Henryk Sienkiewicz

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Sienkiewicz, Henryk

 

Born May 5, 1846, in Wola Okrzejska, in Podlasia; died Nov. 15, 1916, in Vevey, Switzerland. Polish writer.

The scion of an impoverished szlachta (gentry) family, Sien-kiewicz studied from 1866 to 1870 in the medical and historical-philological faculties of the Main School in Warsaw (from 1869 Warsaw University). In some of his early novellas and short stories he depicted the decline of the patriarchal way of life, as in The Old Servant (1875) and Hania (1876). In others he dealt with the postreform tragedy of the peasants, as in Charcoal Sketches (1877) and Janko the Musician (1879). While visiting the USA (1876–79), he published Letters From a Journey (1876–78), tales about American life.

From 1882, Sienkiewicz was editor of the conservative newspaper Słowo. He was deeply imbued with the nationalism (“patriotism”) of the oppressed Polish nation, as is clear in his historical trilogy, comprising the novels With Fire and Sword (1883–84), The Deluge (1884–86), and Pan Michael (1887–88). With Fire and Sword apotheosizes the struggle of the gentry Rzeczpospolita against the Ukraine under B. Khmel’nitskii. The Deluge re-creates the Poles’ war of liberation against the Swedish intervention of 1655–56. Pan Michael poeticizes the military exploits of Polish knights during the Turkish invasion of 1672–73.

In his psychological novel Without Dogma (1889–90), a work highly esteemed by L. N. Tolstoy, A. P. Chekhov, M. Gorky, and other Russian writers, Sienkiewicz portrayed the type of the aristocratic “decadent.” Another novel, The Polaniecki Family (1893–94), satirizes high society while idealizing a szlachta businessman. The epic novel Quo Vadis (1894–96) presents, from a Catholic viewpoint, the early Christians’ struggle against the despotism of Nero. The Knights of the Cross (1897–1900), another historical novel, is set amid Poland’s struggle against the Teutonic Order at the turn of the 15th century.

Sienkiewicz did not grasp the significance of the Revolution of 1905–07, as is shown in his novel Whirlpools (1909–10). In 1910 and 1911 he wrote an adventure story for children, In Desert and Wilderness. The Legions (1913–14), a novel about the Poles’ participation in the Napoleonic Wars, remained unfinished.

Sienkiewicz was a major figure in the history of Polish culture, and his work received worldwide recognition. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1905.

WORKS

Dzieła, vols. 1–60. Warsaw, 1948–55.
In Russian translation:
Sobr. Soch., vols. 1–16. Moscow, 1914.
Povesti i rasskazy. Moscow, 1957.
Krestonostsy. Moscow, 1960.
Bez dogmata. Moscow, 1960.
Potop. Moscow, 1970.

REFERENCES

Gorskii, I. K. Istoricheskiiroman Senkevicha. Moscow, 1966.
Ładyka, A. H. Sienkiewicz, 4th ed. Warsaw, 1965.
H. Sienkiewicz: Materiały…, 2nd ed. Warsaw, 1966.

I. K. GORSKII