Zapolska, Gabriela (1857–1921)

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Zapolska, Gabriela (1857–1921)

Polish actress, playwright, and novelist. Name variations: Gabryela Zapolska; Gabriela Korwin-Piotrowska or Kerwin-Piotrowska. Born Maria Gabriela Stefania Korwin-Piotrowska on March 30, 1857, in Podhajce, Poland; died on December 17, 1921, in Lvov, Poland; daughter of Wncentry Korwin Piotrowski (a landowner) and Józefa Karska Piotrowska (a ballet dancer and opera singer); studied at Sacré Cour convent and the private Institute of Education and Science in Lvov; married Konstanty Śniez̊ko-Błocki (a lieutenant in the tsar's guards), in 1876 (marriage annulled 1888); married Stanisław Janowski (divorced 1904).

Selected fiction:

Małaszka (1883); Kaśka Kariatyda; Fin-de-siècle Istka (1897); Przedpiekle (1889); Z pamiętrikow młodej mezatki (Memoirs of a Newlywed-woman, 1899); Janka (1895); Sezonowa milosc (Seasonal Love, 1904); O czym się mówi (What is Not Spoken Of, 1909); O czym się nawet myśleć nie chce (1914).

Selected plays:

Z̊abusia (My Darling, 1897); Malka Szwarcenkopf (1897); Jojjne Firulkes (1898); Moralnósć Pani Dulskiej (The Morals of Mrs. Dulska, 1906); Ich czworo (The Four of Them, 1907); Skiz (The Secret of Skiz, 1909); Panna Maliczewska (Miss Maliczewska, 1910).

Gabriela Zapolska was born in 1857 in Podhajce, Poland, daughter of Józefa Karska , a ballerina and opera singer, and Wincenty Korwin-Piotrowski, a nobleman and prosperous landowner. She received her education in Lvov at the Sacré Cour convent and the private Institute of Education and Science. In 1876, she wed Konstanty Śniez̊ko-Błocki, a lieutenant in the tsar's guards; however, she left him soon after the marriage, which was annulled in 1888.

From 1879 to 1880, Zapolska lived in Warsaw, where she became an actress in an amateur theater sponsored by the Philanthropy Society. In

1882, she worked professionally with a theater in Cracow, changing her name to Gabriela Zapolska. She spent the next several years performing in Galician theaters and traveling with troupes throughout the country, including those areas that had been partitioned to Prussia and Russia. After an attempt at suicide in October 1888, Zapolska left Poland to initiate an artistic career in Paris in 1889. She played minor roles in small theaters and joined Antoine's Théâtre Libre. She also established contact with various circles of theater groups, actors, and Polish socialists who had emigrated. When she returned to Poland, she resumed her successful career in small garden theaters, traveling troupes, and in the theaters in Cracow. However, conflicts with other actors resulted in her leaving the stage in 1902 to establish a drama school in Cracow. She also worked as a journalist and theater reviewer before returning to Lvov in 1904. There, she served as patron of the Gabriela Zapolska Theater, which was established by her second husband, Stanisław Janowski, whom she later divorced.

Beginning in the 1880s and lasting throughout her life, Zapolska wrote extensively. In 1881, she published her first story, "A Day in the Life of a Rose," in Gazeta Krakowska. She also wrote novels, which she frequently adapted for the stage, and later plays, most of which concerned women and the circumstances in which they found themselves. In her work, she drew on her experience with French naturalist drama, becoming the founder of naturalist drama in Poland. She exposed the hypocrisy of bourgeois morality and wrote about such rarely touched subjects as prostitution and free love. She portrayed marital infidelity in Z̊abusia (My Darling, 1897) and Ich czworo (The Four of Them, 1907), a subject that merited the condemnation of the clergy, but later brought in full houses for the theater. Zapolska's most respected play was Moralnósć pani Dulskiej (The Morals of Mrs. Dulska), written in 1906. This sharp farce illustrated the manifest contradictions between moral standards and conventional appearances and has become a classic of Polish theater.

In 1912, Zapolska participated in the Exhibition of Polish Women's Work in Prague. She became a member of the artistic committee of the Premiere Theater and worked with the independent Theater of Lvov, until the city fell to Russian troops, at which time she ran a confectioner's shop. She suffered throughout her life from tuberculosis and frequently went to spas. Zapolska died in Lvov, in 1921.


Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature. 2nd ed. NY: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Pynsent, Robert B., ed. Reader's Encyclopedia of Eastern European Literature. NY: HarperCollins, 1993.

Uglow, Jennifer S., ed. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1985.

Philip Yacuboski , freelance writer, Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania