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  Witold Gombrowicz: English version   Witold Gombrowicz’s life
 
Detailed chronology 

Argentina (1939-1963)

The glory and misery of exile (1939-1946)

to the beginning

1939

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In Buenos Aires, La Naciòn and Głos Polski (The Polish Voice) announce Gombrowicz’s arrival from overseas.

On the 25th of August 1939, the Chrobry leaves the port of Buenos Aires. Witold Gombrowicz learns of the endorsement of Hitler and Stalin’s pact and the imminence of war in Europe and decides to stay in Argentina, presenting himself to the Polish Legation.

“I left for Argentina accidentally, for only two weeks, if by some quirk of fate the war had not broken out during those two weeks, I would have returned to Poland—but I did not conceal that when the door was bolted and I was locked in Argentina, it was as if I had finally heard my own voice.”
Diary, 1964 [Trans. Vallee]


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Buenos Aires, postcard from the 1950s.


From September to December, Witold Gombrowicz lives at tiny pensions in Buenos Aires’s city center. Jeremi Stempowski introduces him to other Poles and well-known Argentinian authors Manuel Gálvez and Arturo Capdevila. Gombrowicz has only the 200 dollars brought with him from Poland to live on.


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August 23 marks the signing of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Poland is crucified. Hitler’s army marches in Warsaw.


Poland falls on September 28th. A new frontier on the Bug-San line portions off the country to the occupying Soviet and Nazi forces. An immediate retaliation follows against the Polish and Jewish elites follows: they will be massacred and deported.


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Witkacy, a writer and painter greatly admired by Gombrowicz, commits suicide when the Red Army invades Poland.

1940
Witold Gombrowicz moves to Bacacay Street in the Flores district, far from the city center at the time.


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Twenty-seven years later, Gombrowicz will use this street name as the new title for his collection of stories, previously titled Memoirs From a Time of Immaturity.


Gombrowicz begins visiting the Capedevila family. He organizes a cycle of lectures for their daughter Chinchina and her friends.

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Arturo Capdevila and his daughter Chinchina.


“My friends and I, we wanted to hear about well-known authors in Paris, but Witold was scornful of European writers. He systematically demolished the writers we loved, like Huxley or Duhamel. ‘But these are not writers!’ he said. He plunged his knife into my enthusiasm and this made me despair. His favorite topic was ‘the style of the Argentinan woman.’ […] My father found these meetings very enjoyable and was saddened when he couldn’t attend them because of his work."
—Chinchina Capdevila, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


Arturo Capdevila recommends Gombrowicz to the journal Aquí Está, for which he will write under a pseudonym. Manuel Gálvez recommends him to La Naciòn, Buenos Aires’s most prominent daily, where his articles are all rejected, as well as to the El Hogar, where he publishes one story under a pseudonym.

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Antonio Berni between two of his paintings.


Witold Gombrowicz meets young Argentinian artists, for the most part Communist sympathizers: the writer Roger Pla; the painter Antonio Berni, at the home of which he will give a lecture; and Leonidas Barletta, director of the Teatro del Pubelo, where he give another talk on August 28, which will be considered a scandal among Poles in Argentina.
In July, Witold Gombrowicz’s cousin Gustaw Kotkowski arrives in Buenos Aires.

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The entrance of the Teatro del Pueblo (1938). Its director, Leonidas Barletta, is first on the left. At right, the writer Roger Pla.


“When Gombrowicz began to know writers and intellectuals, he garnered two reactions: the ones who said he was a snob, extravagant, nothing more. The others, like Mastronardi, became interested in him in a much more serious way.”
—Roger Pla, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


Witold now lives in utter destitution: The Furstembergs, who had ties to Gombrowicz’s family in Poland, organize a collection for him. At the end of the year, he moves again, to the conventillo "El Palomar".

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The conventillo El Palomar, 1258 Corrientes Street. Stark contrast between the bourgeois façade and the miserable interior.
“The big building at Corrientes 1258 called ‘El Palomar,’ where more than a few devils nested, was where I lived out what was without a doubt the most painful of my eras, toward the end of 1940, sick and without a cent.”
Diary, 1963 [Trans. Dubowski]

1941

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Left to right: Witold Gombrowicz with Cecilia Benedit de Debenedetti (1948). Argentinian friends and supporters of Gombrowicz during the war: Carlos Mastronardi, Paulino Frydman, and Manuel Gálvez.

Witold Gombrowicz allies himself with his friends Cecilia Benedit de Debenedetti, editor and patron of the arts, and Carlos Mastronardi, a writer and friend of Borges. Another source of support: Paulino Frydman, director of the chess club at Café Rex, which “Witoldo” (Gombrowicz’s nickname) will frequent almost daily for the next eighteen years.


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Buenos Aires in the 1930s, drawings by A. Siegrist.


The Furstembergs, Cecilia Debenedetti, Stanisław Odyniec and M. Ruszkiewicz continue to help Gombrowicz financially.


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Gombrowicz fand, dass Buenos Aires in dieser Zeit eine gewisse Ähnlichkeit mit Warschau und Paris hatte.


“The war. It was a holiday, a holiday which had its moments of ghastly depression in the loneliness and humiliation beyond the ocean, when my black humour deserted me. Yes, I suppose it was painful, terrible, desperate. The war destroyed my family, my social position, my country, my future. I had nothing left, and I was nobody. And yet! And yet. And yet, the Argentine. What a relief! What a liberation! When I think of my hardest years in the Argentine the words of Mickiewicz come to mind:
‘Born in bonds, wrapped in my swaddling clothes,
‘I only knew one such spring in my life!’ ”
A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


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A popular district of Buenos Aires extended out from the train station: Tango, bars, prostitution.


Gombrowicz writes articles under pseudonyms in various journals with the help of Roger Pla, who corrects his texts in Spanish.
Witold Gombrowicz also frequents the area around Retiro Station, behind the port, where he has homosexual experiences.


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“Witoldo à Retiro,” drawing by Mariano Betelú.


“I, Mr. Gombrowicz, plunged into degradation with passion!”
A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


In December, when young émigrés are being mobilized to join the army in England, Witold Gombrowicz presents himself once again to the Polish Legation of Buenos Aires—but he is judged unfit for military service.


“Morally, he suffered from his situation. At every one of our meetings we discussed the war. We understood that Poland had been liquidated, that it was all over. Where is our country? we would ask. Witold was in despair, but didn’t show it.”
—Jeremi Stempowski, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


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Poland under German occupation.

1942

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Tacuari Street has radically changed since Witold Gombrowicz lived there.


Witold Gombrowicz lives at a pension at 242 Tacuari Street. He plays chess often, expands his circle of young Argentinian friends, and participates very little in Polish émigré life, leading a bohemian existence.
He survives thanks to the help of his young Polish and Argentinian friends, as well as a modest stipend from the Polish Legation. He suffers from insomnia and overall weakness.


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The Andes around Mendoza. For Witold Gombrowicz, this mountainous countryside recalls the Polish Tatras and its famous vacation spot, Zakopane.


In December, Gombrowicz takes a trip to the mountains, to Mendoza.


“America! In Argentina, the giganticness of the continent, its power, manifested themselves to me on two occasions: on the Parana and Uruguay rivers, which never finished, that never narrowed, like the dinosaurs of prehistory, and while approaching the Cordillera in the Andes. Embedded in the car or while walking, I look and I think of memories from long ago.”
—Argentinian Peregrinations [Trans. Dubowski]


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A chess game at Café Rex. The first on the left, standing, is Paulino Frydman.


“More and more fascinated by South America, he writes little that is serious.”
—Gombrowicz’s personal chronology from the Cahier de l’Herne Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]

In Poland, Bruno Schulz is killed in the Drohobycz ghetto by a civil servant of the Gestapo.

IMG/mp3/kaddish_paul_o-montis.mp3

Paul O’Montis sings the Kaddish


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Bruno Schulz (1892-1942).


"This little fellow [Schulz] was the most outstanding artist of all those I knew in Warsaw. […] The prose that came from his pen was imaginative and immaculate; amongst us he was the greatest European writer, with the right to take his place amongst the greatest intellectual and artistic aristocracy of Europe.”
—Polish Memories [Trans. Johnston]

1943
Stanisław Odyniec, an émigré friend, secures Gombrowicz a post at Solidaridad, a journal headed by Jesuits. He works with the catalogs and archives. Witold Gombrowicz also collaborates on the Catholic journal Criterio under the pseudonym Lenogiry, the name of one of the Lithuanian estates that once belonged to the Gombrowicz family.


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Die Zeitschrift Criterio 1944. Witold Gombrowicz zu dieser Zeit.

After having left his pension on Tacuari Street, without paying, Witold Gombrowicz is invited by the Polish journalist M. Taworski to his villa in Morón, in the suburbs. He will sleep on the floor there for six months. At the end of the year, Gombrowicz falls ill.


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A growing metropolis: Buenos Aires in the late 1940s.


“One night, he came to my house, pale, greenish, thin, coughing; he let himself fall heavily into a chair. ‘Give me something to eat,’ he asked me, ‘I haven’t swallowed a thing for two days.’ I quickly made him a piece of meat. In my emotion, I had forgotten to salt it, but he didn’t notice until the very last mouthfuls. He confessed to me that he had come from Morón by tram (Morón is at least 30 kilometers from the city), because he didn’t have enough money for the train.”
— Halina Nowińska, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


In Europe, the Germans announce the discovery of a mass grave in Katyń, near Smolensk, containing the bodies of more than 20,000 Polish officers assassinated under Stalin’s orders in 1940.


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The mass grave in Katyń. For half a century, the USSR will deny this crime.


In Warsaw, the Jews of the largest ghetto in Europe created by the Nazis rise up on April 19, 1943.


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The fall of the Warsaw ghetto.


“The immensity of the Crime perpetrated against the Jewish people pierced me, too, through-and-through, and forever.”
Diary, 1954 [Trans. Vallee]


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From left to right: The trains of the Wehrmacht: “To Poland, to destroy the Jews.” In Warsaw: “Jews! This side of the street is forbidden to you.”

1944

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Witold Gombrowicz in the 1940s.
“I continued to look and feel young until I was forty. I belong to that race of people who have never known middle age. I tasted age the moment I said farewell to youth.”
A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


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Gombrowicz and Borges.

The poet Carlo Mastronardi introduces Gombrowicz to Victoria and Silvina Ocampo and the group of writers associated with the journal Sur.


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At left: Borges with Bioy Casares. Center: Silvina Ocampo. Right: Borges with Mastronardi.


Witold Gombrowicz meets Jorge Luis Borges, but the two men do not get on well at all. The scene of their meeting is described in Gombrowicz’s Trans-Atlantyk.
Gombrowicz feels alien in the company of this Argentinian Parnassus for whom Borges serves as mentor.


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Meeting of the Sur group at Victoria Ocampo’s, 1931. From left to right: Standing: Eduardo Bullrich, Jorge Luis Borges, Francisco Romero, Eduardo Mallea, Enrique Bullrich, Victoria Ocampo and Ramón Gómez de la Serna; Sitting: Pedro Henríquez Ureña, Norah Borges de Torre, María Rosa Oliver, Carola Padilla and Guillermo de Torre; Foreground: Oliverio Girondo, Ernest Ansermet.


“Bypassing technical difficulties, my unruly Spanish and Borges’s faulty pronunciation—he spoke quickly and incomprehensibly—bypassing my impatience, pride, and anger, which were the consequence of painful egotism and restrictions in foreignness, what was the possibility of understanding between me and that intellectual, aesthetic, and philosophical Argentina? I was fascinated by the lower stratum in that country and this was the upper crust. I was enthralled by the darkness of the Retiro, they, by the lights of Paris. For me, that unconfessed, silent youth of the country swept me up like a melody or like the herald of a melody.”
Diary, 1955 [Trans. Vallee]


Witold Gombrowicz continues his work on Solidaridad and publishes articles in Spanish under his own name in Oceano and La Nación with the recommendation of Eduardo Mallea.


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The writer Eduardo Mallea (1903-1982) was the longtime director of the literary supplement of the influential daily La Naciòn.


“Numerous are those who sometimes ask themselves, with sincere astonishment: Why has literature become so boring? And: Why, in a general sense, does what is written leave me cold and completely uninterested? These are two healthy questions worthy of consideration.”
“Art and Ennui”, an article by Gombrowicz published in La Nación, June 11, 1944 [Trans. Dubowski]


Once again, Witold Gombrowicz inhabits the city center of Buenos Aires, in small pensions on Bartolome Mitré Street and Avenida de Mayo.


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“Philidor’s Child Within,” illustrated here by Denis Lhomme, is published in Spanish in the journal Papeles. Gombrowicz meets Ernesto Sábato on this occasion.

Gombrowicz’s story Philidor’s Child Within, published in Papeles in Buenos Aires, attracts the attention of Ernesto Sábato. This marks the beginning of a long friendship between the two writers.


In Poland, the Soviets install a provisional pro-Communist government in Lublin.


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Autumn 1944: the Warsaw Uprising.


August 2 marks the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising, which lasts two months and takes more than 220,000 victims, leaving the city ravaged.


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Witold Gombrowicz’s mother and his sister. His brother Janusz and Janusz’s only son, Joseph.


Captured in these events, Janusz, Witold’s older brother, along with Janusz’s son Joseph, are deported to Auschwitz, then to Mauthausen. Irena and their mother take refuge in Kielce.


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Warsaw during the Liberation, January 1945.

1945
Incapable of writing during the war, Witold Gombrowicz seeks to reground himself in Buenos Aires. An apartment and more regular pay are required to re-dedicate himself to literature. He continues to write the Our Erotic Drama cycle for the journal Viva cien años.

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615 Calle Venezuela, Witold Gombrowicz’s last residence in Argentina.


In February, Witold Gombrowicz rents a room at 615 Venezuela Street, where he will live until the end of his time in Argentina. Once again, he receives subsidies from the Polish Legation.

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Portrait of Witold Gombrowicz by Cecilia Benedit de Debenedetti.
“One day, I went to visit Witold at his home. And there, on Rue Venezuela, he had a painting I had made. It was a nude. But he had put it upside down: legs in the air, head below. I don’t know if it was to hide that he liked it.”
—Cecilia Benedit de Debenedetti, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


In November, Cecilia Benedit de Debenedetti agrees to finance the translation of Ferdydurke into Spanish.

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At a reception at the end of the 1940s: Witold with his friend and patron Cecilia.


On May 8, the war in Europe ends. As a result of the Yalta Conference, Poland is now in the zone of Soviet influence.


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After the Second World War, Poland’s borders were shifted west; its Eastern territories were annexed by the USSR.


“The end of the war did not bring liberty to the Poles. In that sad area of central Europe it was merely a question of changing Hitler’s executioners for Stalin’s. At a time when high-minded liberals, seated in Parisian cafés, greeted ‘the emancipation of the Polish people from the feudal yoke’ with a joyous anthem, in Poland the same lighted cigarette simply changed hands and continued to burn the human skin.”
A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


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Pro-Soviet Communist powers take hold in Poland. Propaganda posters read: “Behold the giant and the reactionary dwarf” and “We will not cede our land to exploiters, we will not cede our factories and our mines to capitalists.”

1946

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“Witoldo,” in the hat, with his group of friends who translated Ferdydurke. From the left: Coldaroli, Peyrou, Piñera, Graziella Peyrou, Rodriguez Tomeu and de Obieta.


1946 is dominated by work on the Spanish translation of Ferdydurke. Work sessions with a group of friends are organized at Café Rex almost daily.


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Humberto and Virgilio, the two Cubans, pillars of the Spanish translation of Ferdydurke.


The direction of the operations at Rex falls to “the Cubans”: Humberto Rodriguez Tomeu, who arrives in Buenos Aires in February, and Virgilio Piñera, who arrives in May. Cecilia Benedit de Debenedetti finances this translation.


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Witold Gombrowicz frequented The Great Rex on the Avenue Corrientes daily, meeting friends and playing chess.


“Shortly thereafter the translation began to draw people. At some of the sessions at the Café Rex, there would be over a dozen people.”
Diary, 1955 [Trans. Vallee]


In April, Witold Gombrowicz meets Alejandro Rússovich, who will become one of his closest friends in Argentina.


“For me, Russo is the embodiment of the brilliant Argentine anti-brilliance. I admire him. His brain is flawless; his intelligence, marvelous. Quick, receptive. Imagination, imaginative flight, poetry, humor. Culture. An easygoing perception of the world, free of complexes…”
Diary, 1954 [Trans. Vallee]


In August, Gombrowicz begins to write The Marriage.
Gombrowicz seeks to renew contacts with Poland, sending letters to his family and friends from before the war. He asks if a return home seems feasible.
In November, Editions Argos of Buenos Aires signs a contract for the publication of the Spanish translation of Ferdydurke.


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Virgilio Piñera (1912-1979) wrote a novel and some of his stories in Buenos Aires. A Gombrowiczian inspiration can be detected in his work. A victim of Castro’s persecution, Piñera would die in extreme poverty in Cuba.


“He must have been searching for a solution to a difficult chess problem, or lost in ‘deep thoughts.’ I found myself faced with a man who had already passed his fortieth birthday, but whose baby features, and, more than his face, the state of his spirit, gave him the air of a twenty-year-old. Once the presentations were over, he said to Obieta: ‘How’s it going, Adolfo? And “el hijo de la pampa?”’ [Speaking about the Argentinian painter Luis Centurion.] Then he turned to me—holding his cigarette in that particular way, like a pipe-smoker, and his way of breathing, I realize he was asthmatic—and he said to me: ‘So, you come from far-off Cuba. Everything’s more tropical there, no? Caramba, the palm trees!’
This dialogue was the simple meeting of two dogs sniffing each other’s asses to get to know each other. And so we sealed an eternal friendship, after recognizing each other as persevering in the face of maturity and cultural immaturity.”
—Virgilio Piñera, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]

Writer and worker (1947-1955)

to the beginning

1947
In April, Ferdydurke is published in Spanish, Ed. Argos of Buenos Aires.


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Porträt von Witold Gombrowicz von Zygmunt Grocholski.


On August 29, Gombrowicz gives his lecture “Against the Poets” at Fray Mocho’s bookshop.


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“Against the Poets”: Down with the boasting poet, grandiloquent and sentimental.


“If only a poet could treat his singing as a mania or ritual; if only he would sing as those who must sing even though they know they sing in a vacuum. If, instead of a proud ‘I, the poet,’ he were capable of saying these words with shame or fear . . . even with revulsion. . . .”
Diary, 1956 [Trans. Vallee]


In September, the only issue of Aurora, the “Diary of the Resistance,” comes out, drawn up by Witold Gombrowicz. Today, it can be found in the Varia.


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The heading of Aurora.


“MANIFESTO. Because it is no longer possible to write in the literary press of the Surface, for everything shocks, we find ourselves obligated to descend beneath the subsoil to make, from time to time, the other clandestine voice of this Diary heard. Preserve the sacred flame of the Resistance! Support the warm Committee of Resistance and the slow, discreet, and subterranean Movement of Renovation!”
—Aurora [Trans. Dubowski]


In September, Witold Gombrowicz completes his drama The Marriage.
At the end of the year, he accepts a post at the Banco Polaco, directed by a friend, Juliusz Nowiński. He will work here for over seven years, until 1955.


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Witold Gombrowicz with Juliusz Nowiński, director of the Banco Polaco.


Virgilio Piñera and Humberto Rodriguez Tomeu leave Argentina. They will sustain a correspondence with Witold Gombrowicz.
Upon completing The Marriage, Witold Gombrowicz sends a typewritten copy of the text to his family and several friends in Poland. Thanks to a subsidy granted by Cecilia Debenedetti, he begins translating it into Spanish with Alejandro Rússovich.


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The Marriage: From the Polish Ślub to the Spanish Casamiento.


“We reread Hamlet together, and Gombrowicz took it as inspiration for El Casamiento because he wanted to create situations symmetrical to those in Hamlet, but on a formal level. At Rex, we worked out loud sometimes, with noise, on purpose. You spoke loud, and when silence came, you had to lower your voice.”
—Alejandro Rússovich, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


In Warsaw, the journal Nowiny Literackie, headed by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, a Skamander acquaintance, publishes his “Letter to the Ferdydurkists”, addressed to Iwaszkiewicz’s two daughters, admirers of Gombrowicz’s subversive talent (published today in the Varia).


“If there is one among you still breathing, let him not lose courage, for me, I am not dead. Maybe a bit far away and pushed aside, I carry out an existence just as marginal and doubtful there, where America sticks its finger between three oceans. What is a Ferdydurkist but a man who asks art to be a creator?”
Letter to the Ferdydurkists [Trans. Dubowski]


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Die Bezeichnung „Ferdydurkist“ wird international benutzt.


Also this year, the Literary Institute’s journal Kultura is launched. This institution of Polish émigré culture, founded by a group of soldiers from General Anders’s army—Jerzy Giedroyc, Józef Czapski, Zygmunt and Zofia Hertz, and Gustaw Herling-Grudziński—will quickly become a stronghold of the free thought and culture forbidden in Communist Poland.


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Jerzy Giedroyc, editor of the monthly Kultura, director of the Literary Institute, and Witold Gombrowicz’s future editor in Polish. The seat of this important institution of Polish emigration is at Maisons-Laffite, outside Paris.

1948

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Witold Gombrowicz at the Banco Polaco: “a meager employee, assassinated daily by seven hours pushing papers.”


In June, Alejandro Rússovich, who works with Witold Gombrowicz on the Spanish translation of The Marriage, moves to Venezuela Street, to a room neighboring his.


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Banco Polaco, Tucuman Street. Witold at the end-of-year reception. Behind, Halina Nowińska.


Witold Gombrowicz continues his work at the Banco Polaco—the first and last salaried work of his lifetime, which bores him to no end.


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At the bank, Witold Gombrowicz sat at the desk at right.


“In front of him, at his desk, a secretary worked, Mrs. H. Z., who could not stand him and pressed me to inform my husband of all the ‘crimes’ Mr. Gombrowicz was guilty of. He was late again, he dressed like a hobo; he ate oranges like a pig and spit the seeds out into the trash; his shirt was missing a button and—the worst—he had fallen asleep at his desk again.”
Halina Nowińska, Gombrowicz en Argentine de Rita Gombrowicz


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Reception at the Polish Consulate of Buenos Aires in honor of Iwaszkiewicz. Left to right: Witold Gombrowicz, Cecilia Benedit de Benedetti, de Obieta, Iwaszkiewicz, and Rússovich.


In October, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, a friend and fellow writer, comes to Buenos Aires. He and Witold Gombrowicz discuss the situation in Poland, as well as the possibility of publishing Gombrowicz’s work in Warsaw.


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The Marriage in Spanish, the first translation of a theatrical work of Gombrowicz. Fifteen years later, the Argentinian Jorge Lavelli will make the play famous with his productions of it in Paris and Berlin.


El Casamiento, the translation of The Marriage, appears in November under Editions EAM of Buenos Aires, directed by Cecilia Benedit de Debenedetti, who assumes the fees.


“He definitively separated himself from the Argentinian literary milieu that he did not frequent much anyway, and mostly for economic reasons. His way of being, provocative and little serious, had never facilitated his relations with the cultivated spaces of the capital.”
Gombrowicz, Cahier de l’Herne [Trans. Dubowski]


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Peronism reigns in Argentina until a coup d’état in 1955.


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Witold Gombrowicz was not a sympathizer of the Perón regime, but followed Argentinian politics with a passion.

1949
This year is consecrated to Witold Gombrowicz’s new novel, Trans-Atlantyk. He writes much of it during his hours at the Banco Polaco.


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Writing: A Polish-Argentinian transatlantic becomes Trans-Atlantyk.


“Listen, this is how I cursed Poland:
‘Drift, drift towards your country! Your holy and accursed country! Drift towards that Obscure Monstrous-Saint who has been dying for centuries but cannot give up! […] Drift towards your Raving Lunatic . . . so that his lunacy can torture you, your wife and your children, so that he can condemn and assassinate you in his agony, by his agony!’
“You could get beaten up for something like that. And, as I left the Banco Polaco after work, I glanced round discreetly because the Polish colony in Buenos Aires was large and quick on the draw.
“Nobody beat me up. My curse was decked in a buffoon’s livery, thanks to which I could smuggle in a fair quantity of dynamite.”
Testament. Entretiens avec Dominique de Roux


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The novel “Trans-Atlantyk” comes out in national colors. Drawing by Joanna Remus.


Witold Gombrowicz suffers from his liver and eczema of the scalp. He takes time off from the bank to rest at Mar del Plata and work on Trans-Atlantyk in peace.


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Mar del Plata, early 1950s.


In May, with Alejandro Rússovich, Witold Gombrowicz meets with two young French women to translate The Marriage into French, but this translation is never published.


“We dreamed, we fantasized. Witold kissed the hands of the young girls, who pulled them back quickly. It was an old Polish custom, he’d say. One was named Odile and Witold said to her: "Odile, ma sœur, de quel amour blessée, vous mourûtes au bord où vous fûtes laissée..." [1] He made all kinds of jokes of this manner. These young girls were rich, and Witold did not have money, but he found ways to repay them. One night, we found six little kittens in the street on the way to their house…. We put them in our pockets to give to them as a gift. Witold gave them one, and they replied, ‘Thank you.’ He pulled out another, a third…. They were completely stupefied.”
— Alejandro Rússovich in Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


Witold Gombrowicz sends typewritten copies of Ferdydurke to France for publication—to Gallimard, among others—but with no success.
From Warsaw, Iwaszkiewicz encourages Gombrowicz to return to Poland, but Paris seems more appealing to him at this point, if a return to Europe is at all possible.
Iwaszkiewicz dedicates his Voyage to Patagonia to Gombrowicz, who translates his drama Summer at Nohant and takes steps to encourage its performance in Buenos Aires.
Witold Gombrowiczreceives a letter from his older brother, Janusz, and begins a regular correspondence with his family in Poland.


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Trans-Atlantyk: A satirical vision of Polish emigration. The novel’s adaptation by Janusz Opryński, 2004.


The year closes with Gombrowicz seeking an end to Trans-Atlantyk.

1950

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Apart from a student production in Gliwice directed by Jerzy Jarocki in 1960, the Polish stage career of The Marriage would not begin until 1974, five years after Witold Gombrowicz’s death. Poster by Leszek Zebrowski, 2004.

In May, disappointed at hearing no response from Poland about The Marriage, Witold Gombrowicz begins a correspondence with Jerzy Giedroyc, director of the journal Kultura in Paris.
Giedroyc complains of difficulties in finding an editor for the play among Polish émigré circles. However, Gombrowicz receives letters glowing with praise for the play from Polish writers such as Józef Wittlin and Maria Kuncewiczowa, who call it a “new Hamlet.”


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Józef Wittlin and Maria Kuncewiczowa, two Polish émigré writers whose glory began before the war.


All year long, Witold Gombrowicz seeks publication for The Marriage in French.


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Ślub—The Marriage—by the Voeffray-Vuilloz company, Lausanne, 2003.


En juillet, il donne sa pièce à lire à Jean-Louis Barrault qui fait une tournée en Amérique latine avec sa compagnie.


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Barrault and Renaud, the mythic couple of the French theater, touring in the U.S., 1952. The theatrical glory of Gombrowicz will be born in France, with a production of The Marriage directed by Jorge Lavelli in 1963.

In November, Witold Gombrowicz sends the French text of The Marriage to André Gide and Albert Camus.


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The Nobel Prize in Literature. At left, Gide, who receives it in 1947; at right, Camus, who will receive it in 1957. From 1967-1969, Gombrowicz will come within inches of receiving the award himself.


In June, Witold Gombrowicz writes his introduction to his novel Trans-Atlantyk, now complete.
Despite three weeks of vacation in Córdoba, Witold complains of his liver.
Witold lacks funds to make copies of The Marriage in Polish, which he had hoped to distribute according to his wishes.



“I see nothing before me . . . no hope. Everything is coming to an end for me and nothing wants to begin. An account? After so many tense years full of hard work, who am I? A clerk exhausted by seven hours of clerking, stifled in all writing ventures. I cannot write anything except for what I write in this diary. Everything suffers because for seven hours every day I commit murder on my own time.”
Diary, 1955 [Trans. Vallee]

1951

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Martin Buber (1878-1965), the great Jewish philosopher.


Witold Gombrowicz sends the Polish text of The Marriage to Martin Buber, whose Problem of Man Gombrowicz has read, along with Alejandro Rússovich. Buber writes back, calling the play “of an exceptionally audacious experience.”
In 1955, Martin Buber will send a letter of recommendation on Witold Gombrowicz’s behalf to encourage his popularity among foreign editors.
Discouraged by the silence of editors, Witold Gombrowicz takes leave once again to rest at Mar del Plata.


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Witold Gombrowicz sends a postcard from Mar del Plata to Mrs. Halina Nowińska, wife of the director of the Banco Polaco.


From May to June, Kultura, in Paris, publishes extracts of Trans-Atlantyk, which provoke hostile and violent reactions from the Polish émigré community. Gombrowicz’s criticism of a particular breed of Polish patriotism is considered scandalous.


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Trans-Atlantyk in Kultura: Gombrowicz finally addresses Polish readers.


“Trans-Atlantyk was such folly, from every point of view! To think that I wrote something like that, just when I was isolated on the American continent, without a penny, deserted by God and men! In my position it was important to write something quickly which could be translated and published in foreign languages. Or, if I wanted to write something for the Poles, something that wouldn’t injure their national pride. And I dared—[…]
“That is what happens in the hour of defeat. One writes, in spite of everything, for one’s own pleasure. What a luxury I permitted myself in my misery!”
A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


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Trans-Atlantyk sparks a true scuffle—the first polemic among Witold Gombrowicz’s Polish readers.


From 1950 on, Witold Gombrowicz begins the earliest sketches of the play that will become Operetta fifteen years later. He will return to this idea in 1958. A first, incomplete version, titled History, will be published posthumously in 1975.
Gombrowicz finishes a story, The Banquet, which he will include in his collection of short stories.


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Czesław Miłosz and Witold Gombrowicz, two giants of Polish literature discovered by Kultura, will become friends.


The Polish poet Czesław Miłosz seeks political asylum in Paris. He takes refuge in Maisons-Laffitte, home of Kultura.
This journal publishes Gombrowicz’s “Against the Poets” for the first time. Miłosz responds with an open letter. Their polemic will extend through the following year, always in Kultura. Today, this correspondence can be found in the Varia.

1952
Witold Gombrowicz’s collaboration with Jerzy Giedroyc, editor of Kultura in Maisons-Lafitte, becomes more specific.
In his letters, Giedroyc encourages Gombrowicz to write a journal, to be published in Kultura. This marks the beginning of the Diary, a great work Gombrowicz will continue until his death.

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Jerzy Giedroyc and Witold Gombrowicz, the editor and his author; a close collaboration that will span three decades.


At Giedroyc’s request, Gombrowicz translates E. M. Cioran’s “The Advantages and Inconveniences of Exile” into Polish, adding his own, highly critical commentary.

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Gombrowicz the Pole vs. Cioran the Romanian: “Rimbaud? Norwid? Kafka? Słowacki? … To each man his exile.”
“Cioran’s words reek of a basement coolness and the rot of a grave, but they are too petty. Who is he talking about? Who should one understand to be the ‘writer in exile?”
—Diary, 1953 [Trans. Vallee]
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ILP: The Literary Institute in Paris, editor of Witold Gombrowicz’s work in Polish.


Jerzy Giedroyc decides that the Literary Institute, the printing house of Kultura, will publish The Marriage and Trans-Atlantyk in the same volume, with a preface by the writer Józef Wittlin.
The book will appear in January 1953. This will be the first of Witold Gombrowicz’s works published in Polish since the war, which marks the start of the exceptional history of Jerzy Giedroyc’s publication of the Polish editions of his work. The French Literary Institute will remain Witold Gombrowicz’s one and only editor in Polish.
On July 26, Evita Perón dies in Buenos Aires. With a lavish funeral and national mourning throughout Argentina, her legend is born.


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The character of Evita Perón, her popularity, and her mythification fascinate Gombrowicz. Madonna as Evita in Alan Parker’s 1996 film.


In the context of the Cold War, the US-financed Radio Free Europe begins Polish-language emissions based in Munich, destined for Poland. Witold Gombrowicz hastens to collaborate with this institution.


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Jan Nowak Jeziorański, director of the Polish wing of Radio Free Europe.

1953
After having received Polish copies of The Marriage and Trans-Atlantyk, Witold Gombrowicz begins editing his Diary.

“People buy a diary because the author is famous, while I wrote mine in order to become famous.”
A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


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Diary, graphics by Joanna Remus.


In France, Preuves, the journal of the Congress for Cultural Freedom (Congrès pour la liberté de la culture), publishes a review of the Argentinian edition of Ferdydurke, signed by François Bondy, its director.
In December, the same journal publishes several excerpts of the text in French, translated and introduced by Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński. Bondy will not meet Witold Gombrowicz until several years later in Buenos Aires; the same will go for Kot Jeleński, who will then become Witold Gombrowicz’s translator, his “invaluable partisan,” and one of his closest friends.


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Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński in the 1940s. At center: Jeleński with his wife, Leonor Fini, creator of this double portrait. At right: With Witold in the 1960s in Vence, France; photo by B. Paczowski.


“Ah, Jeleński, my friend!
“Oh, to finally get oneself out of this suburb, foyer, hutch and become not a—Polish, that is inferior, right?—author, but a phenomenon having its own meaning of justification!”
—Diary, 1954 [Trans. Vallee]



Witold Gombrowicz publishes his story “The Banquet” in Wiadomości, the Polish daily in London (and rival of Giedroyc’s Kultura). Jerzy Giedroyc makes several acerbic remarks regarding this choice in his letters, but still seeks to help Witold Gombrowicz in finding the economic support that will allow him to quit his position at the bank. Kultura publishes his Diary regularly.


March 5, death of Stalin.
Despite the dictator’s death, Poland, like all other Communist bloc countries, is at the height of Stalinism. A rupture will not come for three years.


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The cult of the “Father of Nations”. Communist Poland celebrates 60 years of Comrade Bierut. Warsaw constructs the Palace of Culture, a gift from Stalin and a typical example of the Stalinist aesthetics.


In May, in Warsaw, the next-in-line to the Party, Prime Minister Józef Cyrankiewicz, publicly attacks Witold Gombrowicz, calling him a reactionary, an anti-Polish, and a degenerate—a pawn of American imperialism and “German revanchists.” It is Gombrowicz’s Diary, published by Kultura, however banned by the Communist regime, which prompts this attention from Cyrankiewicz.


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At left: Cyrankiewicz with Stalin in 1947. At center: Józef Cyrankiewicz. At left: The “renegade” Gombrowicz.

1954

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“Witoldo” was not a fan of the tango, but he did love the popular districts of Buenos Aires.

Witold Gombrowicz’s Polish friend, the painter Janusz Eichler, departs for the countryside, and leaves Gombrowicz his workshop in the district of the tango La Boca.
Witold Gombrowicz also receives a letter from Albert Camus, expressing his desire to help Gombrowicz achieve publication in France.


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Camus’s letter to Gombrowicz. At right: The French writer receives the Nobel Prize in 1957.


Exhausted, Witold Gombrowicz takes a three months’ leave from the bank. He spends it in the countryside, first at Verientes, near Córdoba, at the home of his Polish friends the Lipowskis.


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Witold Gombrowicz in Vertientes, at the Lipowskis’.


Next, he goes to Goya, in the Corrientes province, at the Rússoviches’. The previous year, Alejandro had married Rosa Maria Brenca and left Venezuela Street.


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Witold Gombrowicz, Alejandro Rússovich, his wife, Rosa Maria, and Sergio, Alejandro’s brother.


Witold Gombrowicz consecrates all of his time to writing.


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Alejandro Rússovich in Goya.


“Tuesday. Nothing happened. If I am not mistaken, a whole herd of horses is watching me and cows, too, are looking at me in great numbers.”
Diary, 1954 [Trans. Vallee]



In October, the Polish Club of Buenos Aires organizes a debate centering around Witold Gombrowicz’s work. His friend, Karol Świeczewski, introduces him.

“Yesterday at the Polish Club, I dropped by right at the end of the steamrollering of my soul and works. […] When I got to the auditorium, however, the majority greeted me in a friendly manner and I had the impression that that things had changed quite a bit since fragments of Trans-Atlantyk had appeared in Kultura.”
Diary, 1954 [Trans. Vallee]


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1955, the Existentialist picnic at Maximo Paz. Witold Gombrowicz as “king of the philosophers.”


By the year’s end, Witold Gombrowicz begins to give philosophy courses to his Polish friends Maria Świeczewska, Krystyna Eichler and Halina Grodzicka. These courses continue successfully for six months.

“He spoke for about an hour and then we asked questions. After each course, he would pass around his hat. If his collection was meager, he would say: ‘I am illuminating your heads and here you are, economizing on a poor genius.’”
— Maria Świeczewska, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


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The chamber pot offered by Gombrowicz to Rússovich on the occasion of the birth of his child. “Gombrowiczian” illustrations by Janusz Eichler.


Gombrowicz continues to send fragments of his Diary to Kultura. Thanks to Giedroyc, who acts as intermediary, Gombrowicz begins a correspondence with the directorate of Radio Free Europe’s Polish wing.

1955

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“An important year. Begun in melancholy, Corrientes Street, it became the year of liberation, from 1. the bank, and 2. Peronism.”


In May, Witold Gombrowicz leaves his post at the Banco Polaco, where he has worked since 1947. He decides to consecrate himself entirely to literature. He will survive thanks to a small stipend from the American National Committee for a Free Europe (Radio Free Europe) and his philosophy courses “for Polish ladies.”
In June, the “Revolución Libertadora” (Liberating Revolution) breaks out, ousting Juan Perón from power. Rioting in Buenos Aires’s city center and bombardment of the Plaza de Mayo, near Venezuela Street. Witold Gombrowicz takes refuge with the Rússoviches.



“Thursday. Should I tell or not? A year ago, more or less, the following happened to me. I stopped in a café on Callao Street to use the bathroom. . . . All kinds of drawings and scribblings were on the walls. Yet, the unconscious urge would never have assailed me, like a poisonous dart, if I hadn’t accidentally fumbled across a pencil in my pocket. The pencil turned out to be an ink pen. […] I wrote on the wall, high up so it would be hard to erase, I wrote something quite vulgar in Spanish […] I hid the pen. Opened the door. I walked through the whole café and mingled with the crowd on the street. And the graffito remained.”
Diary, 1955 [Trans. Vallee]


Witold Gombrowicz begins a new novel, Actaeon, the earliest version of Pornografia.


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“Diana chasing Actaeon,” L. Vanvitelli.


During his vacation in Goya, Witold Gombrowicz translates his story “The Banquet” into Spanish with Sergio Rússovich, Alejandro’s older brother.
Witold visits a Polish friend, Stanisław Odyniec, at Mar del Plata.


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Władysław “Duś” Jankowski, at his estancia at Necochea.


Next, Witold Gombrowicz visits the estancia La Cabaña in Necochea, which belongs to Duś Jankowski, another Polish friend. He will make several return visits here.


Necochea.


“Sun, sun, it floods the beaches much deeper than the dirtied ocean water, it shines and sparkles around, it makes the eyes blink and plasters them with a subtle languidness. Without the sun, it is impossible to understand South America. One of my Polish friends couldn’t understand why, in this country, a light clicking of the tongue means ‘no.’ After a few years, when the sun’s ardor had roasted him to the marrow, he understood.”
Argentinian Peregrinations [Trans. Dubowski]

The road to fame (1956-1963)

to the beginning

1956
Witold Gombrowicz writes for six hours a day. He works on his new novel, Pornografia, which he will finish in February 1958.


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Preface to Pornografia: "Man aspires to the absolute. To plenitude. To absolute truth, to God, to total maturity. To embrace everything, to realize oneself in the plenitude, this is the imperative."


“‘The Novel’ (it is difficult to call my works novels) does not go well. Its language, which is too stiff, paralyzes me. I dread that everything that I have written up to now—about a hundred pages—is awful tripe. I am not in a position to judge this because in my long coexistence with the text, I lose all sense of it, but I am afraid . . . that something is warning me. . . . Will I, therefore, have to throw everything into the trash can, several months’ work, to begin from the beginning? My God! And what if I have lost my ‘talent’ and will never write anything, anything, at least, on the level of my former works?”
Diary, 1956 [Trans. Vallee]


Witold Gombrowicz’s financial situation improves: He receives scholarships from Paris, from the Congress for Cultural Freedom and Radio Free Europe.
He buys himself a Remington typewriter.


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Witold Gombrowicz and Roland Martin: The French translation of Ferdydurke, signed “Brone.”.


In May, Witold Gombrowicz begins the French translation of Ferdydurke with Roland Martin, a journalist and translator based in Buenos Aires. This translation will be published in Paris in 1958 under the pseudonym “Brone.”


“In Argentina, it wasn’t often Gombrowicz had the occasion to speak French. While he had good pronunciation and knowledge of the language, his French was a bit ‘rusty.’ Sometimes he didn’t understand certain words. I had to explain it to him in the clearest way possible, giving him examples. He never let any word he didn’t know slip by. I always did the first draft alone, from the Spanish text only. I gave it to Gombrowicz, who passed it through a screen, in his way. We met after that.”
—Roland Martin, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


In July, Mundo Argentino, the journal directed by Ernesto Sábato, publishes the Spanish translation of the story “Philibert’s Child Within.”


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Khrushchev’s report on the crimes of Stalin set the stage for the de-Stalinization of Eastern Europe. This is the great “thaw.” Pictured, Mirosław Adamczyk’s poster for an exhibition on the 1990s, illustrating the cultural turmoil of the period.


From early 1956 on, the political situation in Eastern Europe changes. In Poland, de-Stalinization means hope for liberalization in the domain of culture.


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In June, workers’ riots in Poznań provoke the return of Władysław Gomułka to power (where he will stay until 1970). These riots will also spzrk the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.


Witold Gombrowicz and other Polish writers in exile see an opening emerge in the great ideological wall of their country. For some, this marks an occasion to return home; for others, like Gombrowicz, it means an opportunity to finally publish their works in Poland legally. Though the Association of Polish Writers in Exile explicitly forbids “all collaboration with institutions controlled by totalitarian powers,” Gombrowicz signs contracts with editors in Poland for his novels Ferdydurke and Trans-Atlantyk, as well as his dramas Ivona, Princess of Burgundia and The Marriage.


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October 1956: Under the Hungarian and Polish flags, students protest in Budapest, reclaiming their freedom. Imre Nagy agrees to talk with the crowd.


At the end of December, Witold Gombrowicz leaves for Necochea, for a two-month vacation at Duś Jankowski’s. Afterward, he goes to Goya and Mar del Plata. He writes intensively throughout this period.

1957
In May, Jerzy Giedroyc’s Literary Institute publishes the first volume of Witold Gombrowicz’s Diary (1953-1956).
In Poland, this work will not see publication until 1986, and even then, certain passages will be censored.


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Trans-Atlantyk and The Marriage are published in Poland for the first time. Drawing by Jan Młodożeniec.


By contrast, catching the wave of political liberalization, Ferdydurke (Ed. PIW, Warsaw), Trans-Atlantyk, The Marriage (Ed. Czytelnik, Warsaw), and Bacacay (Ed. WL, Kraków), as well as an expanded version of his collection of stories, Memoirs from a Time of Immaturity, are published in Poland.
The play Ivona, Princess of Burgundia appears in print for the first time since 1938, in an edition with illustrations by Tadeusz Kantor.


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The collection of stories sees a definitive edition and gains a new title: Bacacay.


“My brother wrote my from Poland that several theaters wanted to put on "Ivona, Princess of Burgundia" and that there was also a possibility to play "The Marriage". They expected me to join the Union of Authors and composers for the stage, as otherwise, I would have no way of defending myself against various abuses.”
—Letter from Witold Gombrowicz to Jerzy Giedroyc, March 7, 1957 [Trans. Dubowski]


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1957, Ivona, Princess of Burgundia: For the first time, Gombrowicz is performed in the theater. Poster by Jan Lenica. The actress Barbara Krafftówna as Ivona.


The world premiere of Witold Gombrowicz’s Ivona, Princess of Burgundia takes place in November in Warsaw at Teatr Domu Wojska Polskiego (today known as Teatr Dramatyczny), directed by Halina Mikołajska, with Barbara Krafftówna in the title role. This was the first stage production of one of Gombrowicz’s plays in any language. There would not be a second Polish production of the play until 1975 (which would take place on the same stage in Warsaw). The stage production was adapted for broadcast on Polish television in April 1958. Witold Gombrowicz’s other theatrical projects were never realized professionally in Poland before his death.
Witold Gombrowicz finishes the French translation of Ferdydurke, which he then sends to Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński.
In Paris, François Bondy publishes a flattering review of Ferdydurke, prompting Maurice Nadeau to publish the book the following year in his series Les Lettres nouvelles.
Throughout 1957, Witold Gombrowicz also continues to work on his novel Pornografia.
Witold Gombrowicz takes his first trip to Tandil. He will return here often, creating a new circle of young Argentinian friends.


“From here, from the mountain, Tandil looks surrounded by prehistory—shattered mountains of rock. I ate a delightful breakfast in the sun, trees, flowers.
“But I feel uncertain, alien, this unknown life is bothering me. . . .”
—Diary, 1958 [Trans. Vallee]


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Tandil today.

1958

“On 4 February of this year (’58) I finished Pornografia. This is what I have called it for the time being. I am not promising that the title will stay. I am in no hurry to publish it. Too many of my books have appeared in print lately.”
Diary, 1958 [Trans. Vallee]


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Drawing by Joanna Remus.


At the end of January, Witold Gombrowicz’s play Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is released in Polish. However, in February, Teatr Dramatyczny in Warsaw is forced to stop playing it.
The Warsaw production of Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, directed by Halina Mikołajska, is broadcast on Polish television in April.
In May, Witold Gombrowicz learns via letter from his brother Janusz that his work has once again been banned in Poland, where the regime has hardened.


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The Polish edition of Ivona, Princess of Burgundia, illustrated by Tadeusz Kantor.


Witold Gombrowicz passes the first four months of the year in Tandil, where his young Argentinian friends await him: Mariano Betelú (Flor di Quilombo), Jorge di Paola (Dipi), and Jorge Vilela (Marlon).
In March, Gombrowicz’s first serious asthma attack sends him to a clinic.


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Tandil, April 19, 1958: A reception in Witold’s honor at Mariano Betelú’s.


“In Tandil I am the most illustrious of men! No one equals me here! There are seventy thousand of them—seventy thousand inferiors. . . . I carry my head like a torch. . . .”
Diary, 1958 [Trans. Vallee]


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Witold Gombrowicz in Tandil in 1958.


“Witoldo was a formalist. He was distant and sarcastic. He was thin and wore an old-fashioned dark vest with very thin white stripes and a poor-quality tie. I never saw him again in this suit. After that, he wore an old raincoat, and, on his head, a cap in Tandil, a hat in Buenos Aires. There was a pipe and an inhaler for his asthma on the table."
—Mariano Betelú, Gombrowicz en Argentine (Gombrowicz in Argentina) by Rita Gombrowicz [Trans. Dubowski]


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Mariano Betelú, the closest of Witold Gombrowicz’s young Argentinian friends. With Marlon and Dipi.


From May to October, weak and tired, Witold Gombrowicz rests at Santiago del Estero.


“Sunday. Beauty! You will rise where you are sown! And you will be as you were sown! (Do not believe the beauty of Santiago. It is a lie. I have made it up!) Monday. The sunlight is blinding and full of colors, as if filtered through stained glass. It seems to saturate objects with colors. Light and shadow. The aggressive blue of the sky. Trees laden with golden and enormous pomedos, blooming red... yellow... People walk around without jackets.”
Diary, 1958 [Trans. Vallee]


In Santiago, Witold Gombrowicz works the second draft (the first dating from 1950-1951) of what will later become Operetta. These sketches, titled History, will be published in 1975. He continues work on his Diary, introducing his double.


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Santiago del Estero, the oldest city in Argentina.


In October 1958, Ferdydurke, translated by “Brone,” a pseudonym for Witold Gombrowicz Gombrowicz and Roland Martin, appears in French with a preface by Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński.
Upon returning to Buenos Aires, Witold Gombrowicz records extracts from his Diary for the Polish wing of Radio Free Europe, for which he also works on Argentinian Peregrinations and Polish Memories, which are never aired. These texts will only be discovered and published after Witold Gombrowicz’s death.

1959
The year begins and ends in Tandil, where Witold Gombrowicz vacations for the fifth time. He suffers from the heat and worries about the economic crisis in Argentina. He begins to think of moving to another country.


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Witold Gombrowicz in Tandil.


Witold Gombrowicz invests his revenues in a semi-automatic machine that produces small plastic objects in his friend Karol Świeczewski’s plastic factory.
He sends money to his family in Poland and awards a scholarship to Mariano Betelú.


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Plastic figurines from Świeczewski’s factory.


In April, Witold Gombrowicz is nominated for a prize for the best foreign writer. However, Lawrence Durell ultimately wins.
Italian, American, English, and German writers become interested in Witold Gombrowicz’s work. In September, he signs a contract with the American publisher Harcourt Brace for Ferdydurke.
Following edits for Argentinian Peregrinations, Witold Gombrowicz begins to write Polish Memories - also for Radio Free Europe - which he will finish in the spring of 1961.


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1958-1961, texts written for radio: Argentinian Peregrinations and Polish Memories will be discovered and edited in 1977, after Witold Gombrowicz’s death.


“’I sing for myself and the Muses,’ all right. But while singing, I remain implanted in you and I am obligated to acquire, by the sweat of my brow, my proper place in the society in which I live. It will not be unhelpful to introduce you through the backdoor into my theater, and that is exactly the use which my "Diary" serves.”
Argentinian Peregrinations


Witold Gombrowicz continues his Diary, which is still published regularly by Kultura.
In 1959, he will work on, among others, pages dedicated to the Skamander poet Jan Lechon and to the dwarf waiter at Café El Querandi.


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1959, an important year for the Diary; extracts are published in French.


The journal Preuves publishes extracts of the Diary, preceded by an article by Konstanty “Kot” Jeleński: “Witold Gombrowicz, or Adult Immaturity.” Witold Gombrowicz sends Jeleński his manuscript of Pornografia, which sustains Jeleński’s enthusiasm. In October, Jerzy Giedroyc proposes the publication of this new novel by Kultura.
In the summer of 1959, Gombrowicz’s mother dies in Kielce, Poland, at the age of 87. Witold asks his sister Rena to destroy the letters he has written to her.


“As for Mother, like I said to Rena, I am less subject to complaining about the terrible tortures that she certainly inflicted upon me with her disastrous form (without a doubt I am not the only one), because it is certainly what awakened my artistic dispositions. In any case, our mother was the most striking element that contributed to the fashioning of our spirits.”
—Letter from Witold Gombrowicz to his brother Janusz, August 9, 1959


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Antonina Gombrowicz, née Kotkowska, Witold’s mother.

1960

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The music of Beethoven fascinated Gombrowicz throughout his entire life. He also admired the work of Chopin.

Witold Gombrowicz regularly listens to music, buys new recordings, and works on his gramophone. Beethoven and other 19th- and 20th-century composers will continually inspire him.


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Brahms, Wagner, Debussy.


“Music absorbed two hours a day for me: I abandoned the quartets to plunge myself into Schönberg and Bartók, Brahms, Debussy, etc. Very instructive.”
—Letter from Gombrowicz to his sister Rena, 1960
IMG/mp3/Beethoven_-_String_Quartet_Op._130__Alla_danza_tedesca_Busch_Quartet.mp3
The "Danza Tadesca", an excerpt from Beethoven 13th Quatuor, op. 130, of which Witold Gombrowicz was particularly fond of«Danza tedesca» du 13e quatuor op. 130 de Beethoven, qu’appréciait particulièrement Witold Gombrowicz, interprété par le Quatuor Busch.


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Gombrowicz was also interested in 20th-century music: Bela Bartók, Arnold Schönberg, Igor Stravinsky.


In April, the first stage production of Witold Gombrowicz’s The Marriage takes place in a student theater in Gliwice in Silesia, directed by Jerzy Jarocki and designed by Krystyna Zachwatowicz. The production was closed by government censors after only a few performances. Zachwatowicz would later design the French premiere of the play directed by Jorge Lavelli in 1963-64 as well as the Polish professional premiere of the play in Warsaw in 1974, directed by Jarocki. Jarocki would eventually stage more productions of The Marriage than any other director, doing the play both in Poland and abroad.
Witold Gombrowicz continues work on his Diary and texts for Radio Free Europe.
In June, Kultura publishes the Polish edition of Pornografia. This same month, Witold Gombrowicz signs a contract with Juilliard in Paris for the French translation of the novel.


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Translations of Ferdydurke multiply.


In September, Ferdydurke is published in Germany, in a translation by Walter Tiel. In November, Witold Gombrowicz agrees to the publication of the novel the Netherlands and Belgium.
During this year, Gombrowicz leaves Buenos Aires frequently. He spends the beginning of the year in Tandil; in May, he returns to Mar del Plata, where he meets Polish director Andrzej Wajda at a film festival. In October, he spends two months in Montevideo, Uruguay.


“Wednesday, Montevideo. I stroll in a tidy city, with odd balconies and congenial people. Montevideo. Here the old decorum still reigns after having been expelled from many other parts of South America. Kind faces, rich apparel, a beach twenty minutes away by bus, this is the life! And if I moved here permanently?”
Diary, 1960 [Trans. Vallee]


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Witold Gombrowicz in Tandil.


In November, François Bondy, director of the French journal Preuves, pays Gombrowicz a visit in Buenos Aires.


“Bondy probably (I know him very little) is one of those people whose strength lies in his absence; he is always removed from what he is doing, keeping at least one foot somewhere else, his wisdom is the wisdom of a calf that suckles two mothers.”
Diary, 1961 [Trans. Vallee]

1961
In January, Gombrowicz’s sister Irena dies of an asthma attack in Radom, Poland. At her request, he destroys their correspondence, which she had deemed “too intimate.”


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Rena Gombrowicz (at left) has often been compared to the French philosopher Simone Weil (1909-1943).


In February, Witold Gombrowicz begins to write Cosmos. He listens to Mozart frequently.


“[…] For me, Cosmos is black, primarily black, something like a black stream, turbulent, full of whirlpools, obstacles and flooded areas, carrying a mass of refuse, and in this stream a besotted man, at the mercy of the waters, trying to decipher and to understand so that he can assemble what he sees into some whole. Blackness, terror and night. Night crossed by a violent passion, an unnatural love. What do I know? It seems to me that this dramatic aspect of Cosmos will only be fully perceptible in many years’ time. It is an austere book, and I have less fun in it than in my other works.”
A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


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Cosmos will be the last of Gombrowicz’s novels published during his lifetime.


Witold Gombrowicz continues his Diary, returning to the topic of his relationship with Bruno Schulz.
He complains that having to correct the French translation of Pornografia by Jerzy Lisowski distracts him from his work on Cosmos.
Ferdydurke is published in London in January and in April in New York, in a translation by Eric Mosbascher; in August, a translation by Sergio Miniussi is published in Italy.
At the end of the year, Walter Tiel publishes his translation of the Diary (1953-1956) in Germany. Witold Gombrowicz modifies the passages concerning Heidegger at his editor’s suggestion.


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Germany: The first translation of the Diary.


“To enjoy the beauty and the drama, we don’t have to ‘publish,’ it’s enough to have something inside of one’s self. Try to understand the importance that joy, cordiality, good humor, a sense of the comic, of the ironic, etc. have for an artist. All of this signifies that artist’s independence from the world. This independence also signifies victory. The more infantile you will be, the more victorious; the more serious you will be (in the sense of worldly matters), the more conquered.”
Letter from Witold Gombrowicz to Mariano Betelú, November 19, 1960

1962
This year is dominated by work on Cosmos. Witold Gombrowicz will publish the first excerpts of the novel in the anniversary volume of Kultura in May.


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This year, Witold Gombrowicz writes Cosmos, his last novel and most mysterious work.


Kultura’s Literary Institute also publishes his Diary (1957-1961).
Pornografia comes out in France and Italy.
Ferdydurke is published in the Netherlands in a translation by Willem A. Maijer.
In May, Witold Gombrowicz is nominated for the Formentor Prize.
Witold Gombrowicz reads much Sartre, whose works in French are sent to Gombrowicz by Jerzy Giedroyc, his editor in Polish.


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The philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre fascinated Gombrowicz.


“This Sartre has tormented me for so long, for there is a curious mix of things of an extraordinary value and relevance and a marvelous nonsense of Cartesian abstractions which, ‘nota bene,’ like ‘phenomenological ontology,’ holds to an equilibrium.”
Letter from Witold Gombrowicz to Jerzy Giedroyc, August 16, 1962 [Trans. Dubowski]


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Witold Gombrowicz at his home in Buenos Aires, early 1960s. Photo by Miguel Grinberg.


In October, Witold Gombrowicz participates in the Congress of the Pen Club in Buenos Aires, sitting in a folding chair.


“Madariaga, Silione, Wiedlé, Dos Passos, Spender, Butor, Robbe-Grillet, etc.—all of them are in Buenos Aires, invited by the local PEN Club. The sessions lasted about five days and were a nagging pain on the subject of the Word, the Writer, Culture, Spirit, etc., as always.”
Diary, 1962 [Trans. Vallee]


On March 28, Argentina is taken by the fall of the Frondizi government. Political crisis breaks out; strikes multiply.
From February to December, Witold Gombrowicz stays in Buenos Aires. He suffers from the cold and falls ill.
He begins to think of moving to a better climate for the sake of his asthma.
He begins to meet his friends at Café La Fragata.


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Café La Fragata in the 1970s. Photo by Sandra Filippi.

1963
Witold Gombrowicz spends the early months of the year in Piriapolis: He recopies Cosmos, works on the next part of his Diary, and plays checkers in Bar San Sebastián.
On February 28, Witold Gombrowicz receives a telegram from the Ford Foundation inviting him to spend a year in Berlin as a writer in residence. He accepts the proposal.
Upon returning to Buenos Aires, Witold Gombrowicz receives news from London that Wiadomości, the Polish émigré review that, up until this point, had been only hostile toward him, has awarded him its prestigious literary prize.


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Upon returning to Buenos Aires, Witold Gombrowicz receives news from London that Wiadomości, the Polish émigré review that, up until this point, had been only hostile toward him, has awarded him its prestigious literary prize.
In Paris, Jadwiga Kukułczańka finishes the French translation of The Marriage.


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On the eve of the departure: Ada and the "boys" stand around Witold Gombrowicz


All month, Witold Gombrowicz prepares for his departure for Europe: He gives away books and recordings, buys a whole new wardrobe, and says his goodbyes to his Polish and Argentinian friends.


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On board the ocean liner in the final moments before departure.


On April 8, Gombrowicz departs on the transatlantic liner Ferderico Costa bound for Cannes, France.
He has no idea that he will never see Argentina, which he now considers a second home, again.


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During the voyage, Gombrowicz wins a chess tournament.


“When I boarded the Federico off Buenos Aires I had behind me twenty-three years and two hundred and twenty-six days of the Argentine (I counted them) and with me, in my suitcase, the text of an unfinished novel: Cosmos.”
—A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]


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The “Argentinian transatlantic of Gombrowicz,” drawn by his friend Mariano Betelú.

to the beginning



[1] Witold Gombrowicz plays here with a verse from Act I, Scene III of Jean Racine’s Phèdre, a classical French dramatic tragedy of the 17th century, by substituting "Odile" for "Ariane".
The original verse is:
Ariane, ma soeur, de quel amour blessée.
Vous mourûtes au bord où vous fûtes laissée !

English translation by A.S. Kline:
Ariadne, my sister! Wounded by what passion
Did you die on the shore, where you were abandoned?

Contact email: info.en@gombrowicz.net