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The Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki

Pamiętnik Stefana Czarnieckiego 

“And wherever I see some mysterious emotion, whether it is virtue or family, faith or fatherland, I always have to commit some villainy. This is my mystery, which for my part I impose upon the great enigma of being.”

Written in 1926, The Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki was first published in 1933 as part of the collection Memoirs From a Time of Immaturity (Ed. Rój, Warsaw). Written in 1926, The Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki was first published in 1933 as part of the collection Memoirs From a Time of Immaturity (Ed. Rój, Warsaw). Like the other stories in this book, The Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki was later included in the 1957 volume Bacacay (Wydawnictwo Literackie, Krakow).

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Piotr Cieślak’s adaptation, Teatr Dramatyczny, Warsaw, 2004.


Written in first person, like most of Witold Gombrowicz’s prose, this scathing story recounts the moral degeneration of a boy that, from birth, has struggled to find his place. Named after a historical hero whose name invokes Polish patriotism, this son of a converted Jew and an anti-Semitic father never succeeds in forging an identity for himself—nor in gaining acceptance by the society that rejects him, despite his incessant efforts to conform to the dominant ideology.

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Krzysztof Ogłoza as Stefan Czarniecki in an adaptation by Piotr Cieślak, Warsaw, 2004.


In a preface to the collection pulled just before publication, Witold Gombrowicz wrote:

“In the ‘Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki,’ I envisioned the phenomenon of race observed through the eyes of a fictional character, himself completely without race.”“In the ‘Memoirs of Stefan Czarniecki,’ I envisioned the phenomenon of race observed through the eyes of a fictional character, himself completely without race.”
“A Summary Explanation,” Varia [Trans. Dubowski]
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Stefan Czarniecki, the great Polish Commander.


Stefan Czarniecki (1599-1665) was a great Commander of the Polish crown. Poland’s national hymn invokes this historical character, a symbol of the “invincible soldier” and an incarnation of Polish patriotism. In the first version of this story, published in 1933, the main character had the Biblical name of Jacob. This Jewish reference, contrasted by the typically Polish family name, indicated, from the beginning, the character’s identity conflict, as well as the problematics of the text. Witold Gombrowicz changed the character’s name to Stefan before its republication as part of Bacacay in 1957.



Excerpt: All this, I confess, was strangely charming, strangely lovely—yes, lovely, that’s exactly it; but it was also strangely unconvincing. Yet I never lost heart. I read a lot, especially the poets, and acquired as best I could the language of mystery. I remember an assignment—The Pole and Other Nations. “Of course, it is unnecessary even to mention the superiority of the Poles over the Africans and Asians, who have repulsive skin,” I wrote. Excerpt: All this, I confess, was strangely charming, strangely lovely—yes, lovely, that’s exactly it; but it was also strangely unconvincing. Yet I never lost heart. I read a lot, especially the poets, and acquired as best I could the language of mystery. I remember an assignment—The Pole and Other Nations. “Of course, it is unnecessary even to mention the superiority of the Poles over the Africans and Asians, who have repulsive skin,” I wrote. “But the Pole is also unquestionably superior to the nations of Europe. The Germans are uncouth, violent, and flatfooted; the French are petty, undersized, and depraved; the Russians are hairy; the Italians have bel canto. What a relief it is to be Polish, and it is no wonder everyone envies us and wants to wipe us from the face of the earth. Only the Pole does not arouse our disgust.” I wrote thus, without conviction, but I felt that this was the language of mystery, and it was precisely the naïveté of my assertions that was sweet to me.