Charles Dickens's and Apollo Korzeniowski's Hard Times

By Kujawska-Lis, Ewa | Dickens Quarterly, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Charles Dickens's and Apollo Korzeniowski's Hard Times


Kujawska-Lis, Ewa, Dickens Quarterly


Hard Times has not been particularly popular in Poland if one compares the number of its editions to such favourite readings as The Pickwick Papers or David Copperfield (30), or the unbeatable A Christmas Carol (54). (1) The Coketown novel was published in Poland only five times, including one serial issue. Yet for a number of reasons, its first translation into Polish deserves closer attention. Surprisingly, the unabridged Polish version of Hard Times appeared earlier than the aforementioned preferred choices. Although the first translation of David Copperfield was available as early as 1857, the text was incomplete and the quality questionable, termed by the translator and publisher Franciszek Salezy Dmochowski "a free translation" (Kociecka 152). It was done most likely from a French version and appeared under the misleading title of Wspomnienia sieroty czyli pierwsze lata powiesciopisarza [The Memoirs of an Orphan or the First Years of the Writer]. The Polish reader had to wait until 1889 for an unabridged, reliable text of David Copperfield when it was translated by Willa Zyndram-Koscialkowska. The Pickwick Papers did not appear in Poland until 1870, although some of its fragments had been previously accessible to a limited number of readers. In 1843 an anonymous translation of the first two chapters appeared in Rozmaitosci Szkockie [Scottish Miscellanies] edited by Felicjan Abdon Wolski in Glasgow. But the magazine soon went bankrupt and so it is questionable whether it actually reached Polish readers (Kociecka 151). Before the publication of his full version, Wlodzimierz Gorski printed some fragments of his excellent translation in 1867 in the periodical Wedrowiec [The Wanderer]. Gorski's translation has stood the test of time, testimony to its quality, and remains the only one available in Poland. Surprisingly, A Christmas Carol was translated anonymously in 1879; that is relatively late given its size and popularity in other countries. In comparison, the Polish version of Hard Times in 1866 seems quite timely.

One of the reasons for the appearance of several of Dickens's novels in the 1860s was the involvement of the Gazeta Polska [Polish Daily] (2) in disseminating his works. It published Great Expectations (1863), Hard Times (1866-7) and Our Mutual Friend (1866). The efficiency and genuine commitment of the periodical's editors is evident when one realizes that the last novel was published just one year after its English edition. Thus the anonymous translator (the norm at the time) must have worked almost parallel to Dickens. This range of Dickens's novels available in Polish reflects two concerns: the prevailing interest in fiction and in English and French writing in particular, and the transition from Romanticism to Positivism, the former literary movement no longer suitable for the social, historical and political situation in Poland at the time. (3)

As was often the case, Hard Times was initially published anonymously, the translator signing his work "Apolin N. K." However, deciphering his identity is not difficult. These were the initials used by Apollo Nalecz Korzeniowski (1820-69) and, additionally, numerous sources, including his personal correspondence, indicate that he was the translator of Dickens's novel. In his time, Korzeniowski was a distinguished poet, critic and translator; yet sadly he is mostly remembered now solely as father of the eminent English writer of Polish origin, Joseph Conrad. Additionally, he was a political activist involved in organizing rebellions against the partitioning powers, Russia especially. His clandestine actions did not go unnoticed, and he was arrested in October 1861. Placed in the Tenth Pavilion of the Warsaw Citadel, where the majority of political prisoners were incarcerated, he remained under arrest until May 1862 when by the decree of a court martial he was exiled first to Vologda and then Chernigov. As for his own writing and translation work, the period before his arrest proved the most fruitful, producing his best works and also the play Komedia [The Comedy] in 1854 and earning a reputation as a translator, beginning with Alfred de Vigny's play Chatterton and some works by Victor Hugo: Hernani, Marion Delorme and excerpts from La Legende des Siecles. …

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