Stanisława Przybyszewska

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Stanisława Przybyszewska (1920s)

Stanisława Przybyszewska (Polish pronunciation: [staɲiˈswava pʂɨbɨˈʂɛfska]; 1 October 1901 – 15 August 1935) was a Polish dramatist who wrote almost exclusively about the French Revolution. Her 1929 play The Danton Case, which examines the conflict between Maximilien Robespierre and Georges Danton, is considered to be one of the most exemplary works about the Revolution, and was adapted (albeit with significant ideological edits) by Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda for his 1983 film Danton.


Przybyszewska was born Stanisława Pająkówna on 1 October 1901, in Kraków. She was the illegitimate child of the artist Aniela Pająkówna and the writer Stanisław Przybyszewski, the latter a famous and notoriously dissolute modernist who was one of the founding members of the Young Poland movement. As a child, Przybyszewska traveled across Europe with her mother, living in Lwów, Paris, Zurich, and Vienna. Following the death of her mother in 1912, Przybyszewska lived with an aunt before reuniting with her father in 1919. She studied philosophy at Poznan University.

In 1921, Przybyszewska married Jan Panienski, an artist whom she met in Kraków. Following his death in November 1925, Przybyszewska drifted into a solitary and fanatical obsession with the French Revolution, dating her letters (which she wrote to recipients as diverse as her father and Thomas Mann) by the French Republican Calendar. Desperately poor, she spent the last years of her life living in a tiny, unheated garret in Gdańsk, devoting herself to dramatizing the Revolution.

Przybyszewska was fixated upon Maximilien Robespierre, and attributed to him, in her writing, extraordinary brilliance and powers of foresight. "I have the calm certainty," she wrote to a friend, "that I understand Robespierre better than anyone whose works are known to me." Przybyszewska attributed her own Communist opinions to Robespierre, and depicted him as having predicted the disastrous rise of capitalism. Robespierre was the central figure in both of her surviving plays, The Danton Case (Sprawa Dantona, 1929), and an earlier unfinished play, Thermidor (1925).

Przybyszewska died in her room in Gdańsk on 15 August 1935. At the time of her death she was still absorbed by her love of the Revolution. British author Hilary Mantel remarks of her that she was "the woman who died of Robespierre."[1] Przybyszewska left a collection of letters written from 1913 to 1934 in several languages to publishers, her friends, and famous European writers like Georges Bernanos, Jean Cocteau, and Thomas Mann; which were published in Gdańsk in original languages and in Polish in three volumes as Listy (Volume 1 in 1978, Volume 2 in 1983, and Volume 3 in 1985). One of Hilary Mantel's 2017 Reith Lectures on BBC Radio Four, Silence Grips the Town, was delivered in Antwerp and was dedicated to Przybyszewska.[2] Jolanta Kajzer discovered haiku poetry in Przybyszewska's writings.[3]

Selected works[edit]

  • Thermidor (1925, unfinished drama)
  • The Last Nights of Ventôse (Ostatnie noce Ventôse'a, 1927, novel)
  • 93 (Dziewięćdziesiąty trzeci, 1928, drama)
  • The Danton Case (Sprawa Dantona, 1929, drama; staged for the first time at the Great Theatre in Lviv in March 1931; first English-language staging was produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Barbican Theatre in London in July 1986, directed by Ron Daniels and adapted as The Danton Affair by Pam Gems)

Books published in English[edit]

  • The Danton Case and Thermidor. Two Plays (1989)[4]

Books about Stanisława Przybyszewska[edit]

In 1986 Jadwiga Kosicka and Daniel Gerould wrote Przybyszewska's biography A Life of Solitude which includes her selected letters.[5] In 1997 Kazimiera Ingdahl published in Sweden a book A Gnostic Tragedy: A Study in Stanisława Przybyszewska's Aesthetics and Works.[6] Pam Gems wrote The Snow Palace (London 1998).[7] Jolanta Kajzer wrote Haiku for Stanisława Przybyszewska (Gdańsk 2017).[8] In 1982 Tomasz Lewandowski wrote in Polish Przybyszewska's literary biography Drama of the Intellect. Stanisława Przybyszewska's Literary Biography (Dramat intelektu. Biografia literacka Stanisławy Przybyszewskiej).


  1. ^ LRB · Hilary Mantel: ‘What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!’ at
  2. ^ Mantel, Hilary (2017). "Silence Grips the Town". BBC Radio 4. 
  3. ^ Kajzer, Jolanta (2017). Haiku for Stanisława Przybyszewska. Marpress. ISBN 978-83-7528-144-6. 
  4. ^ Przybyszewska, Stanisława (1990). The Danton Case and Thermidor. Two Plays. Northwestern University Press. Retrieved 31 August 2017. 
  5. ^ A Life of Solitude. Northwestern University Press. Retrieved 31 August 2017. 
  6. ^ Ingdahl, Kazimiera (1997). A Gnostic Tragedy: A Study in Stanisława Przybyszewska's Aesthetics and Works. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International. 
  7. ^ Gems, Pam (1998). The Snow Palace. London: Oberon Books. 
  8. ^ Kajzer, Jolanta (2017). Haiku dla Stanisławy Przybyszewskiej / Haiku for Stanisława Przybyszewska (in English & Polish). Gdańsk: Marpress. 

Further reading[edit]