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From the Private Diary of Jerome Poniżalski

Z diariusza prywatnego Hieronima Poniżalskiego


“Although one is not an imbecile, when one sits down to write, the result is stupid.”

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Literary discussions at Café Ziemiańska, fragment of a drawing by Jotes (Jerzy Szwajcer).

Published in 1934 in the newspaper Gazeta Polska, the story From the Private Diary of Jerome Poniżalski (Z diariusza prywatnego Hieronima Poniżalskiego) was republished only in 1973, four years after Witold Gombrowicz’s death, in the volume Varia. (This book reunites different fictional and critical texts that had, up until its publication, existed separately.)

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The literary personalities with which Gombrowicz polemicized, left to right: Ferdynand Goetel, Jan Parandowski, Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski and Wacław Grubiński.

Witold Gombrowicz wrote this story of a writer rejected by critics and editors in 1934, the year following publication of his first book, Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity. Witold Gombrowicz had suffered from a kind of misunderstanding by the Polish literary establishment of the period. This included confusion between Gombrowicz and his work, a first-degree interpretation of the title and contents of his first book, and indifference with regard to the writer’s original literary project, which prioritized the individual at the expense of fashions and conventions.

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Witold Gombrowicz in the 1930s, portrait by Elie Kanarek.

In this context, the use of the first person narrator in From the Private Diary of Jerome Poniżalski appears to be an autobiographical reaction of Gombrowicz, defending his goals as a writer.
In Polish, the verb poniżać, from which the name "Poniżalski" is derived, means "to humiliate".

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The “literary establishment,” left to right: F. Goetel, K. Wierzyński, B. Wieniawa-Długoszewski, B. Mieczysławski.

The maid Adela, who appears in the story by poking her head around the door and worries over the sounds coming from the writer’s room, and who responds to his disarray with a placid “Ah,” is a reference to Aniela Brzozowska, faithful servant of the Gombrowicz household until the war. Witold Gombrowicz stated that he owed her the famous “It’s the end, what a gas, and who’s read it is an ass!” at the end of Ferdydurke, published three years later.

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Reputations made and unmade at Café Ziemiańska, fragment of a drawing by Jotes.

Excerpt: I declare then, just in case and as a preemptive measure, that I am a graphomaniac and that I write for my own pleasure, in a quirky habit, just like a cow moos. And who can attack me from now on? Now I will mount a terrible lion without danger, on a giant dragon I will sit astride. And if what I said is not enough, if pushed by an old and bad habit, someone comes again to bother me, speaking of mission, of convenience, etc., I will respond very nicely:
In this precious word I will put all the happiness of my liberation from terror, all the joy of having found my equilibrium, of no longer feeling fear or shame, all the sweetness of liberty and the intense pleasure of creation. Be welcome, mediocrity; and be welcome, uncultivated, banal, and dull manners, —trivial manners, even—yes, be most welcome!