Jews and Judaism in Polish Romantic literature

Joanna Rostropowicz Clark, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

All major Polish Romantic poets wrote about Jews. The thesis developed in this study is that their interest in the Jewish theme went far beyond the fascination, common in the period, with the exotic, the mysterious, the outcast, or, as it pertained to the Jews--the dark aspect of consciousness. Unlike their Western contemporaries, the Polish Romantics, mainly Mickiewicz, Slowacki and Norwid, saw a strong affinity between themselves and the Jews, between the predicament of the Polish and the Jewish "nations," and of their own mission as poets with that of the Jewish prophets. They sought, therefore, ways to reconcile Judaism with Christianity, as well as Poles with Jews.^ Their works which are informed by this effort are analyzed in Chapters 1 and 2, together with the opposing views of Krasinski and of literary critics. The Introduction presents an overview of Romantic attitudes toward Jews, and the closing chapter deals with the impact of these attitudes on Polish mainstream literature until the outbreak of World War Two, with some references in both to works written after the war.^ The literary works analyzed here are chosen selectively. They are works intended and perceived as fiction, and they are limited to writers who have continued to be recognized, by readers and critics, as of lasting importance in Polish culture. This choice, however arbitrary, is dictated by the focus on the misreading of books dealing with the Jewish theme, and that can be traced only through books belonging to the cultural canon.^ The conclusion, inherent in all the chapters, is on the unique nature and intensity of the Polish Romantics' interest in Jews, with whose suffering and consciousness they symbolically identified, deploring, in most cases, the perils of prejudice. I argue that these powerfully expressed attitudes have had an inspiring, and sometimes inhibiting, effect on modern Polish literature--at its best always indebted to the Romantic tradition. And, lastly, that it is facile and presumptuous to consider the fictional representations of these attitudes as reflecting or affecting the views of either Polish society at large or of the majority of readers. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Comparative|Literature, Slavic and East European

Recommended Citation

Clark, Joanna Rostropowicz, "Jews and Judaism in Polish Romantic literature" (1990). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9112548.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI9112548

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