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Prominent Poles

Henryk Sienkiewicz - novelist, Nobel Prize in Literature 1905

Photo of Henryk Sienkiewicz, novelist

Born:  May 5, 1845, Wola Okrzejska, Russian partition of Poland (presently Poland)

Died:  November 15, 1916, Vevey, Switzerland

Early days. Henryk Sienkiewicz was born to an impoverished noble family. His father- Jozef, mother - Maria Cieciszowska. Because of economic difficulties, the family sold their rural property and moved to Warsaw.
Higher education.Sienkiewicz attended Warsaw Gymnasium and in 1866 he entered the Polish University (Szkola Glowna). He studied law and medicine, and later history and literature. While a student he started to write newspaper columns.
Literary beginnings.Inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott and Alexandre Dumas, Sienkiewicz composed his first historical story, Ofiara (The Sacrifice), of which no manuscript is known to survive. After founding himself penniless, he left the university without receiving a degree. He worked in the 1870s as a freelance journalist, and wrote short stories and novels.
His first novel. His first novel, Ma marne (1872), depicted studen life. In 1874 he was a co-owner and editor of the biweekly Niwa.
Marriages. In 1881he married Maria Szetkiewiczówna who died in 1885 of tuberculosis. They had two children. In 1893 he married Maria Wolodkowiczówna; this marriage, however, finished in 1895 in divorce at her motion. In 1904 Sienkiewicz married Maria Babska, whom he had known since 1888.
Trip to the USA.In 1876 he went to the United States, and published his letters in newspaper Gazeta Polska . The actress Helena Modjeska (Modrzejewska) and her friends had planned to establish in California a settlement, and Sienkiewicz was as an advance agent. The journey also inspired several short stories, among them 'Latarnik' (1882).
Return to Warsaw. He returned to Warsaw at the end of 1879, and became coeditor of the conservative newspaper Slowo (1882-87), where he published his early novels. He was a founding member of the Mianowski Foundation and a cofounder and president of Literary Foundation (1899).
Trilogy.Inspired by Walter Scott and French historical novels Sienkiewicz started to work in 1882 on his own trilogy of historical novels. Ogniem i mieczem (With Fire and Sword) was published in 1884. It was followed by sequels Potop (1886, The Deluge) and Pan Wolodyjowski (1888, Colonel Wolodyjowski). All these works were carefully researched and written in an exciting, fast-paced style. Sienkiewicz showed his skills in creating colorful characters, which also fascinated readers outside Poland.
Travels.Quo Vadis.Nobel Prize. Sienkiewicz traveled widely, spending time in Africa in 1891, and visiting Italy for his novel Quo Vadis ? The story depicted the persecution of the Christians in first-century Rome during the reign of the Emperor Nero, but it can be read as Sienkiewicz contribution to the struggle of the Polish people against repression. The story which conveyed the message of faith and hope gained a huge success. Quo Vadis? was one of the first novels adapted into screen. In the early 1900s two versions were made, one French and one Italian. Jerzy Kawalerowicz's adaptation from 2001, supported by Pope John Paul II, was filmed in Tunisia, Poland and France. In 1900 Sienkiewicz was given an estate by his readers at Oblegorek, near Kielce.
The Teutonic Knights.Sienkiewicz's last important novel, Krzyzacy (1900, The Teutonic Knights), was set in medieval Poland at the time of its conflict with the Teutonic Order. The novel clearly referred to the policy of the modern German state towards the Poles.
In 1905 he got the Nobel Prize "because of his outstanding merits as an epic writer". In desert and Wilderness. W pustyni i w puszczy (1911, In Desert and Wilderness), written for children, was located in the deserts and savannas of Africa in the year of Mahdi's rebellion and the capture of Khartoum. Its lively details were partly based on the author's travels in Africa in the years 1890-91. Prusse et Pologne (1907) attacked on Prussian government's land policy in Prussian-occupied Poland.
Flees to Switzerland. With the outbreak of WW I, Sienkiewicz fled to Switzerland. He was a member of the Swiss Relief Committee for the War Victims in Poland.
Opinions. Sienkiewicz is still regarded as a serious and important novelist, although he has been criticized for lack of philosophical depth. Stanislaw Brzozowski (1878-1911), the leading critic of early modernism, attacked fiercely Sienkiewicz; his treatise on the author appeared in 1903. The best-known pioneer of modernist Polish fiction, Witold Gombrowicz, has called Sienkiewicz "the first-rate secondary writer" but nevertheless recognized the magic of his narrative skill. Other critics include Bolesław Prus, Aleksander Świętochowski, and Czesław Miłosz.

This short biography is based primarly on the work by Petri Liukkonen who gave me permission to use it:

Other sources include:
Jozef Bachorz. Includes (in Polish) "Quo Vadis","Teutonic Knights",part of "Trilogy", "Short Stories"
Polish origin Nobel Prize laureates
Nobel Prize
Roman Antoszewski - includes "Trilogy"(in Polish)
See also:
Polski Slownik Biograficzny: audios and videos (in Polish)
For more sources and for bibliography see the above links.
English translations of some of his works:
Constance J. Ostrowski

See also some of his works online in Polish:
Roman Antoszewski

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Prominent Poles