicz family. But the homosexual preferences of Iwaszkiewicz were not what led a marital crisis. In his diaries, Jarosław frequently underscored that his romances with men never competed with the love he had for his wife and daughters, and he also stated that his wife "of course knew very well who she was marrying, not from rumours, but from my own mouth."
The great granddaughter of Jarosław and Anna, Ludwika Włodek, wrote about the private life of her ancestors in a book entitled Pra. O rodzinie Iwaszkiewiczów (Great- On the Iwaszkiewicz Family).
A Crisis in Stawisko
The mainspring of difficulty in the Iwaszkiewicz marriage was Anna’s mental crisis, which took on an acute form in the early 1930s. She was in a terrible state in 1935, she would refuse to meet with anyone and rarely got out of bed. Following attempts of suicide, she was taken into a hospital. Her husband tenderly cared for her. Friends observed that this was a truly heroic period in Jarosław’s life, and only his loved ones were able to see to incredible effort and limitless goodwill in his determination and patience to snatch his wife from clutches of disease and despair. Towards the end of the 1930s, their life seemed to get back on track. Anna got better, their financial situation somehow improved. The couple enjoyed life, and travelled around, and both their daughters were in good shape. The harmonious time was interrupted with the outbreak of the second World War. The family stayed in Stawisko throughout the Nazi occupation of Poland, and they provided shelter for many people, offering also to take in Jews who were in hiding.
A Puppet Writer?
Jerzy Putrament, Rodica Ionesco, Eugène Ionesco, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and Anna Iwaszkiewicz, 1965, Paris, France., photo: Stawisko Museum Archives/FOTONOVA
It is the post-war Iwaszkiewicz that stirs the most controversy in his role of a puppet of the new regime. Aleksander Wat put it bluntly "[Iwaszkiewicz] was always a courtly writer, always complaisant with the authorities, the high-life, the elite. It’s understandable that when the government changed, he was still complaisant with the elite". After the war, Iwaszkiewicz took an active part in political life. He was a Member of Parliament of the Polish People’s Republic from 1952 until his death. He presided over the Polish Committee of Defenders of Peace (Polski Komitet Obrońców Pokoju), and was also a laurate of the Builder of People’s Poland medal and a recipient of the 1970 Lenin Peace Award for "cementing peace among nations". The Polish Literary Association also benefited from Iwaszkiewicz’s political connections. He presided over the society between 1945-49 and from 1959 through to 1980. He did not allow for the expulsion of Stefan Kisielewski, Paweł Jasienica and many other authors, whose works targeted the regime and were a great discomfort for the authorities.
The Last Great Love
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz in his house in Stawisko, photo: Janusz Sobolewski / Forum
The Diaries convey a different face of the writer’s coming of age. Part II is largely devoted to the "last great love" of Iwaszkiewicz, Jerzy Błeszczyński. One of the Diaries’ editors, Agnieszka Papieska, commented that very few Polish authors wrote about homosexuality in such an open and personal way. At the age of 62, Jarosław experienced "the greatest, and last love of his life", and underwent tortures of jealously when Jerzy engaged in a relationship with a woman. He admitted to feeling like a boarding school girl, waiting for letters and phone calls. The love affair turned into a tragedy when Jerzy died of tuberculosis on the 28th of May, 1959. His death became a milestone in the oeuvre of Iwaszkiewicz, making the writer begin to draw attention to his own mortality.
Iwaszkiewicz also seems to have observed himself with a certain satisfaction, for being capable of turning even the greatest personal drama into literary matter. Jerzy’s death inspired the short story called Kochankowie z Marony (Lovers from Marona).
A scene from the Maidens of Wilko (1979) directed by Andrzej Wajda and based on Iwaszkiewicz's novel
What ensured an exceptional position of Iwaszkiewicz in Polish literature was his novels. It was the Maids of Wilko series (adapted for the screen by Andrzej Wajda in 1979) and the Mill on the River Utrata collections that became best known and followed.
Iwaszkiewicz often evoked the nostalgic mood of human endeavour doomed to failure, and repeatedly depicted the dwindling of dreams with time. His works also became the basis for major Polish films, such as Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of Angels (1961), The Birch Wood (Brzezina in the original), shot by Andrzej Wajda in 1970, Lovers of Marona, directed by Izabela Cywińska in 2005, and the Sweet Rush (Tatarak in the original), directed by Wajda in 2009.
His most valued collection of poetry is probably the 1977 Mapa pogody (Weather Map).
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz also authored plays, all of which were staged, sometimes even before their official publication in print. Lovers of Verona. Romantic Tragedy in 3 Acts premiered in Warsaw in 1930. The Summer at Nohant, a comedy in 3 Acts, is based on an episode from Chopin’s life and it was staged in Warsaw in 1936. Masquerade. Melodrama in 4 Acts takes on the theme of Pushkin’s last days and it was staged in 1939. Rebuilding Bledomierz. Play in 3 Acts premiered at the Teatr Stary in Kraków in 1951, Mr. Balzac's Wedding enjoyed its world premiere in 1959 in Warsaw, and the last play, Cosmogony, was staged in Warsaw in 1967.
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz was the cousin and friend of Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. Together, they wrote the libretto of King Roger, although Szymanowski largely rewrote the third act himself.
The Zeszyty Literackie (literary notebooks) publishing enterprise recently published a collection of letters that Iwaszkiewicz wrote to Andrzej Wajda. The writer and director kept close contact through correspondence from 1970, when Wajda decided to screen Iwaszkiewicz’s novel Brzezina, screened as the Birch Wood. Wajda’s best known adaptation of Iwaszkiewicz’s prose is the Maids of Wilko, a film nominated for the Academy Award in Best Foreign Language Film category in 1980.
The Writer as a Miner
polish writers of the 20th centry
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz died in Stawisko, a couple of months after his wife Anna, on the 2nd of March, 1980. He asked to be buried in a miner’s uniform. Some friends - and enemies - reacted with fury, seeing this as an attempt to win the communist president Gierek’s sympathy even as a corpse. Others explained that Iwaszkiewicz wanted to simply show that a writer’s toil, as he digs deep into the word, the soul and the mind, is a hard as the work of a miner. A friend of Iwaszkiewicz, Julian Stryjkowski, unravelled the mystery saying that Jarosław simply thought he looked good in this type of a uniform.
The 2014 Stawisko Celebrations
The town of Stawisko celebrates the 120th birthday of Iwaszkiewicz, as well as 30 years of the Anna and Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz Museum with an array of events. A concert by the band Dziczka and a book launch begins the series on the 23rd of February. The book is a collection of letters exchanged between Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and Wiesłąw Kępiński from 1948 until 1980. On the 9th of March, the Teatr Rampa troupe from Warsaw will stage a performance entitled Pod Akacjami (Under the Acacia Trees), directed by Mrówczyński. A special reading marathon is also to take place at the Big Book Festival on the 14th and 15th of June, with happenings and events travelling the centre of Warsaw.
Edited by Mikołaj Gliński, source: PAP
translated with edits by Paulina Schlosser, 27/02/2014