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The Literature of Polish Romanticism in Its European Contexts

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Edited By Krzysztof Trybuś

The book contains essays on the heterogeneity of Polish Romantic literature and its links with Europe’s cultural heritage. The essays deal with, among other topics, the idea of beauty and truth, correspondences between the arts, the role of tradition and memory in the Romantic era, and the significance of mysticism and irony. The authors of the essays write about such seemingly distant issues as music and revolution in Chopin’s times, and travel to places as disparate as Siberia and Italy. Their thematically diverse reflections are linked by questions they pose about the romantic roots of today’s Europe. The works of Mickiewicz and other Romantic poets discussed in this book thus clearly do not concern merely the past, but also speak to the present day, describing the experiences of everyday life in its various dimensions.

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Irony as a ‘Centrifugal Force of Disincarnations’ in Polish Romanticism1

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Abstract: The chapter presents the reception of Romantic irony in the works of Juliusz Słowacki, Adam Mickiewicz and Zygmunt Krasiński. It is believed that due to historical circumstances Polish post-partition literature was fundamentally non-ironic and guided by the aesthetics of the sublime. Słowacki’s poetry is a widely recognised exception: Romantic irony is considered the main aesthetic principle in some of his major works, e.g., Balladina (1839) and Beniowski (1841). Krasiński was the first to acknowledge and analyse this. In the critical essay ‘A Few Words on Juliusz Słowacki’ he set ironic Słowacki against non-ironic Mickiewicz – the former represented a ‘centrifugal force of disincarnations’, while the latter embodied a ‘centripetal force’ in Polish Romanticism. Mickiewicz laid the ‘foundations for our poetry’, while Słowacki shattered them with his irony. The chapter argues that the binary model offered by Krasiński and deeply rooted in Polish literary studies is overestimated. Even a brief comparison of corresponding poems (e.g., Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz and Słowacki’s Beniowski) shows that this centrifugal, ironic force is anticipated by Mickiewicz’s allegedly essentialist imagination. Releasing the subversive energy concealed in the works of Mickiewicz encourages the reader to redefine the role of irony in Polish Romanticism.

Keywords: Romantic irony, metafiction, Mickiewicz, Słowacki, Krasiński

In Hesperus (1795), Jean Paul wrote that ‘the Germans rarely grasp irony and rarely write it.’2 However, this statement itself was ironic – the novelist drew the reader into an ostentatiously literary...

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