Polish author of novels that achieved great popularity and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1905.
Sienkiewicz studied literature, history, and philology at Warsaw University but left in 1871 without taking a degree. He had begun to publish critical articles in 1869 that showed the influence of positivism, a system of philosophy popular in Poland and elsewhere at the time, emphasizing in particular the achievements of science. His first novel, Na marne (In Vain), appeared in 1872, and his first short story, "Stary sluga" ("An Old Retainer"), in 1875. He traveled in the United States (1876-78) as special correspondent of the Gazeta polska ("Polish Gazette") and, after his return to Poland, via Italy and France, published a number of successful short stories, among them "Janko Muzykant" (1879; "Yanko the Musician"), "Latarnik" (1882; "The Lighthouse-Keeper"), and "Bartek Zwyciezca" (1882; "Bartek the Conqueror"). From 1882 to 1887 he was coeditor of the daily Slowo. In 1900, to celebrate the 30th year of his career as a writer, he was presented by the Polish people with the small estate of Oblegorek, near Kielce, where he lived until 1914. During World War I he promoted the cause of Polish independence and organized relief for Polish war victims.
Sienkiewicz' great trilogy of historical novels began to appear in
Slowo in 1883. It is composed of Ogniem i mieczem (1884; With Fire and
Sword), Potop (1886; The Deluge), and Pan Wolodyjowski (1887-88; Pan
Michael). Set in the later 17th century, the trilogy describes Poland's
struggles against Cossacks, Tatars, Swedes, and Turks, stressing Polish
heroism in a vivid style of epic clarity and simplicity. The finest
of the three works, With Fire and Sword, describes the Poles' attempts
to halt the rebellion of the Zaporozhian Cossacks led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky.
Sienkiewicz' other novels include the widely translated Quo Vadis? (1896),
a historical novel set in Rome under Nero, which established Sienkiewicz's
international reputation. Although Sienkiewicz' major novels have been
criticized for their theatricality and lack of historical accuracy,
they display great narrative power and contain vivid characterizations.
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