Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born Aleksander Głowacki, he fought in Poland's 1863 Uprising, the orphaned younger brother of an insurgent leader, Leon Glowacki. (Leon during the Uprising developed a mental illness that would end only with his death in 1907.) On september 1, 1863, twelve days after his sixteenth birthday, Prus suffered severe battle contusions and was captured by Russian forces. Eventually released on account of his youth, in 1866 he completed high school and enrolled in science at Warsaw University.
His studies were cut short by financial straits and dissatisfaction with the educational experience. In 1869 he enrolled at the newly opened Agricultural and Forestry Institute in Puławy, where he had spent part of his childhood; he was, however, soon expelled after a classroom confrontation with a Russian professor. Henceforth he studied on his own while supporting himself as a tutor, factory worker, and from 1872 a journalist.
After he began writing regular weekly newspaper columns, his finances stabilized, permitting him to marry a cousin. The couple never had children of their own. A foster son — the model for Rascal in chapter 48 of Pharaoh — would in 1904, at age eighteen, shoot himself dead on the doorstep of an unrequited love. Prus may in 1906, at fifty-nine, have had a son who would die in a German camp after the suppression of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Prus early on thought little of his journalistic and literary productions; hence he adopted a pen name, "Prus" being his family coat of arms. In 1882 he assumed the editorship of a Warsaw daily, resolving to make it "an observatory of societal facts" — an instrument for fostering the development of his country, which between 1772 and 1795 had been partitioned out of political existence by three of its neighbors. After less than a year, however, Nowiny (News) had gone under, and Prus resumed writing columns. As a sideline, he turned his hand to penning short stories.
He would eventually compose four major novels on great questions of the day: The Outpost (1886) on the Polish peasant; The Doll (1889) on the aristocracy and townspeople, and on idealists struggling to bring about social reforms; The New Woman (1893) on feminist concerns; and his only historical novel, Pharaoh (1895), on mechanisms of political power.
Pharaoh is unique in nineteenth-century literature as a novel on political power. The protagonist learns that "those who displease the servants of the gods" are vulnerable to cooption, seduction, subornation, defamation, intimidation or assassination. Perhaps the chief lesson, belatedly absorbed by Ramses, is the importance, to power, of knowledge or science.
Pharaoh, depicting the demise of Egypt's New Kingdom three thousand years earlier, also reflects Poland's loss of independence a century before, in 1795: an independence whose post-World War I restoration Prus would not live to see. On may 19, 1912, at his Warsaw apartment, Prus' forty-year journalistic and literary career ended with his death. The beloved agoraphobic author was mourned by the nation that he had striven, as soldier, thinker and writer, to rescue from oblivion.
The Doll was regarded by Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz as the best Polish novel. The New Woman was deemed by Joseph Conrad to be "better than Dickens" (a favorite author of Conrad's). Pharaoh, a brilliant evocation of "the oldest civilization in the world," became Joseph Stalin's favorite novel and prefigured the fate of President John F. Kennedy. The Doll and Pharaoh, two of the preeminent achievements in Polish literature, are available in good English translations.
- The Outpost (Placówka), 1886
- The Doll (Lalka), 1889
- The New Woman (Emancypantki), 1893
- Pharaoh (Faraon), 1895
- "Mold of the Earth" (a micro-story by Bolesław Prus)
- "Cienie" ("Shades": a micro-story by Bolesław Prus)
- Polish literature
- Young Poland
- List of novelists
- Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Art of Bolesław Prus), 2nd edition, Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972.
- Krystyna Tokarzówna and Stanisław Fita, Bolesław Prus, 1847-1912: Kalendarz życia i twórczości (Bolesław Prus, 1847-1912: Calendar of Life and Works), edited by Zygmunt Szweykowski, Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1969.
- Gabriela Pauszer-Klonowska, Ostatnia miłość w życiu Bolesława Prusa (The Last Love in the Life of Bolesław Prus), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1962.
- Stanisław Fita, ed., Wspomnienia o Bolesławie Prusie (Reminiscences about Bolesław Prus), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1962.
- Stefan Melkowski, Poglądy estetyczne i działalność krytycznoliteracka Bolesława Prusa (Bolesław Prus' Esthetic Views and Literary-Critical Activity), Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1963.
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