Princes, Peasants, and Other Polish Selves


This book is a case study of the way in which ethnic identities are created and shaped by literature, focusing on the American image of the Pole from the 1830s to the present. Using a vast range of writings, some well known and others long neglected, Thomas S. Gladsky shows how the nineteenth-century view of the Pole as kindred spirit or "beau ideal" was supplanted by other literary models--anarchist, peasant, proletarian, antisemite--and culminated in the present-day idea of ethnicity as the heart of "Americanness". Part One traces the history of Polish ethnicity through the literary inventions of "host-culture" American writers, showing how these surrogates of "otherness" served the needs of a developing national literature. Gladsky deals tactfully with the delicate relationships between Poles and Jews in an extended chapter on Isaac Singer and other Jewish-American writers. He also offers extensive treatments of the writings of William Styron, Nelson Algren, Tennessee Williams, James Michener,and Jerzy Kosinski. In Part Two, Gladsky explores the Polish self through the lens of contemporary "descent" writers such as Gary Gildner, Anthony Bukoski, Stuart Dybek, Richard Bankowsky, and Anne Pellowski, who have created their own literary images while reflecting on their ethnic heritage. Throughout the book Gladsky links changing perceptions of Polish ethnicity to broader social and historical currents, showing how the Polish literary self has been a repository of American cultural history.


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