Literary Images of Galicia in 1846: Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach and the Polish Nation

By Nance, Agnieszka | Germano-Slavica, Annual 2003 | Go to article overview

Literary Images of Galicia in 1846: Marie Von Ebner-Eschenbach and the Polish Nation


Nance, Agnieszka, Germano-Slavica


In the history of Galicia, Polish territory ceded to Austria after the Partitions of Poland, (1) the year 1846 became a caesura that influenced Polish views on how to regain the cultural capital to preserve a distinctive Western identity for Polish culture despite the loss of the nation. Traditionally, Galicia, as the largest Austrian province, (2) played a special role in constructing Polish identity and culture in the nineteenth century. Its citizens created their own kind of Polishness and became the dominant "imagined community" (3) for Polish culture well into the twentieth century. Compared to the Polish regions ceded to Prussia and Russia, Galicia became for many Poles a mythical land of relative independence, where "old" Polish social structures were maintained along with Polish habits, and where progressive and revolutionary thoughts were born and ripened. This relatively autonomous province became the hope and center of Polish cultural and political life, defined as a western nation without a country--a state of mind within Austro-Hungary rather than a political entity. Historically and traditionally, this was a Polish center of conspiracy, revolution, stubbornness, political debacles, and memories of the glorious past of Poland.

Significantly, Galicia existed not only in the minds of Poles and political discussions of the time, but also in various literary representations reflecting the existence of the Polish nation-without-a-state. This essay will treat two texts by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach (1830-1916) acknowledging this Galician Poland, "Jakob Szela" (4) and "Der Kreisphysikus" (1883). (5) The goal of this analysis will be to argue that Ebner-Eschenbach, although a Germanophone author living in Austria, clearly presents a picture of Galicia's strengths and weaknesses as they appear in Polish literary tradition, despite her opposite ethnic identity and varying politics.

To support my argument, I will analyze how her texts reflect the world of 1846 in Galicia in terms of representations of class positions, ethnicity, and religion within the Galician community. Revising images of Galicia provided by Ebner-Eschenbach will suggest that, in this region, all ethnic, religious and national differences at least possibly coexisted in harmony, and that the Galician myth, as we shall see in the conclusion of the discussion, created in the nineteenth century is alive in Polish social and cultural life. (6)

Interestingly, through numerous literary critiques and analysis of her work, Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach is known as the aristocratic female Austrian writer who struggled for perfection in her art and tried to overcome obstacles in the form of family prejudices, social conventions, and illness in her later years. She is also known for her devotion to social issues and for her "humanist message, liberal leanings, her political and personal embracing of a moderate and humane socialism," as stressed by Carl Steiner. (7) In my case, I will stress her thorough knowledge of the Galician political situation and historical background.

Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach was a descendant of an old Austrian, not "paper," (8) aristocratic family, born in Moravia, another Austrian border region of small border villages and multiethnic populations. Two of Ebner-Eschenbach's stories, "Der Kreisphysikus" (The District Physician) and "Jakob Szela," which initially appeared in the collection Dorf- und Schlossgeschichten (Tales from Village and Castle, 1883), concentrate on the events of 1846 in Galicia--the failed Polish revolt against the Austrian government of the district and the peasants' uprising against Polish landowners, the so-called Jacquerie. Interestingly, each time she portrays the Galician reality of 1846, Ebner-Eschenbach presents the historical events and social issues in a novel and true light by using her licentia poetica.

Although Ingrid Aichinger claims that "Zeitkritik ist .. …

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