Here’s my latest report from some of the less frequented avenues of literature.
Boleslaw Prus was the pen name of Polish author Alexsander Glowacki (1847-1912).
He first published ‘Lalka’ (‘The Doll’) in serialised form between 1887 and 1889.
It is panoramic and ambitious, reflecting the development – and arguably the decay – of Polish society during the second half of the Nineteenth Century.
The principal character, Wokulski, is a self-made man who falls for Izabela, an aristocratic beauty.
He is infatuated and – thanks to his idealised romantic vision of perfect womanhood – is blind to Izabela’s serial flirtations and infidelities.
Towards the end of the novel, he realises the worst, seeing her accept the advances of serial seducer Starski.
He is devastated, attempting suicide, but finally escapes his despair through a blistering argument with Izabela’s friend and rival Mrs Wasowska, who robustly defends her sex. Even in translation, this timeless gender warfare is captured superbly.
The novel ends in uncertainty: we are left unsure what becomes of Wokulski. But Prus wasn’t quite brave enough to leave Izabela’s future equally ambiguous – he has her voluntarily enter a convent!