Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Woman who died of Robespierre

A few days of enforced inactivity, spent in my sitting-room-cum-study, led me to browse the shelves of a book-case filled with books which just happen to have arrived there in a recent attempt to re-organise/rationalise books from various part of the house. Some are books which have been read and even re-read, some I keep by me for purely sentimental reasons or because I refer to them from time to time, some are unfamiliar. A few days ago my eye fell on this one:

A Life of Solitude
Stanislawa Przybyszewska
A Biographical Study with Selected Letters
by Jadwig Kousack and Daniel Gerould

Please don't ask me how 'Przybyszewska' is pronounced - I have no idea! But the life-story of this gifted Polish writer is as fascinating as it is appalling. What's more, learning about her passion, amounting to an obsession, with Robespierre led me to some internet explorations and information about the French Revolution, of which my knowledge is extremely, and shamefully, meagre.
Przbyszewska's obsession with Robespierre, Danton and the French Revolution in general took root at a young age. Hilary Mantel, writing in the London Review of Books (Vol.22 No. 7 20th March 2000), says this of her:
[Stanislawa] was the maddest of all female Robespierrists (and in this matter I yield to few.) Born in 1901, daughter of a Polish writer, she was a writer of starvation and frost and died aged 34 in Danzig, where she had been living in a sort of out-house, unheated through the winter, painting her food with lysol to preserve it while thinking intensively and extensively about 'this handsome, petty lawyer, who at the age of 35 single-handedly ruled France.' Tuberculosis, morphine and starvation were adduced as the reasons for her death but she could more truthfully be diagnosed as the woman who died of Robespierre.
A major factor in, and influence on Przybyszewska's life, and largely a malign influence at that, was her father, Stanislaw Przybyszewski, a self-styled Satanist and serial philanderer. The brief Wikipaedia entry for him makes no mention of Stanislawa, whose work, ironically, has achieved a postumous recognition which his appears not to have done, despite the fact that in his life-time he was a famous figure in Polish literature and cultural life. It was her father who introduced Stanislawa to morphine, thus precipitating the addiction which was to be a contributory factor in her mental instability and a life of hardship and poverty.
At his death, the father was accorded the elaborate civic rites due to such a celebrated figure. His daughter received a pauper's funeral attended by three people.

Stanislawa Przybyszewska's most enduring work is the trilogy of plays she wrote about the French Revolution, the best known being The Danton Case, on which Andrzej Wajda's 1983 film, Danton was based.

1 comment:

The Grand Inquisitor said...

I just started this book, she sounds very much like someone I used to know. Lysol to perserve food?