“It’s the end, what a gas, And who’s read it is an ass!”“It’s the end, what a gas, And who’s read it is an ass!”
The word “Ferdydurke” appears only in the novel’s title—not once in the text itself. Witold Gombrowicz never revealed the mystery of the title; he claimed both that he had chosen it because it signified nothing and was difficult to pronounce in Polish, and that he had found it by chance in an English newspaper.
In 1984, Bogdan Baran hypothesized that the title stemmed from Sinclair Lewis’s novel Babbitt, which was translated into Polish in the 1930s.
“Who do you think I ran into the other evening at the De Luxe restaurant? Why, old Freddy Durkee, that used to be a dead-or-alive shipping clerk in my old place―Mr. Mouse Man we used to laughingly call the dear fellow. One time he was so timid he was plumb scared of the Super, and never got credit for the dandy work he did. Him at the De Luxe! And if he wasn’t ordering a tony feed with all the ‘fixings’ from celery to nuts! And instead of being embarrassed by the waiters, like he used to be at the little dump where we lunched in Old Lang Syne, he was bossing them around like a millionaire!”
Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt, chapter 6
This hypothesized origin of the title was confirmed in 2000 by Professor Henryk Markiewicz, who discovered an unknown story by Witold Gombrowicz, Ears, in 1935. Ears was an apparent pastiche of a fragment of Babbitt. In this short text, we meet the character of old Ferdy Durkee, a store clerk. He is terrorized by Mr. Mouse-man, the owner, whom Ferdy succeeds in humiliating through teasing and, finally, by forcing him to undress completely.
These explanations of the story’s title appear in the edition of Ferdydurke in the Complete Works edited by Włodzimierz Bolecki, Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2007, pages 402-402. The novel Ears can be found here as well, pages 263-265.