All the best for your birthday, Bolesław!

(Above: Drawing of Bolesław Prus by Aleksander Głowacki (Wikipedia) 

It’s been 63 188 days (aka 173 years) since the birth of Aleksander Głowacki. You might (or more likely might not!) know him by his pen name, Bolesław Prus, who was a Polish novelist and (according to Czesław Miłosz’s 1983 page-turner The History of Polish Literature) he was a leading figure in the history of Polish literature and philosophy, as well as a distinctive voice in world literature.

What did he do?

As a 15-year-old, Aleksander Głowacki joined the Polish 1863 Uprising against Imperial Russia. Shortly after his 16th birthday, he suffered severe battle injuries. Five months later, he was imprisoned for his part in the Uprising. These early experiences may have precipitated the panic disorder and agoraphobia that dogged him through life, and shaped his opposition to attempting to regain Poland’s independence by force of arms.

Over twice-lifesize Prus statue on Warsaw’s Krakowskie Przedmieście. Photo by Kassandra Kasparek. (Wikipedia)

In 1872, at the age of 25, in Warsaw, he settled into a 40-year journalistic career that highlighted science, technology, education, and economic and cultural development. These societal enterprises were essential to the endurance of a people who had in the 18th century been partitioned out of political existence by Russia, Prussia and Austria. Głowacki took his pen name “Prus” from the appellation of his family’s coat-of-arms.

As a sideline, he wrote short stories. Succeeding with these, he went on to employ a larger canvas; over the decade between 1884 and 1895, he completed four major novels: The Outpost, The Doll, The New Woman and Pharaoh. The Doll depicts the romantic infatuation of a man of action who is frustrated by his country’s backwardness. Pharaoh, Prus’ only historical novel, is a study of political power and of the fates of nations, set in ancient Egypt at the fall of the 20th Dynasty and New Kingdom.

OK, so that’s his story… how does that help you as a writer? Here’s some great inspiration from him for writers from 1890: “When I was starting out as a writer, I wrote in part instinctively, in part by inadvertent imitation. My productions were a collection of haphazard observations, put together no doubt against the backdrop of what I had read. Every beginning author does the same. To be sure, this kind of work was to me a great mortification.

“Then I began asking older authors, and they told me that ‘there are no rules, nor can there be any, for the art of novel-writing.’ Then, brought to desperation, I set about trying to resolve for myself the question: ‘Can literary art be reduced to general rules?’ After several years of observing and thinking, the matter began to get clearer for me, and as early as August 1886 I set down my first notes… and, God willing, I hope to publish a scientific theory of literary art. I expect that it will contain some fairly new things.”