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At the Crossroads: 1865–1918

A History of the Polish Intelligentsia – Part 3, Edited by Jerzy Jedlicki


Magdalena Micińska

The three-part work provides a first synthetic account of the history of the Polish intelligentsia from the days of its formation to World War I. The third part deals with the period between 1865 and 1918. It is the period of numerical growth of the intelligentsia, growth of its self-consciousness and at the same time of growing struggles and rivalries of various political streams. The study concludes with the moment when Poland regained the independence that had been lost in 1795. The work combines social and intellectual history, tracing both the formation of the intelligentsia as a social stratum and the forms of engagement of the intelligentsia in the public discourse. Thus, it offers a broad view of the group’s transformations which immensely influenced the course of the Polish history.


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During the entire Partition period, the word ‘homeland’ or ‘home country’ [Polish, ojczyzna] remained on the lips of the most nimble and most expressive Polish wieszczs (‘prophet-bards’), penetrating historians and authors of politi- cal treatises which were meant to set new horizons for Poles� The word/notion was inflected in all the ways possible by an army of second-rank rhymesters, third-rate annalists and zealous scribblers who would have been willing to say of themselves what Zygmunt Krasiński wrote in his poem Tęsknota: “Wherev’r I go, there’s things that hurt and bore me, // My lost homeland chases me with her phantom�” The regaining of the country did not inspire as many, and so eminent, authors – at least in the beginning� The most popular and most willingly pub- lished coryphaei of patriotic elations of the earliest years of the 20th century de- voted a tribute of doleful and solemn poems to the rebuilding of independence� Patriotic, and even jingoistic, topics reappeared in a triumphant parade in short stores or novellas published by the press in episodes, moral tales in calendars, and instructive pieces for Polish brood� Publicists and journalists under various flags wrote of a regained and successfully defended independence, using ornate metaphors which soon became overused� And yet, the reconstruction of a state that had ceased to exist 123 years before was certainly a wonder worthy of no less marvellous eulogists� Polish culture, in contact with the three dominant cultures of the partitioning powers, superior to it civilisation-wise in...

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