Reymont, Wladyslaw Stanislaw
In 1924, Polish writer Wladyslaw Reymont (1868-1925) won the highest honor, the Nobel prize for literature, for his novel Chlopi (The Peasants). Reymont found this accomplishment ironic, however. As noted by University at Buffalo's Poland in the Classroom website, Reymont wrote to his friend, Wojciech Morawski, "I have suddenly become the pride of my nation! [However,] My compatriots are yet ready to read my books."
Wladyslaw Stanislaw Reymont was born on May 6, 1868, in Kobielo Wielkie, Poland. Reymont, however, was not his birth name. During this time, since Poland was under Russian rule, no writer could publish his work without the Czar's approval. As he began publishing his writings, Reymont felt that if he changed his name from Rejment to Reymont he would be protected from the Czar's censorship of his work. Yet, this may not have been the only reason for the name change. As mentioned by the Biographybase website, Reymont scholar Kazimierz Wyka believed that Rejment became Reymont since in some polish dialects, rejmentowaç means "to swear."
Discovered Joy of Reading
At an early age, encouraged by his uncle, a former monk, Reymont began reading. "I plunged into the history and classics of the country," he wrote in his autobiography for Nobelprize online. "Reading became a passion with me." Yet, not only reading, but poetry became another passion for Reymont. At the age of nine, he began writing his first poems, although the mysterious older woman, the subject of his poems, never knew of his words. His brother, however, did know of Reymont's poetry and tried to refocus Reymont's studies to a "regular program" but he "did not succeed in tearing poetry out of my heart," Reymont further wrote in his autobiography for Nobelprize online.
Reymont wanted to continue his irregular studies of reading and writing at college, but his uncle died and he could not afford the cost of continuing. So his father, Józef, began training Reymont to become an organist. Unwilling to walk in his father's footsteps, Reymont secretly continued to read and write during his free time. He would even hide books under his coat and disappear into the woods to escape the drudgery of his father's music lessons. By 1885, Józef's patience for his son's passions had run out. Józef sent Reymont to Warsaw where he hoped his son would learn a respectable trade. Reymont became a certified journeyman tailor, but he never worked a day. Exploring the world, not sewing material together, consumed his every thought. As he wrote in his autobiography for Nobelprize online: "Within myself I felt vague enchantments, dull restlessness, and uncertain desires. I had hallucinations when I was awake. What wings carried me to unknown worlds!"
Worked Odd Jobs
In 1888, Reymont returned home from Warsaw after being accused of participating in a strike—a direct defiant act against Russia. Once again under the supervision of his father, Reymont felt trapped. He escaped by joining a traveling theater group, but after a year, he "had enough of the wandering artist's life with its miseries and lack of future; besides, my talent for acting was nonexistent," he wrote in his Nobelprize autobiography.
Over the next two years, Reymont worked a variety of jobs including railway technician, land surveyor, clerk, and salesman. Amazed by a German professor and spiritualist, Reymont moved to Czestochowa and began observing séances and the mediums that performed them. He soon became disillusioned with the spiritualist whom he felt was too easily fooled by other mediums, and returned to the traveling theater working as an actor and producer, but only for a short time. Reymont finally realized that he had to stop traveling and find a job that would not only support him but also give him the peace and solitude for his first passion—writing. He then returned to the railway station.
From 1890 to 1892, Reymont's writing passion drove him. Writing only at night "wrapped in fur, keeping the inkwell under the lamp lest the ink should freeze," he recalled in his autobiography for Nobelprize online, Reymont produced ten act dramas, poems, multi-part stories and novels. From this mountain of work, he believed that only six short stories earned a chance at publication.
Achieved Success by Reporting
In 1892, after publishing his stories in Glos (The Voice), Reymont quit his job at the railway station and moved to Warsaw, Poland where magazine and newspaper editors suggested that Reymont use his talent of observation to not only write fiction, but also nonfiction. In 1894, he accompanied pilgrims as they traveled to Czestochowa. His resulting article, Pielgrzymka do Jasnej Góry (Pilgrimage to the Mountain of Light) is "seen even today as a classic example of reportage," stated Biographybase online.
With his successful reporting of the pilgrimage, Reymont began to develop a theme for his fiction—giving voice to Poland's working class. In 1899, Reymont wrote Ziemia Obiecana (The Promised Land). Telling the tale of three young men from different ethnic groups who band together to build a textile factory, The Promised Land was not what today is called a bestseller, but it did receive high critical praise. As quoted by University at Buffalo's Poland in the Classroom website, critic Frederick Böök stated The Promised Land, "masterfully creates . . . the total absence of any element of nature." The Times Literary Supplement further praised that "some of the impressive passages in this novel are those in which Reymont reproduces the somber, feverish life of the factories and streets of The Promised Land."
Reymont had "realised that his knowledge of reality was his strong point," commented Biographybase online. Yet, just as his writing career strengthened, his health weakened. In 1902, Reymont was injured in a train accident. He received compensation for his injuries and married his nurse, Aurelia Szacnajder Szablowska, yet never fully regained his health. He did resume traveling, however, and continued writing. From 1902 to 1904, Reymont published the first version of Chlopi (The Peasants). Dissatisfied, he burned it. As the University of Buffalo's Poland in the Classroom online mentioned, Reymont explained to his friends the burning and the revision: ". . . it's a form of torture . . . not to give up but to start writing it afresh. I have either matured or lost my senses." By 1909, he had rewritten this epic story of Polish village life into four volumes.
Won Nobel Prize
Once again, The Peasants, like The Promised Land, was not widely read by the Polish public, but three features of the epic captured critics' attention. First, Reymont structured the epic into four seasons. Doing so, he provided a timeline of how families in rural Poland could not maintain their existence because of the occupation of Poland by Russia. Second, Reymont's keen observation of what a Polish village sounds and looks like created an authenticity to the setting and to his characters. Third, Reymont, by making his protagonists peasants, the first major writer to do so, used actual dialect spoken by Polish peasants further creating an authentic and real picture of Poland and its people.
Yet Poland's people ignored Reymont's work. Over the next 13 years, Reymont continued to write, using his past experiences as inspirations for Wampire (Vampire) about his adventures with spiritualism as well as historical reflections regarding the decline of Poland in two volumes of novellas, a trilogy, and a novel, Bunt (Defiance). Reymont, although he presented the harsh reality of life in Poland before its independence through his writing, never made direct statements for or against any political philosophy or government. His focus always remained telling the reality which he observed.
In 1924, when The Peasants was translated into English, Reymont finally gained international fame when his epic work received the Nobel prize in literature. Sadly, by this time, Reymont's health had greatly declined, making him unable to attend the award ceremony. However, Reymont's craving for acclamation had waned, along with his health, and instead of dreaming of fame, he wrote that he "dream[ed] of silence and the possibility of working calmly as the greatest happiness . . . Isn't it laughable," University at Buffalo's Poland in the Classroom website noted.
Reymont's love for writing never wavered, however. In his autobiography as reported by Nobelprize online, Reymont stated, "I still have many things to say and desire greatly to make them public, but will death let me?" On December 5, 1925, death prevented Reymont from finishing all he wanted to say, but his two most famous works have lived on. Both The Peasants and The Promised Land have been made into films. And in 1976 The Promised Land earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film.
These films, produced long after Reymont's death, have shown the lasting importance of his work. And other writers, like American writer Sinclair Lewis in his book The Jungle, have further shown the impact of Reymont's work by sharing Reymont's vision that reality, not of Polish villages, but of United States' meat packing plants, must be told. Furthermore, as the University at Buffalo's Poland in the Classroom website quoted, Reymont knew it was not the telling of death, but the struggles of life which a writer must show, because "Death is not terrible, what's terrible is life and the suffering."
"The Nobel Prize: A Bitter Irony," University at Buffalo State University of New York's Poland in the Classroom website,http://wings.buffalo.edu/info-poland/classroom/reymont/nobel.html (December 14, 2004).
"Wladyslaw Reymont: A Keen Observer and Master of Descriptive Prose," University at Buffalo State University of New York's Poland in the Classroom website,http://wings.buffalo.edu/info-poland/classroom/reymnt/intro.htm (December 14, 2004).
"Wladyslaw Reymont: Autobiography," Nobelprize.org websitehttp://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1924/reymont-autobio.html (December 14, 2004).
"Wladyslaw Reymont Biography," Biographybase Online, http://www.biographybase.com/biography/Reymont–Wladyslaw.html (December 14, 2004).
"Wladyslaw Reymont's The Promised Land, University at Buffalo State University of New York's Poland in the Classroom website,http://wings.buffalo.edu/info-poland/classroom/reymont/comments.html (December 14, 2004).