Jerzy Andrzejewski (1909-1983)
Born and raised in Warsaw, Andrzejewski studied Polish language and literature from 1927 to 1931 at the University of Warsaw. One year after graduating, he made his debut with a short story (The Lie, 1932) in the daily ABC, for which he worked for from then as theatre reviewer. From 1935 to 1937 he was in charge of the literary section of the weekly Prosto z mostu (Straight From the Shoulder). During WWII he was active in what is called in Polish the "underground cultural life".
After liberation by Soviet troops, he worked particularly in Kraków and Szczecin: from 1946-7 he was chairman of the Kraków branch of the Polish Writers' Union (ZLP), followed by three years as chairman of the branch in Szczecin (1950-52), as well as sitting on the Main Executive of the ZLP. He returned to Warsaw in 1952 to work as editor of the prestigious fortnightly Przegląd Kulturalny (Cultural Survey), and additionally, from 1955 he was on the editorial board of the monthly Twórczość (Creative Work). Between 1952 and 1957 he was a member of the Sejm, the Polish parliament.
Andrzejewski's vacillations from supporter of the regime in the post-war years to whole-hearted opponent in the Polish literary opposition involved with the Workers' Defence Council (KOR) and the beginnings of the groundswell that led to Solidarity are hard to condone or condemn. Miłosz's harsh denunciation in his The Captive Mind (Paris, 1953) stayed with the writer until his death, and he was never completely trusted. His sensitivity to the impossibility of morality in a world that can produce Auschwitz, particularly after the disillusionment of the Stalinist system, produced a series of works that do not fit into categories of opposition or support for any position other than doubt.
His early work, such as the first collection of stories, Inescapable Ways (1936), is dominated by the problems of seeking permanent values and models of behaviour. Sudden changes, or conversion are not the result of logical reasoning, but bring a resolution of the dilemma the hero faces. In his novel Mode of the Heart (1938), Andrzejewski shows how his hero, a young Catholic priest, finds his moral support in his faith in God. In many ways there are parallels with the early Graham Greene.
In his wartime short stories (collected in Night, publ. 1945), Andrzejewski followed his model of Conrad's major heroes in that he presented characters whose only choice can lie in whether to face inevitable death with or without faith in humanity or themselves. The alternative is pointless tragedy, and a positive choice at least gives such tragedy a value. Some of his stories could not be published in Night because of censorship, and did not appear until 1955 in the short story The Golden Fox. These showed the grotesque and absurd side of both over- and underground life in wartime Poland, and treated the myths of heroism and national sacrifice with a highly ironic distance. these did not suit the "historical" truth of the Communists' salvation of Poland which Andrzejewski was bound to portray.
Andrzejewski tried, but ultimately failed, to face the realities of post-war Poland in his "political" novel Ashes and Diamonds (1948). It made the authorities uncomfortable in its portrayal of moments of doubt in the minds of the builders of socialism, and lent some humanity to the underground fighters of the opposition. It was also attacked by the émigré circles in London and Paris as dishonest in its simplistic portrayal of the forces of good and evil in the final days of the Second World War, identifying too closely with the Communist definitions of what was right or wrong, and introducing for the first time into serious literature in Polish the ideological statement that the "party is always right". To ensure his close collaboration with the authorities in his capacity as a leading member of the ZZLP (then ZLP), Andrzejewski was encouraged to make a public declaration of his allegiance to the Party, which he made in The Party and the Writer's Creative Work (1952).
Though Andrzejewski seemed to be one of the Party's most faithful acolytes, his disappointment seems to have grown around 1953. It is from this period that the extremely poignant and pointed "fable of our time", Narcissus is dated, as well as the story The Golden Fox in the collection of the same name, published when the Thaw looked like a certain thing in 1955. Parodying the ideology, authoritarianism and downright arbitrariness of the Party and its spokesmen in an allegorical manner, it can be seen as Andrzejewski's personal break with Stalinism and, probably, the Party. The most convincing of the stories is that of the tale of the Golden Fox itself, which shows how, within the family, imagination and individual expression are stifled in favour of conformity.
The years 1955 to 1965 brought Andrzejewski great success and novel inspiration. His three most successful novels, And Darkness Covered the Earth (The Inquisitors) (1957), The Gates of Paradise (1960) and He Cometh Leaping Upon the Mountains (1963) deal again with the ethical problems involved in spreading ideas beyond individual opinion, though in rather different ways. The first novel represents a dark allegory on the power of systems and institutions to survive the individuals who first invented or organized them. In the structures of the Holy Inquisition in Spain of the 1480s, Andrzejewski shows the gradual corruption of one young Dominican monk, Diego, by the Grand Inquisitor, Fra Tomas Torquemada, from a young idealist totally opposed to the blatantly anti-Christian activities of the Inquisition to a person who will assuredly continue its "blessed" work after the death of Torquemada. In this allegorical way, Andrzejewski documents the danger of any strong idealism, which can always replace one strongly held ideal with another, even its very opposite.
In The Gates of Paradise Andrzejewski presents a highly lyrical rendering of the Children's Crusade of 1212, when thousands of children were led to death and slavery for the realization of the Christian conviction that purity brings victory. As the author probes beneath the surface of the major participants' motivations, it becomes clear that the praiseworthy, but hopelessly idealistic effort is based on highly corrupt individuals who lack conviction in their undertaking. Yet the mass movement seems to have taken on a life of its own, and no attempt to bring the children to their senses has any success.
In the novel He Cometh Leaping Upon the Mountains, set amongst Paris' chic artistic cliques, the artist's role in society, and the conflicts of elitism and mass culture are confronted, but resolved in a rather tentative manner. This same area, but set in Warsaw, was explored in Andrzejewski's next novel, Pulp, although it was presented in a somewhat looser, more open manner. The novel was published in fragments in 1966 (Twórczość, No. 10), but the censor would not allow further instalments, let alone the whole publication, so the novel had to wait until 1981 before it was available from Poland's official presses. Andrzejewski's reaction was to publish in the émigré press (The Appeal, Paris, 1968), and reduce his participation in regime-sponsored events to a minimum. His Ashes and Diamonds of course continued to be published in vast editions.
During the 1970s, Andrzejewski strayed ever further from the regime's path, though at the same time he continued to publish his diary in the new monthly Literatura, entitled From One day to Another (1972-1981). His other publications include the allegorical Prometheus (1973), Now Annihilation Is Coming Upon You (1976) and All But Gone (1979). The novella No Man, a version of Odysseus's story, appeared in 1983, the year of his death.
By 1976 he was in complete sympathy with the aspirations of the new generation of literati in the PRL, the so-called "Nowa Fala" (New Wave), and was one of the best known writers associated with Zapis from its inception in 1976. From that date he can be deemed to have been "in opposition" to the Communist government's policies.
Throughout his life, Andrzejewski can be seen to be a strange reflection of the enthusiasms, disillusionments, cynicisms and hopes of the Poles in Poland since 1939. When he died in 1983, he was acknowledged as a truly representative personality, as well as a brilliant writer. His novels of the post-Thaw years are undoubtedly among the masterpieces of modern Polish fiction. Whether he retains the same relevance in post-communist Poland is somewhat doubtful. Although he has acquired a certain prestige as a representative of post-modern fiction, particularly due to the complex mixture of autobiography and third-person narrative and social document that is Pulp, his main claim to continuing literary survival is as a set text on the school syllabus.
P Coates 'Forms of the Polish Intellectual's Self-Criticism: Revisiting Ashes and Diamonds with A. and Wajda', Canadian Slavonic Papers, XXXVIII, Nos. 3-4, September-December 1996, 287-303
S. Eile Modernist Trends in Twentieth-Century Polish Fiction, London: SSEES, 1996, 166-68, 172-74.
— — — "The Prisoner of Self: Moral Dilemmas in A.'s Fiction" in: (eds) Eile & Phillips, New Perspectives in Twentieth-Century Polish Literature, Basingstoke and London: The MacMillan Press Ltd, 1992, 68-86.
M J Kryński "The Metamorphoses of J. A.: The Road from Belief to Scepticism,"Polish Review, 1-2 (1961), 119-124.
J R Krzyżanowski "On the History of Ashes and Diamonds", Slavic and East
Cz. Miłosz "Alfa, the Moralist" in The Captive Mind, Harmondsworth & New York:
Penguin Books, 1980, 82-110.
Z. Najder "J.A.: The Later Novels." Tri Quarterly, 9 (1967), 223-228.
C. Tighe "J. A.", in:The Politics of Literature. Poland 1945-1989, Cardiff:
University of Wales Press, 1999, 100-133
See also: www.arts.gla.ac.uk/Slavonic/Polish_res.html