Yale Acquires Archive of 20th Century Polish Writer

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale has acquired the archive of Witold Gombrowicz, one of the great names of 20th century European modernism.

Gombrowicz was born in Maloszyce, Poland, in 1904 and studied philosophy and law at the University of Warsaw. His first volume of short stories appeared in 1933. The novel “Ferdydurke”, 1937, and the play “Iwona, Ksieznicka Burgunda”/Yvonne, Princess of Burgundy earned him a preeminent position among the provocative writers of the Polish avant-garde. From 1939 to 1963, Gombrowicz lived in Argentina, where he wrote the novel “Trans-Atlantyk,” published in 1953 at the same time as the play “Slub”/The Marriage. The first installment of his journal, “Dziennik”, considered by some his masterpiece, came out in 1957, followed in 1960 by the novel “Pornografia.” In 1965, the year of publication of his final novel, “Kosmos,” Gombrowicz moved to Vence, in the south of France, where he died in 1969.

Alexander M. Schenker, professor emeritus of Slavic linguistics, languages, and literatures at Yale, has written, “In his fiction and drama, Gombrowicz set out to deride the force of conventions which constrain all aspects of social behavior. His heroes try to liberate themselves from the stifling ‘form’ only to find out that their rebellion takes the form of another convention.”

The archive acquired by Yale from Rita Gombrowicz, the writer’s widow, comprises all of his extant papers, including several versions of his third and last play, “Operetka,” and manuscripts of the novel “Kosmos, Testament” also known as “Conversations with Dominique de Roux”, “Dziennik 1963-69, Wedrowki po Argentynie”/Peregrinations through Argentina, and “Wspomnienia polskie”/Memories of Poland. The collection also includes manuscripts and typescripts of various shorter texts by Gombrowicz and draft fragments of his longer works.

Numerous family letters are present in the archive as well as correspondence with Polish emigre writers and periodicals such as Kultura in Paris, with friends – mostly from Poland, France and Argentina – and with publishers, translators and theaters. Correspondents include Martin Buber, Albert Camus, Jean Dubuffet and Czeslaw Milosz. The collection includes printed editions as well as published and unpublished stage and film adaptations of his works, books from his library, documents relating to his death and subsequent commemorations, bibliographic files, and audiovisual materials.

The Gombrowicz archive joins a growing collection of Polish literary papers at the Beinecke Library, which is already home to the archive of Czeslaw Milosz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. The library also houses manuscripts by other important contemporary emigre Polish writers, such as Aleksander Wat, Zbigniew Herbert, and Konstanty Jelenski, as well as the Polish-born authors Joseph Conrad and Jerzy Kosinski.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325