Nad Niemnem is a Positivist novel written by Eliza Orzeszkowa in 1888 during the foreign Partitions of Poland. Its main purpose was to present the Polish society and its own internal dynamics as they were in mid–19th century, in reference to the Polish January Uprising against the Russian occupation. The novel first appeared in installments on the pages of Tygodnik Ilustrowany in 1887 and was published as a book in 1888. In 2014 it was translated into English as On the Niemen by Michelle Granas.
First the author planned to limit the plot to a love story between Jan, a villager from the petty nobility, and Justyna, who comes from a wealthy landed gentry family. However, while writing, the background relating to customs started to develop which made Orzeszkowa give up the original title: Misalliance.
Nad Niemnem is set in and around the city of Grodno after the 1863 January Uprising. At the time, the area had a considerable Polish population. The title means "Upon the Niemen" - the Niemen being a river now situated in modern Belarus and Lithuania.
- Bohatyrowicz family (Anzelm, Janek, Fabian): their lifestyle is elegant, not to say festive, very seldom coarse. In the language they use, lots of proverbs, sayings, rhymes and aphorisms appear. The Bohatyrowicz family cultivates also the folk-songs which contrasts with the traditions of the Korczyński family which lives in the manor house, where folk-singing seems to be inappropriate. The other cultural heritage they cherish is a sense of social order regulated by the specific customs, gestures and the type of interaction with neighbours. They avoid formalism and stiffening of behaviour. Their religiousness is based on obeying the Ten Commandments rather than God-fearing practices. (Orzeszkowa did not put the emphasis on Polish Catholicism and deprived her fictitious village of a priest).
- Benedykt Korczyński: his characteristic feature is bitterness (caused by the adversities of fate, choices between evil and evil, fight for patrimony with the occupant etc.) and loneliness. He fenced himself off from the Bohatyrowiczes because they were the first to bring an action against him, that was the reason of their mutual dislike. The only person he can rely on is Marta.
- Witold Korczyński: an univocally positive hero; Witold symbolises young people who draw conclusions from the past and believe in the rebirth of the nation. At the same time he is a colourless and conventional character. In all the conflicts with his father he is always the one that is right.
- Remaining characters: Teofil Różyc, Andrzejowa Korczyńska, Zygmunt Korczyński, Marta Korczyńska, Emilia Korczyńska, Bolesław Kirło, Maria Kirłowa, Justyna Orzelska, Jadwiga Domuntówna.
Motifs appearing in the novel
- January uprising – introduced to the novel through the motif of a common mound of 40 insurgents situated in the middle of the forest. The area belongs to the Korczyński family. The insurgents are strongly idealised, there is no pondering of the rebels’ mistakes or questions concerning the peasantry’s attitude towards the uprising. Emilia Korczyńska, Teresa Pilińska, Bolesław Kirło, Ignacy Orzelski, Deneccy, Teofil Różyc are the people that have no interest in the tomb because they do not commemorate the memory of people who died there. Son of one of the insurgents, Zygmunt Korczyński, is even audacious enough to ridicule them during the conversation with his mother, declaring his father, Andrzej, to have been a madman to take part in the uprising.
- Misalliance – introduced to the work mainly through the legend of Jan and Cecylia . That particular misalliance was “blessed” by the national authority. The marriage of Jan and Justyna is the repetition of the mythical model. The third misalliance appearing in the book is the marriage of Witold and Marynia Kirło, the fourth – marriage of Andrzejowa Korczyńska and the last one – marriage of Ładyś Bohatyrowicz with a peasant woman.
- The lack of books in the novel. There are almost no books mentioned in the work, only Anzelm keeps three books: Pan Tadeusz, David's Psalter and Ogrody Północne. Those are copies that he received from Andrzej Korczyński a couple years earlier. Selection of those three titles has a great didactic function for the readers.
The novel has been adapted twice for film, in 1939 and again in 1986. The 1986 film led to a 1988 television miniseries.
Notes and references
- "Eliza Orzeszkowa" from the Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
- Prof. dr hab. Józef Bachórz, Eliza Orzeszkowa. Virtual Library of Polish Literature. Retrieved September 22, 2011.
- Eliza Orzeszkowa, Nad Niemnem (full text) at Wolne Lektury, Fundacja Nowoczesna Polska. Digital reproductions.
- Eliza Orzeszkowa, On the Niemen.
- Analysis of the book (in Polish)