(This post is by Regina Frackowiak, reference specialist, European Division)
The Polish novelist and dramatist Stefan Zeromski wrote his novel “Przedwiosnie” (The Coming Spring) between the years 1924-25. Born in 1864 near Kielce, in the southeastern part of what was then the Kingdom of Poland (under Russian rule), Zeromski has been praised for his deep empathy toward the less fortunate expressed in his naturalistic, but still lyrical, novels. He was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Zeromski was born into a family of impoverished gentry during the aftermath of the tragic 1863 January Insurrection against Russian rule. These circumstances influenced his works in the years to come. Orphaned, and impoverished, Zeromski was unable to earn a high-school diploma. However, the veterinary medicine college in Warsaw accepted him without one. He subsequently worked first as a resident tutor in country houses, then as an assistant librarian in Switzerland, and at the Zamoyski Library in Warsaw (1897-1904). From 1905, while living at Naleczow, he wrote short novels and articles advocating educating the poor, and for this he was arrested by Russian authorities in 1908. He was able to move to Paris (1909-12) and then to Warsaw, where he died in 1925.
Zeromski’s last novel, “Przedwiosnie,” in English “The Coming Spring” (also translated over the years as First spring, Before the spring, Early spring, Springtime, and Spring to come) portrays the development of a young Polish man, Cezary Baryka, caught up in the Russian Revolution. Cezary and his father were forced to flee from Baku, Azerbaijan to Poland. During their horrendous journey, the father dies, but Cezary reaches the newly independent Poland. Baryka feels the suffering of the poor whom he encounters, but cannot feel confident about either socialist or communist alternatives. He feels alienated, belonging neither to the gentry or the working class, and fails in his romantic relations, as well. Eventually, despite his misgivings, Cezary engages in political action on behalf of the poor.
Because of the symbolic content of Zeromski’s book—working for a better future despite all odds—it was selected and included on the list compiled by the Polish presidential couple Agata and Andrzej Duda, chosen as “national reading” for all Poles during the celebration of 100 years of Polish independence in 2018. Many Polish editions are digitized and available online.
Although processing the Library of Congress facsimile copy of “Przedwiosnie” is in limbo at this time, one may view a digitized copy of the original manuscript at the Polona (polona.pl) website which is administered by the National Library in Warsaw, Poland.
The manuscript looks like a student notebook, with no pagination, some pages removed, some glued over, as Zeromski made many edits during the time of his writing (see images above). Particularly symbolic is the chapter titled “Szklane domy” (Houses of glass). —To encourage Cezary to join him in travel back to a reborn Poland, his father tells a story of modern, colorful houses made of glass awaiting them over there. A fantasy, this phrase is used for something unreal, an impossible dream. It has become a Polish saying, often used to describe impractical, utopian ideas.
The Library of Congress has seven editions of “Przedwiosnie,” including several in Polish published between 1949 and 1996, and the 2007 English version, “The Coming Spring,” translated by Bill Johnston.
The Library of Congress holdings includes a videocassette released in 2001. It is based on a longer version directed by Filip Bajon, produced by Dariusz Jablonski, and featuring Mateusz Damiecki as Cezary Baryka.