Verne, Poe, Shakespeare... Polish Characters in World Literature
#language & literature
small, Verne, Poe, Shakespeare... Polish Characters in World Literature, Dirk Bogarde (Gustav von Aschenbach) and Björn Andrésen (Tadzio) in Death in Venice (Morte a Venezia) , 1971, directed by Luchino Visconti, photo: , smierc_w_wenecji_east_news.jpg
From Shakespeare and Calderon to Alfred Jarry and Thomas Mann, here are some of the most captivating appearances of Poles in world literature which we think deserve more than a footnote in history books. What do these largely fictitious Polish characters tell us about Poland? And what Poland meant to their creators?
1. Polacks on the ice
- William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1599-1602)
HAMLET: Good sir, whose powers are these?
Captain: They are of Norway, sir.
HAMLET: How purposed, sir, I pray you?
Captain: Against some part of Poland.
One of the first, if largely anonymous, appearances of Poles, or Polacks as the Bard calls them, in world literature comes in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And it is problematic. The mention first appears in what seems to be one of the more commented on philological cruxes in Shakespeare. In the very beginning of the play (Act 1, Scene 1), Horatio speaking of the wars Hamlet’s father waged against his opponents, recalls:
Such was the very armour he had on
When he the ambitious Norway combated:
So frowned he once, when in an angry parle
He smote the sledded Polacks on the ice
The phrase connecting Poles and sleds (fighting from their sledges) may seem a little strange at first, but the truth is it follows rather closely the contemporary Western stereotype which represented Poland as an icebound land of eternal winter. Interestingly, the phrase itself has been the object of a serious philological controversy as some versions of the text preserved a possible alternative reading of this passage with poleaxe instead of Polacks. This would tilt the meaning toward an ice-breaking tool rather than an ethnicity (as such, the phrase made its way into James Joyce's Ulysses).
But don’t worry, Poland also appears later in the play. The country is the destination of the Norwegian army’s military campaign (‘against some part of Poland’) from which Fortinbras returns when he finally appears on stage at the end of the play. An early conversation between the Norwegian Captain and Hamlet reveals the actual true worth of the incursion:
Goes it against the main of Poland, sir,
Or for some frontier?
Truly to speak, and with no addition,
We go to gain a little patch of ground
That hath in it no profit but the name.
So what do we learn about Poland from Shakespeare? If we were to treat Hamlet as a historical source one would have to gather that Poland, along with Norway, was some kind of eternal arch-enemy of Denmark. While, in fact, historical Poland never really waged wars against Denmark (be it on ice or not).
Shakespeare is surely no great authority on Eastern European geography either, as anyone who remembers his description of Bohemia (‘a desert country by the sea’) in A Winter’s Tale surely knows.
The mention of Poland as an eternally ice-bound remote Eastern European kingdom surely says more about cultural stereotypes than actual geography, and testifies to their incredible tenacity. In fact, the vision of Poles riding on sleighs in an icy landscape proved quite persistent, as many of those not-well versed in Central-Eastern European geography still think of Poland as the land where the polar bears roam.
2. Segismundo, Prince of Poland
- Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Life Is a Dream (1635)
For man's greatest crime is to have been born
While the Polish presence in Shakespeare was largely marginal and taking place off stage, with Pedro Calderon’s 17th-century classic we land right in the middle of historical Poland among a whole bunch of Poles.
The play is set on the Polish frontier and at the country's capital's royal court, and the plot revolves around the tragic fate of the Polish prince Segismundo. Imprisoned as a child by his father king Basilio, Segismundo spends his life isolated in a tower in a remote part of the country. In the course of the play, he is briefly freed. Put into sleep he wakes up to become the king of Poland, if only for one day. A memory which he recalls in the following lines:
Then a crowd of nobles came,
Who addressed me by the name
Of their prince, presenting me
Gems and robes, on bended knee.
Calm soon left me, and my frame
Thrilled with joy to hear thee tell
Of the fate that me befell,
For though now in this dark den,
I was Prince of Poland then.
Unfortunately, Segismundo goes on a rampage, and Basilio imprisons him again. The king also manages to persuade his son that it was all a dream. It is in these bizarre circumstances that the prince of Poland utters arguably the most famous monologue written in the Spanish language:
What is life? A frenzy.
What is life? An illusion,
A shadow, a fiction,
And the greatest good is small;
For all of life is a dream,
And dreams, are only dreams.
Poland in Calderon's masterpiece is surely no Shakespearean Bohemia. In fact, Calderon's knowledge of Polish affairs was much more thorough than that of the English playwright. His use of the name Segismundo, named after the Polish king Sigismund, from the Swedish Vasa dynasty (who ruled Poland from 1587 to 1632, and was, for that sake, born in captivity too), as well as placing the plot against the wider backdrop of the Polish-Russian (Muscovite) conflict, are surely indicative of his good orientation in Eastern European politics.
But the country as portrayed in Life's a Dream is perhaps most of all a fictional utopian realm. That this is a prevalently imaginary Poland we learn right from the very first scene, in which Rosaura climbs a mountainous, rocky passage as she makes her way into Poland – a landscape that is surely more evocative of the Mediterranean coast. In a similar vein, reminiscent of Shakespeare's awkward geographical placement of Bohemia, Calderon portrays the Polish capital and its royal palace as overlooking a sea.
Life's a Dream also holds no evidence in favour of seemingly traditional Polish virtues. The opening lines are anything but the stereotype of Polish hospitality:
Ah, Poland! in ill mood
Hast thou received a stranger, since in blood
The name thou writest on thy sands
Of her who hardly here fares hardly at thy hands.
(But the reasons for Rosaura's journey are also far from peaceful, as she explains: ‘I to Poland here have travelled / To revenge a wrong’.)
But if Calderon's Poland feels like a remote and fantastic location, it is also fitting for a play which deals with abstract philosophical questions of life and dreams.
In fact, the philosophical background of the play can provide also for an interesting explanation as to why Calderon decided to set his story in Poland in the first place. It has been noted that the main motif of the play, i.e. the juxtaposition of life and dream, reality and illusion, was inspired by the Christian legend of Barlaam and Josaphat, which in turn was derived from the Buddhist legend of the early years of Siddharta Gautama. By placing the ‘oriental’ plot of the play in Poland, Calderon may have been simply bringing back the play to the East, that is the East which was the furthest part of the Calderon's West.
3. Herr Schnabelewopski
- Heinrich Heine, The Memoirs of Herr Schnabelewopski (1831)
Our maid was called Swurtszska, which in German may sound a little crude, but which is utterly melodic to the Polish ear
Though Poland disappeared from the map of Europe in the late 18th century (and didn’t appear again until 123 years later), it remained a strong presence in the news and minds of liberal elites around the world across the entire 19th century. The idea that there was something fundamentally wrong, unfair, or downright scandalous about a whole country and nation disappearing from the pages of history was a widespread sentiment, at least in liberal circles of Western public opinion. Of course, Polish national uprisings kept the issue fresh through the century.
One of the writers to openly sympathise with the Polish national cause was Heinrich Heine. However, unlike many others, Heine was also well acquainted with Polish political and social problems, part of his expertise coming from his university years in Berlin during which he made many Polish friends (a lot of whom were studying there at the time). In 1821 he even travelled to Poland, an experience that he would later turn into a book-length essay called On Poland.
Heine is also the author of the unfinished satirical novel The Memoirs of Herr Schnabelewopski, whose protagonist is a Polish nobleman from Wielkopolska. Still, his name must strike even Poles as strange. In fact, Polish names are something which greatly interested Heine right from the first pages of his book.
The German Romantic poet must have been much amused by the strange names borne by Poles who happen to make up the bulk of the servant labour at the protagonist's family estate. When mentioning the name of the servant Prrschtzztwitsch, he suggests that in order to pronounce it correctly one needs to sneeze while speaking. Referring to another servant, a maiden girl called Swurtszska, he explains that the name may sound a little crude in German, but in Polish it’s very melodic.
Obviously, in passages like those, Heine plays with the popular stereotype that presents the Polish language as extraordinarily difficult, hardly pronounceable and writeable. Which, as we all know, is so untrue.
4. Monsieur Valdemar
- Edgar Allan Poe, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (1845)
There was an instant return of the hectic circles on the cheeks; the tongue quivered, or rather rolled violently in the mouth (although the jaws and lips remained rigid as before;) and at length the same hideous voice which I have already described, broke forth: ‘For God's sake! -- quick! -- quick! -- put me to sleep -- or, quick! -- waken me! -- quick! -- I say to you that I am dead!’
Poe's short story The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is a detailed description of a supposedly factual account of a man mesmerized (that is put into a hypnotic state) at the moment of his death, or as Poe writes, in articulo mortis. Conveniently, the protagonist Monsieur Ernest Valdemar is in the final stages of phthisis (tuberculosis) and the narrator, who happens to be Valdemar’s old friend, goes on to perform the terrifying act on his old pal. This leaves Monsieur Valdemar in a mesmeric state that lasts for seven months. During this time the man is without pulse, heartbeat or perceptible breathing, his skin cold and pale. Only sometimes does he seem to attempt to communicate with the outer world – a scary act which is at the centre of the terrifying and gruesome denouement of the piece.
But why are we talking about Valdemar in the first place? The narrator of the story at no point states that Valdemar is Polish or is of Polish descent, nor does the name ring a particularly Polish bell. However, some details suggest that this is precisely the case.
The scarce info that we get about Valdemar, his life, character and looks, comes in one of the first passages of the text.
In looking around me for some subject by whose means I might test these particulars, I was brought to think of my friend, M. Ernest Valdemar, the well-known compiler of the Bibliotheca Forensica, and author (under the nom de plume of Issachar Marx) of the Polish versions of Wallenstein and Gargantua. M. Valdemar, who has resided principally at Harlem, N. Y., since the year 1839, is (or was) particularly noticeable for the extreme spareness of his person -- his lower limbs much resembling those of John Randolph; and, also, for the whiteness of his whiskers, in violent contrast to the blackness of his hair -- the latter, in consequence, being very generally mistaken for a wig.
Describing Valdemar as ‘author’ of the Polish versions of Wallenstein and Gargantua (which are, respectively, Frederic Schiller's drama and Rabelais's novel), without calling him Polish, may be a bit strange. Still, it's the only reasonable conclusion: How else could he have become so fluent in Polish as to translate huge volumes of German and French literature into a remote Slavic language?
On the other hand, the clearly Jewish pen name (Issachar Marx) which Valdemar uses for his translation work likely suggests some kind of relation with the Jewish identity. The most probable conclusion which follows from these two pieces of info is that Valdemar is a Polish Jew.
In that case it would be only reasonable to ask when he arrived in the US. While the date (or even the fact) of Valdemar’s arrival in America is never ascertained, we learn that he ‘has resided principally at Harlem, N.Y., since the year 1839’. From this we could infer that Valdemar must have arrived in America in the 1830s (or earlier). If so, one would be tempted to connect his arrival with the wave of emigration from Poland which followed the November Uprising of 1830.
Admittedly, all of this would be quite tedious and potentially irrelevant if not for the general subject of E. A. Poe’s story, which deals with vital existential issues of life and death – one of its main concerns being the definition of life as a physiological process. One of the questions Poe asks can be paraphrased as: What does it mean to be alive without ostensible signs of life? Can one be at once dead and alive?
Well, exactly this, on a political plane, is what happened to Poland some 40 years before Poe wrote his story. Carved up by neighbouring countries, Poland virtually ceased to exist in 1795 – even if it continued to live in the more vague and ungraspable realm of people's minds and hearts. In fact, Poland's tragic fate served as a kind of topos in the literature of the day. Many poets wrote poems about Poland, depicting the death of the country. In one written by Alfred Tennyson we read:
The heart of Poland hath not ceased
To quiver, tho' her sacred blood doth drown
Just as so many of his contemporaries, Poe must have been aware of the ontologically ambiguous and existentially uncanny status of Poland. That Poe was vitally interested in Poland is confirmed by his decision to join the November Uprising of 1830, a fact which some biographers list as a plausible cause for his expulsion from Westpoint.
Does Valdemar then stand for Poland? If so, his agony would also have to be read allegorically as the tormented death of Poland.
However, if this allegorical reading of Poe’s Gothic horror story is too much, you might consider another Polish link. The existential condition of Valdemar, a creature stuck between life and death, is reminiscent of the condition of a Polish upiór, a vampire-like creature known from Polish (and Slavic) folklore, and which became also a key figure of Polish Romantic literature, including among others E.A. Poe’s contemporary – Adam Mickiewicz.
For all these reasons, it would not be altogether illegitimate to call Valdemar a Polish literary upiór causa honoris.
5. Count Szemioth and Panna Iwińska
- Prosper Merimee, Lokis (1869)
Need more examples of gory supernatural creatures from Poland? Here's another one. As it turns out, before there was Transylvania, there was Lithuania. The country, or rather the region ( Lithuania, just like Poland, wasn’t a country at the time), is the location of the French writer Prosper Merimee’s horror fantasy novella, Lokis.
Written shortly before Merimee’s death, and some 30 years before Bram Stoker’s vampirical classic Dracula, Lokis recounts the mysterious Eastern European journey of the novella’s narrator Professor Wittembach. The famous Koenigsberg professor travels in search of an ancient book written in Samogitian (a Lithuanian dialect) and lands in a spooky Lithuanian palace where he is hosted by the mysterious Count Szemioth.
But the host, who is suspected by locals to be half-human half-bear (his mother had been mauled and, Merimee suggests, raped by a bear 9 months before the boy’s birth) exhibits some really strange behaviour and animal prowess, all the while still being a highly sophisticated member of aristocracy at the same time. In the tragic and bloody finale, the count, possibly in bear form, ravages the body of his newly wedded bride, the beautiful mademoiselle Julka Iwińska.
But even before that happens, we get a piece of writing which is brimming with complex intertextual references to Polish literature, particularly the work of Adam Mickiewicz. The novella features a spurious translation of his ballad Trzech budrysów, a poem which also serves as an important context for the story’s plot.
Throughout the work, Merimee, who was an accomplished translator of Russian literature and was interested in other Slavic cultures, uses some Polish words, like matecznik, taken from the Polish original of Pan Tadeusz. He also repeatedly refers to Julia as ‘panna’, which is a traditional Polish way of addressing unmarried women. Apart from panna Julka and count Szemioth (who is Lutheran, somewhat surprisingly), the Polish cast of the story includes members of Polish-Lithuanian aristocracy, duchess Pacowa and lady Dowgiełło.
Lokis remains one of the most unsettling and inspiring works with a werewolf theme (even if it’s more about a ‘were-bear’), and a gem of supernatural Polish references.
6. Captain Nemo?
- Jules Verne, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
‘Sir,’replied the commander, ‘I am nothing to you but Captain Nemo; and you and your companions are nothing to me but the passengers of the Nautilus.’
The eyes of the public turned once again to Poland in 1863, when Poles were fighting the Russian empire in a war which came to be known as the January Uprising, a yet another attempt to shrug off the imperial yoke. The event supposedly made a big impression on Jules Verne. The French author initially even envisaged Captain Nemo as a Polish January insurgent. In an early draft of the novel, Nemo was a Pole who was seeking revenge on Russians after they had killed or driven to Siberia most of his family. Additionally, his daughter was raped by Cossacks.
Unfortunately, the publisher of Verne’s works, afraid of the influential Russian circles in Paris, managed to convince the author that such a protagonist could eventually harm sales. As a result, Nemo is known today as an Indian prince who revolted against the English (an identity which is revealed only in Verne's Mysterious Island, a subsequently written sequel to 20 000 Leagues). Nevertheless, Nemo does certainly retain some dark secrets which, as we may surmise, hide possible traumas:
‘I am not what you call a civilised man! I have done with society entirely, for reasons which I alone have the right of appreciating. I do not, therefore, obey its laws, and I desire you never to allude to them before me again!’
All this means that Nemo would not only be a fictional but also a suppressed Polish appearance in world literature. But don't worry, careful readers of Verne will find another Polish trace on board the Nautilus, that is, a portrait of Tadeusz Kościuszko, hung in Captain Nemo’s cabinet.
7. King Ubu
- Alfred Jarry, Ubu Roi (1896)
Papa Ubu: Ah! gentlemen, so beautiful but it doesn’t compare with Poland. If there weren’t any Poland, there would be no Poles!
With Alfred Jarry’s absurd masterpiece there can be no doubt we’re talking about Poland and Polish protagonists. The piece is famously set in Poland, ‘that is to say nowhere’ and subtitled as Les Polonais. The names of the main characters, like king of Poland Venceslas, his sons Boleslas, Ladislas, Bougrelas, the quasi-historical figures of Jean Sobieski and Stanislas Leczinski, as well as the whole Polish Army, all of which appear in the cast, leave little doubt as to their ethnic identity.
But why Poland in the first place? Jarry scholars link the origins of the play with the school pranks played by the young Jarry and his colleagues on their teacher M. Herbert (Ubu is a nonsense variation on the pronunciation of this name). One can easily imagine that the 19th-century history of Poland, as taught by Monsieur Herbert, must have been an exotic, memorable, and why not, intriguing topic for Jarry and his friends.
This also helps to explain the famous passage in the play which describes Poland as nowhere. At the time when Jarry learned popular history in school and when he wrote Ubu, Poland was not to be found on any map, partitioned by the neighbouring powers and wiped out from the political equation, it was virtually nowhere. Seen in this light, this famous exemplary absurd line can be construed as quite a lucid and fully rational statement, a mere assertion of the factual state of Poland.
The French grotesque about Poles appeals to Poles. Jarry’s piece has been translated into Polish three times (most recently with the use of Google Translate, an act itself mimicking the anarchical spirit of the original and enhancing its absurd qualities). Other Polish inspirations include Krzysztof Penderecki’s opera Ubu Rex, and the brilliant comic adaptation by Franciszka and Stefan Themerson.
8. Albina Migurska
- Leo Tolstoy, Za chto?, 1907
‘For what? For what?,’ she thought. ‘Józio and me, we want nothing from nobody but, for him, to live according to his birth, like his ancestors had, and for me - to live with him, to love him and to love our little babies, and raise them. Yet, he's being tormented and deported, and I'm being deprived of all that is dearest to me. Why? For what?’ She would ask God and other people. And she couldn't imagine any possible answer.
As the somewhat persistent stereotype goes, Russian literature has never had much sympathy for Polish protagonists. While this may be largely true of such authors as Pushkin, Gogol, or Dostoyevsky, there's one major exception: Leo Tolstoy.
One of his last short stories – For what? – is the tale of the Polish marriage between Józef and Albina Migurscy, trying to make a living in the provincial Russian town of Uralsk, where they had been deported as a punishment for the husband's participation in the November Uprising of 1830. After a couple of years of relative prosperity, their small children die, which leaves both parents deeply depressed (that's when Albina asks ‘For what?’ for the first time).
Soon, shortly upon hearing a detailed description of the gruesome suppression of a Polish revolt in remote Siberia, the couple undertakes a risky plan to escape their predicament. The sensational and meticulously thought out plan, authored by Albina, includes faking the husband's suicide, crafting a hidden cache in the carriage, as well as exhuming their children's dead bodies. All this in order to transport the whole family (with a servant and a dog) to Poland. Unfortunately the master plan falls flat after the Cossack wagon-driver finds out about the stowaway and reports him to the authorities. Migurski is sentenced to yet another deportation, and Albina can ask once again: For what?
Tolstoy's short story was based on the real life of Wincenty Migurski and his wife Albina. After the failed escape Wincenty served as a private in the Russian army for another 14 years before he eventually returned to Poland. The real Albina died in Russia in 1843 shortly after giving birth to their son (who died a year later).
9. Prince Roman
- Joseph Conrad, Prince Roman (1911)
He made a gesture as if to put aside an importunate ghost. And now they were both looking down at me. I wondered whether anything was expected from me. To my round, questioning eyes my uncle remarked: 'He's completely deaf.' And the unrelated, inexpressive voice said: 'Give me your hand.'
Surprisingly or not, the most famous Polish writer in world literature, Joseph Conrad, only once set a book in Poland, making a Pole a protagonist. Here's how Conrad introduces Poland to his international readers:
The speaker was of Polish nationality, that nationality not so much alive as surviving, which persists in thinking, breathing, speaking, hoping, and suffering in its grave, railed in by a million of bayonets and triple-sealed with the seals of three great empires.
Written likely around the turn of the century, the narrative of Prince Roman is set some 70 years earlier, that is, in the year 1831, which means we are back at the time of the November Uprising.
Prince Roman brings the story of a Polish prince who, despaired after his wife’s death, joins the November Uprising, is subsequently tried for high treason and sentenced to exile to Siberia. Upon his return to his mansion, some 15 years later, he successfully devotes his efforts to industralising his properties, before he eventually dies as a venerable, deaf, old man.
But this little known masterpiece is by no means a positivist tale about the benefits of human efforts for the community. The story of Prince Roman is actually based on the real character of Roman Sanguszko, which makes this protagonist not all that fictional (and barely fitting into this category).
In fact, the story is particularly successful in evoking a sense of the real presence of a person, who to Conrad's narrator seems to be an embodiment of ancient, largely forgotten moral ideals, like the love of one's country and moral integrity – a figure inspiring both awe and a sense of nostalgia.
- Thomas Mann, Death in Venice (1912)
It seemed to him the pale and lovely Summoner out there smiled at him and beckoned; as though, with the hand he lifted from his hip, he pointed outward as he hovered on before into an immensity of richest expectation. And, as so often before, he rose to follow.
Written in 1912, Death in Venice is arguably Thomas Mann’s best known piece of short fiction, part of the credit undoubtedly going to the 1971 Luchino Visconti film. The meagre plot of the story lazily follows the trajectory of thoughts and desires of Gustav von Eschenbach, an artist spending his last days promenading around Venice obsessed with a beautiful Polish teenage boy by the name of Tadzio.
In a way, Tadzio can be imagined as an early version of Lolita, the famous teenage object of desire from Vladimir Nabokov's novel from half century later. Only the nature of the desire in Mann is much more sublime, and the erotic relationship - largely platonic. Linking Eros and Thanatos, the object of Aschenbach’s fascination eventually becomes the cause of his death.
Not altogether unsurprisingly, the character of Tadzio was inspired by a real Polish boy who was staying in Venice with his aristocratic family a year earlier, that is in the summer of 1911. His name was Władysław Moes, which would also mean that the name Thomas Mann would hear a lot that memorable summer in Venice was Władzio. If one is to trust the family tradition, the boy’s beauty must have been really quite spectacular, as the little Władzio reportedly made also quite a big impression on another famous writer (and also a Nobel Prize winner, for that matter), Henryk Sienkiewicz. Oh, boy!
Years later searching for the actor to play Tadzio, Visconti actually travelled to Poland but the months-long search came to nothing. He eventually decided to cast Swedish actor Bjoern Andressen.
In what seems like another ironic twist of history, Władysław Moes actually didn’t think much about his prominent role in the history of European literature until he saw the Visconti film in 1972. Once an aristocratic child spending his vacation on the Venetian Lido, he was now, a retired man in his 70s, living in communist Poland.
11. Sophie Zawistowski
- William Styron, Sophie’s Choice, 1979
‘Those strange creepy people, all picking at their little... scabs,’ she had complained to me when Nathan was not around. ‘I hate this type of – and here I thought she used a lovely gem of a phrase – ‘unearned unhappiness!’
The other female protagonist in our selection comes in William Styron’s 1979 novel Sophie’s Choice. Later turned into a movie (with an Oscar-winning performance by Meryl Streep), the novel tells the story of a Catholic Polish survivor of the Holocaust, Sophie Zawistowski, along with her relationship with her paranoid Jewish lover Nathan Landau, and the emerging relation with aspiring writer Stingo, who is also the narrator of the book.
Over the course of the novel, readers learn about Sophie’s dark experience in Nazi-occupied Poland. The plot ultimately centres on a tragic decision that Sophie was forced to make on her entry, with her children, into Auschwitz. The book caused much controversy in its day, particularly for the way it framed the Holocaust (as not only directed against Jews), but in Communist Poland it was banned for altogether different reasons, that is ‘its unflinching portrait of Polish anti-Semitism’.
Styron's Poland is certainly not the most inviting place on Earth, which is excused by the book's main subject. And, as we all know, Poland is where the Holocaust took place.
Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz. What I might have set down with more accuracy would have been: Someday I will write about Sophie's life and death, and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the world. Auschwitz itself remains inexplicable.
What do we otherwise learn from Styron about Poland? Well, to the narrator it might look like the American South:
Poland is a beautiful, heart-wrenching, soul-split country which in many ways (I came to see through Sophie’s eyes and memory that summer, and through my own eyes in later years) resembles or conjures up images of the American South – or at least the South of other, not-so-distant times.
An additional Polish subtext to Sophie’s identity is supplied by the fact that the characteristic English language typical of Sophie was, according to one of Styron’s biographers, modelled on the Eastern European speech patterns of Elżbieta Czyżewska, a brilliant Polish actress who spent much of her later life in New York, where she was a pursuing a (not particularly successful) acting career in avant-garde New York theatres.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, 10 June 2016
Death in Venice
Alan J. Pakula