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376 ORZESZKOWA, Eliza (1841–1910) Polish fiction writer, novelist and publicist; literary pseudonyms: ‘E. O.,’ ‘Bąk (z WaLit -No),’ ‘Li…ka’ (i.e. Litwinka, meaning Lithuanian woman) and ‘Gabriela Litwinka.’ Eliza (real name Elżbieta) Orzeszkowa, nee Pawłowska (second married name Nahorska) was born on 6 June 1841 into a well-off noble family on the family estate of Milkowszczyzna (approx. forty km from Grodno; located in territory annexed to the Russian empire, but not part of the Polish Kingdom established in 1815). She was the youngest daughter of Benedykt Pawłowski (1788–1843) and his second wife, Franciszka born Kamieńska (ca. 1814–1878). Eliza’s father, a lawyer by profession and Chairman of the district court of Grodno, was a man of high intellectual culture, a freethinker and a Freemason. Eliza and her older sister Klementyna (1838–1851) were brought up by their maternal grandmother, Elżbieta Kamieńska born Kaszuba. Eliza kept in contact with her mother, who in 1849 remarried (to Konstanty Widacki) and did not devote much time to her daughters. Initially, Eliza was educated at home by a governess. Then from 1852 to 1857, she attended the Catholic convent girls’ school of the Sakramentki; Benedyktynki od Nieustającej Adoracji Naj świętszego Sakramentu (Benedictins of Perpetual Adoration of the Holy Sacrament) in Warsaw, where she received an education typical for girls of her class. Shortly after her return home, she consented to a marriage arranged by her mother to Piotr Orzeszko (ca. 1825–1874), a landowner several years her senior. Following the marriage in Grodno, on 21 January 1858, Orzeszkowa moved to her husband’s residence in Ludwinowo (in the Kobryn district). The marriage turned out to be a failure, and Orzeszkowa tried to leave her husband, later returning to him at her mother’s request. She was in Ludwinowo when the 1863 January Insurrection against the Russian occupation broke out, which she immediately joined. Together with other women involved in the Insurrection, she delivered insurgent mail and distributed food. At her husband ’s residence in Ludwinowo, she sheltered the wounded and harbored Romuald Traugutt, later to become a leader of the Insurrection. In the autumn of 1863, Orzeszkowa’s husband, indicted by the Russian authorities for helping the Insurgents, was arrested and exiled to Ossa (Russia, the province of Perm) in 1865. Early in 1864, 377 Orzeszkowa returned to her family home (Milkowszczyzna). In 1867, she requested consistorial abrogation of her marriage, which she received in 1869. The direct motivation for this request was her affection for Zygmunt Święcicki (1836–1910), a doctor whom she had met at Ludwinowo. During her stay at Milkowszczyzna, Orzeszkowa immersed herself in modern literature on the natural and social sciences, philosophy and history (among other subjects). She subscribed to Polish and foreign papers and took an interest in new literary trends. In 1866, she made her literary debut with a novella, Obrazek z lat głodowych (A picture of the hungry years). In this period, she also composed several short stories and ten novels, six of which were published; the most significant of these were Pan Graba (Mr Graba, 1869–1870) and Ostatnia miłość (The last love, 1867), which raised the then daring topic of unsuccessful marriage and women’s right to divorce. Around 1869, a new love entered her life in the form of a private solicitor, Stanisław Nahorski (1826–1896). Their relationship was legalized only in 1894, shortly after the death of Nahorski’s first wife. In 1869, Orzeszkowa moved to Grodno, where she lived in a rented flat. In 1870, due to family debts, she sold the Milkowszczyzna estate. Orzeszkowa’s thought was greatly influenced by the Warsaw Positivists (a group of Polish publicists and writers fascinated by the ideas of Western liberalism). Since writing was becoming an additional source of income for her, she was able to develop her own ideas as a professional writer. She was interested in Jewish issues, to which she devoted her novels Eli Makower (1874) and Meir Ezofowicz (1878), as well as the short stories “Daj kwiatek” (Give a flower, 1877) and “Silny Samson” (Strong Samson , 1877). The Jewish theme, together with the idea of the assimilation of Polish Jews, would surface frequently in her writings over the following decades. One of Orzeszkowa’s major treatises in this period—Kilka słów o kobietach (A few words about women, 1870)—analyzes modern methods used in girls’ education, with particular reference to the works...


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