The Doll

The Doll

The Doll

The Doll


About the Central European Classics series:

"Half a continent's worth of forgotten genius."--The Guardian

The new Central European Classics series was born some ten years ago in the dim cafes of Budapest and Prague when General Editor Timothy Garton Ash began jotting down titles recommended to him by local writers. Its aim is to take these works of nineteenth- and twentieth-century classic fiction "out of the ghetto," onto the shelves of Western booksellers, and into the consciousness of Western readers.
The result of extensive discussion among writers, scholars, and critics, the rich tradition of Central European fiction has been culled to offer previously unavailable works written in Czech, Hungarian, and Polish that lend themselves perfectly to powerful and accurate translation. Specially commissioned introductions by leading Central European writers explain why these titles have become classics in their own country, while at the same time, the works stand on their own as great literature in English. With future titles such as a new edition of Boleslaw Prus's Polish masterpiece, The Doll, the Central European Classics series will contribute to a deeper understanding of the culture and history of countries which, since the opening of iron curtain, have been coming closer to us in many other ways.

The city of Warsaw, under Russian rule in the late 1870s, is the setting for this sweeping panorama of social conflict, political tensions, and personal suffering. The middle-aged hero, Wokulski, bold and successful in business, is being destroyed by his obsessive love for the frigid, aristocratic society "doll," Izabela. The embattled aristocracy, the new men of finance, Dickensian tradesmen, and the urban poor all come vividly to life on the vast, superbly detailed canvas against which Wokulski's personal tragedy is played out.
For this edition, the existing translation by David Welsh has been carefully revised under the supervision of the leading Polish critic, Stanislaw Bara'nczak. A chapter excised by the Tsarist censor is included as an appendix. Bara'nczak also contributes to an authoritative and illuminating new introduction to what is arguably the greatest Polish novel of the nineteenth century.


The greatest realist in the history of the Polish novel suffered all his life from acute agoraphobia. Not that this curious piece of trivia will unlock any mystery about his writing. At first glance, it may even seem that the reader who enters the novelistic world of Bolesław Prus (1847–1912) is in no need of any special key at all, and most certainly not of a psychopathological one. This is the work of a supremely sane mind, produced in an epoch which, while in reality as much affected by human aberration as any other period in recorded history, at least put the principle of sanity relatively high on its list of priorities.

Still, the fact of Prus’s agoraphobia is curious. the typical narrator in the realistic novel of the nineteenth century was, as a rule, one who blithely defied all the laws of ‘realistic’ probability by assuming an all-seeing, Olympian view. Prus’s critics at the time accused him of a ‘myopic’ preference to focus on detail rather than seeing the large picture. While not true of his writing, this was true of his life. Venturing into any space broader than his Warsaw apartment or a couple of familiar streets in the neighbourhood made him dizzy. His worst attack of agoraphobia came upon him when, as a thirty-four-year-old man, he took, for the first time in his life, the risk of visiting a fashionable mountain spa. So much for the Olympian viewpoint. and yet, amazingly, if there is any novelist who has succeeded in unfolding a broad and richly detailed panorama of nineteenth-century Polish life while also bringing this picture alive with genuine human drama, it is Bolesław Prus in his Lalka, the Doll.

Serialised in a newspaper, starting in 1887, and published in book form in 1890, this novel had to weather a cold reception before it became what it is today, one of the few most loved and continually reread classics of Polish literature. On its first appearance, it had the double disadvantage of being too extraordinary for its critics and too ordinary for its readers. in the eyes of the former, it strayed too . . .

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