Available for the first time in English, this iconic work of Polish feminist fiction describes a transgressive love triangle in a provincial Poland choked by distinctions of class and gender.
Published in Poland in 1935, Boundary remains one of the key texts of Polish inter-war literature. Nałkowska is considered a pioneer of feminist fiction in Central Europe, and the novel's major social concerns may seem surprisingly topical in modern-day Poland, some 80 years after the book's publication.
Heavy with social critique, Boundary tells the story of a love affair between a well-off married man, Zenon Ziembiewicz, and a working class girl, Justyna Bogutówna. Seduced, abandoned and then forced to abort her unborn child, Justyna decides to seek revenge.
However, as Nałkowska demonstrates, the ultimate culprit in this tragedy is society with its unwritten rules that preserve social inequality between men and women, allowing the former to have sexual relations with lower class women, cheat on their wives and eventually abandon their lovers, leaving them with the stigma of illegitimate offspring and a destroyed future.
Being a novel about different aspects of power, Boundary also delves deep into class distinctions of inter-war society in Poland. Ursula Phillips, the award-winning translator of the book, argues that class distinctions are actually inherent to the Polish language.
In her Appendix on Polish Names attached to the translation, Phillips explains her decision to retain the original Polish forms of address, like Pan and Pani (usually translated as Mr. and Mrs.) which she considers ‘markers of class and social divisions, an important theme in the novel and one of the crucial 'boundaries' signified by the title’.
In the appendix, Phillips also provides a list of Polish names for the characters appearing in the novel, along with pronounced pronunciation guide. As she explains,
While this may not be a concern for those used to reading foreign fiction, the spelling and pronunciation of Polish names is often brought to my attention as a barrier to smooth reading, and thus to enjoyment, of the translated text.
And this enjoyment is no doubt greater when a reader knows how to pronounce the name of the main characters: ZEH-none Zhem-BYEH-vich and Yoos-TEE-na Bo-goo-TOO-vna.
Translated by Ursula Phillips
Published by Northern Illinois University Press
Publishing date: June 2016
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, July 2016