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Introduction

 

 

“Chase me if you want. I’m running away, mug in my hands.”

Ferdydurke, Witold Gombrowicz’s fundamental work and first novel, is considered a 20th-century classic.

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Poster by Mieczysław Górowski.


“My writing is based on traditional models. In a sense "Ferdydurke" is a parody of a conte philosophique in the manner of Voltaire.”“My writing is based on traditional models. In a sense "Ferdydurke" is a parody of a conte philosophique in the manner of Voltaire.”

A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


Ferdydurke was born from the hurt that Witold Gombrowicz felt around certain critical articles about his first book, Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity. After being judged as “immature,” Gombrowicz’s first aim was to write a pamphlet against critics and “cultural aunties.” Ferdydurke was born from the hurt that Witold Gombrowicz felt around certain critical articles about his first book, Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity. After being judged as “immature,” Gombrowicz’s first aim was to write a pamphlet against critics and “cultural aunties.” However, once swept up in his subject, Witold Gombrowicz decided to settle the score with culture and with the world in becoming himself “the champion of immaturity and Form, at least in its relation to immaturity.”

“Man is profoundly dependent on the reflection of himself in another man’s soul, be it even the soul of an idiot.”

It is in Ferdydurke that we find the earliest instances of the central themes of Gombrowicz’s work, including immaturity, inferiority vs. superiority, and form.It is in Ferdydurke that we find the earliest instances of the central themes of Gombrowicz’s work, including immaturity, inferiority vs. superiority, and form.

Certain sayings from Ferdydurke, like “cultural aunties,” infiltrated popular culture, where they took on particular significance and began to function as references in the Polish language.

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Wiesław Walkuski’s poster for the third Gombrowicz Festival in Radom, Poland.


“But how to describe this Ferdydurkian man? Created by form, he is created from the exterior, which means inauthentic, deformed. To be a man is to never be oneself. He is also a constant producer of form: He secretes form indefatigably, like the bee secretes honey.”
Gombrowicz’s preface to the French edition of Pornografia, 1962 [Trans. Dubowski]
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Drawing by Vladimiro Elvieri.


Ferdydurke, first published in October 1937 in Warsaw (Ed. Rój), carries a printer’s imprint from 1938. Ferdydurke, first published in October 1937 in Warsaw (Ed. Rój), carries a printer’s imprint from 1938. The cover and illustrations for this first edition are Bruno Schulz’s. Schulz was an ardent defender of the book and already the well-known author of The Cinnamon Shops (1934). The novel includes two “interludes,” which had been written earlier: Philidor’s Child Within and Philibert’s Child Within. Witold Gombrowicz inserted these into his 1957 collection Bacacay as independent stories.

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Bruno Schulz, self-portrait. His two drawings for the first edition of Ferdydurke.
 

Ferdydurke would not reappear in Poland until twenty years later in 1957, thanks to a passing liberalization of the Communist regime. Ferdydurke would not reappear in Poland until twenty years later in 1957, thanks to a passing liberalization of the Communist regime. When published, the book was so successful—over 10,000 copies sold—that it was quickly banned again the following year. It would then remain banned until 1986, at which point it was re-edited by Wydawnictwo Literackie of Krakow. From the 1990s onward, Ferdydurke, as a classic of Polish prose, became required reading in Polish schools.

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Ferdydurke in Spanish in the Biblioteca Gombrowicz series of the publisher Seix Barral, with a preface by Ernesto Sabato. Drawing by Roland Topor.


In 1947, Ferdydurke was translated into Spanish (its first foreign edition) and published by Argos of Buenos Aires. This translation was written in a quasi-burlesque atmosphere at Café Rex in Buenos Aires with a group of Witold Gombrowicz’s young chess-player friends—without a Polish/Spanish dictionary, with Gombrowicz himself participating and all under the leadership of two Cuban writers, Virgilio Piñera and Humberto Rodriguez Tomeu.

“It was not a face that had turned into a mug, but a mug that had never ever had the honor of being a face—his mug was as dumb as a leg!”

Witold Gombrowicz was inspired by this Spanish version for the French translation, which he completed himself in collaboration with Roland Martin, a young Frenchman from Buenos Aires. Together, they signed the work under the pseudonym “Brone” (Julliard, 1958, “Les lettres nouvelles”). This French translation was then used as the basis for several other translations, with the author’s consent.

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The French translation by Georges Sédir, Ed. Christian Bourgois; painting by Józef Czapski. Korean translation, Ed. Minmusa; painting by Balthus.
 

The second French translation, by Georges Sédir, based on the Polish edition of 1957, was published for the first time in 1973.

“The book can be quite indigestible for those who attribute a certain importance to their person, their convictions and their beliefs, for a ‘dedicated’ painter, scientist or ideologist. The western readers of Ferdydurke are divided as follows: frivolous individuals who amuse themselves without worrying about anything else; serious readers; serious and offended readers.”

A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]

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One of the many Polish editions, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2004. With an analysis by professors Jerzy Jarzębski and Andrzej Zawadzki.