The Polish author Bolesław Prus has been likened to both Chekhov and Tolstoy. Born Aleksander Głowacki (Prus was a pen name), at the age of 15 he joined the 1863 Polish Uprising against Imperial Russia, in which he was badly injured. Later he became an influential newspaper columnist with a particular interest in science and technology, and published many keenly observed, often humorous short stories. He also wrote four novels on the ‘great questions of our age’, of which THE DOLL was the second. Czesław Milosz, the Polish Nobel laureate, held it to be the greatest Polish novel and an outstanding example of nineteenth-century realistic prose.
Set in 1878, THE DOLL paints a panoramic picture of late nineteenth-century Warsaw society, its tensions, politics, class divisions and attempts at social reform. It tells of an energetic young entrepreneur, Wokulski, who becomes infatuated with Izabela, the daughter of a bankrupt aristocrat. The title refers both to an incident with a stolen toy and also, by implication, to Izabela herself. THE DOLL has been translated into 21 languages and filmed several times. This link provides a wealth of further reading about the book. Although a classic in Poland, it was almost a century before it was published in English in 1972, in a translation by David Welsh.
1972 was a great year all round for literature in English translation. FAMILY TIES, a collection of short stories by the grande dame of Brazilian literature, Clarice Lispector, first appeared in a translation from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero. (You’ll hear more about Lispector and Pontiero in #TA60 1992!) Other first translations into English that year include MY MICHAEL by Amos Oz, translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange (more on this author-translator team in #TA60 2002), and Halldór Laxness’ magnum opus UNDER THE GLACIER, translated from the Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson (cf. THE FISH CAN SING, #TA60 1966).