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History (An Operetta): introduction

The gallop scene from Operetta, an excerpt of the first French production of the play by Jacques Rosner, Théâtre de Chaillot, Paris, January 1970. Music by Karel Trow.

“To live on the left-overs of your kitchen My place is in your rubbish-heaps and backyards….”

History (Operetta) is a three-act theatrical reconstruction of the two first versions of Operetta, which were never finished.


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Mariusz Bonaszewski as Gombrowicz in Jerzy Jarocki’s Błądzenie (Wanderings) Warsaw, 2004. Photo by Stefan Okołowicz.

Witold Gombrowicz usually threw away his manuscripts as soon as a work was published, but he did keep the different versions of Operetta he worked on in the 1950s. He brought them with him to Europe in his luggage in 1963, with the intention of finishing it.
In 1966, he finished the last version—the definitive version—of Operetta, which was quite different from the first two.


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Poster by Henryk Tomaszewski for the production directed by Zbigniew Mich, Warsaw, 1983.

In 1976, Rita Gombrowicz gave the entire ensemble of manuscripts of the first two versions (over 300 pages) to Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński, Witold Gombrowicz’s friend and translator. Convinced of interest in publication of part of these texts, he decided to present eighteen fragments of the manuscript as an embryonic but autonomous play.
This can be seen as the genesis of a unique work by Gombrowicz, in every step of its creation.
The first part of the fragments is made up of 79 pages written by Witold Gombrowicz between June 1950 and September 1951 during his work hours at the Banco Polaco of Buenos Aires, as was noted at the top of the page.
The second version was made up of two hundred pages written during his time in Tandil, Argentina from 1958-1960.
To introduce the text and facilitate its reading, Jeleński wrote an essay-commentary that serves as a preface in all editions of the text.
History (Operetta) was first published in Polish in Kultura no. 10/337, Paris, 1975.
Jeleński is also the co-translator, with Geneviève Serreau, of the French translation published in 1977.
History (Operetta) is now published with the volume Theater along with Witold Gombrowicz’s other three plays.

“Don’t try to defend What really exists— Give up reality Surrender to creation”

However incomplete, History (Operetta) is a full-fledged work. It allows an analysis of the gestation of Witold Gombrowicz’s work, a glance into the consecutive steps in its creation that led to the final version of Operetta.
It also offers further depth in an autobiographical reading of the author’s work, and affords analysis of the relationship between the intimate and History that are so present within it.


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Witold (M. Bonaszewski) with his mother (Ewa Wiśniewska), Błądzenie, J. Jarocki, Teatr Narodowy, 2004.

In his preface to the first edition of History (Operetta), Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński offers an analysis of the text in which he describes the roots of Gombrowicz’s other works:

“The hidden theme of History (Operetta) seems to me to be precisely the transformation of a private pathology into a universal mission (this would be, then, a play on the sources and culminations of Gombrowicz’s work). Nowhere else (not even in Trans-Atlantyk) did he go so far in personal confession.”


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Illustration von Jan Lebenstein für die französische Erstausgabe.

“It is only in 1967, sixteen years after having written History, that Gombrowicz, armed with his universal reknown, will indicate, in "A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux", certain fundamental secrets of his work: “Me, abnormal, twisted, degenerate, abominable, and solitary razing the walls […] from what could come this interior dissolution, which would make of me, a usually cheerful boy, a disgraced friend of all the aberrations of existence? These ‘shameful sources’ are the point of departure for History.”
Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński’s introduction to History (An Operetta) [Trans. Dubowski]