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"Echo Texts": Woolf, Krzywicka, and The Well of Loneliness.


The nature of literary and existential survival is one of the constant themes in Virginia Woolf's writing. In A Room of One's Own, Woolf explores the connection between the cultural vitality of texts and their intellectual honesty: "what holds [novels] together in these rare instances of something that one calls integrity, though it has nothing to do with paying one's bills or behaving honourably in an emergency. What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth" (AROO 61). As Jane Marcus has shown, in this seminal essay Woolf responded to the censorship of Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness, one of the first novels with an undisguised lesbian/transgender theme, both persecuted and praised for its honesty. When in 1928, Sir Chartres Biron judged the book obscene and all copies were burned, it seemed probable that the novel would fall into obscurity (Doan and Prosser 1-3). Indeed, The Well (1) was not published in Britain until 1949. Nevertheless, Hall's novel not only survived destruction and censorship, but also traveled across countries and continents, both in the original version and in numerous translations. The translated book entered the Polish culture in 1933.

This article seeks to compare the reception of The Well in Britain and Poland, juxtaposing two important statements by public intellectuals: Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Irena Krzywicka's preface to Zrodlo samotnosci, the Polish translation of Hall's novel. I look at Zrodlo through the lens inspired by Marcus's scholarship, situating it within the biographical and political contexts of interwar Poland. The Polish reception of The Well casts light on the way this novel became the "bible of lesbianism" in different cultures for at least half a century and reveals new networks of transnational modernism.

While Hall's trial has become one of the most studied events in British LGBTQ history, the fascinating story of The Well's early global reception has remained unwritten, despite fruitful areas of research enabled by the transnational turn in Modernist studies. (2) Already in 1929, the novel became a bestseller in the United States, and it was also translated into Danish and German. Promptly, other publishers followed: in 1931 The Well was available in Czech, a year later in French, and in 1933 in Polish. Although many factors are responsible for the global popularity of Hall's novel, there are two most probable explanations that I will briefly explore: the all-embracing character of the novel challenging various categories of identity, and the efforts of intellectuals within transnational modernist networks. The Well is an emancipatory landmark and an important legacy to a whole LGBTQ community, raising issues still relevant today, such as marriage equality or stress that members of marginalized groups experience, and inspiring new scholarship. Among the recent critical voices interpreting The Well, Nadine Tschacksch (3) investigates the emergence of queer identities in the Great War, Hannah Roche (4) examines the camp aesthetics of lesbian romances, and Katherine A. Costello (5) juxtaposes various approaches to the identity of the protagonist Stephen Gordon. This last issue sparked a heated debate on the eve of the twenty-first century, when queer studies witnessed a transgender turn, resulting in research questioning the lesbian interpretations of The Well. (6) Elizabeth English underlines that this process has profoundly influenced the scholarship on The Well: "Melanie A. Taylor and Jay Prosser... question the established reading of the novel as a key lesbian text by arguing that this interpretation is founded upon a critical conflation of inversion and homosexuality. For both, The Well is not a narrative of emerging lesbian identity but rather one of transgenderism" (50). Furthermore, new critical guidelines were formulated by Jack Halberstam, who called the researchers "to account for historical moments when the difference between gender deviance and sexual deviance is hard to discern. The history of inversion and of those people who identified themselves as inverts (Radclyffe Hall, for example) still does represent a tangle of cross-gender identification and sexual preference that is not easily separated out" (303). While the novel has played a vital role in lesbian culture, its transgender interpretations are well grounded, and I deeply appreciate in Stephen what Madelyn Detloff has called "borderland status between identity categories" (94). (7) As a proto-queer hero(ine) Stephen becomes an Every (wo)man, who "transgresses" all identities. S(he) is an exile deprived of a stable national identity, a Christian not entitled to belong to the religious community, and finally, a person who challenges both gender and sexual identity. Consequently, Hall's novel has been read and discovered by generations of diverse readers around the world.

The Well survived extreme censorship and entered other cultures due to the efforts of modernist networks, created around the world by intellectuals striving to preserve fragile peace and demanding rights for various groups in the increasingly hostile war cultures of the 1930s. Since, as Jessica Berman proposes, transnational modernism was "a dynamic series of aesthetic relationships or responses to the problematics of modernity in which we can see worldwide textual correspondences and intersections among its social and political commitments" (30), the censorship of Hall's novel sparked a global response. Among those voices were Woolf and Krzywicka, who as public intellectuals played vital roles in preserving Hall's emancipatory message, embodying it in their "echo texts," to use Marcus's term.

It was Marcus who first showed that in A Room of One's Own, Woolf responded--both forcefully and cautiously--to the censorship of The Well. For years, Marcus was "storming the toolshed," critically exploring feminist methodology and undermining the divinity of various "Bogeys," or distorted portrayals of Virginia Woolf. Finally, Marcus succeeded in her brave attempt at redefining the role that in Woolf's oeuvre plays two tabooed currents, "on one hand her lesbian identity, woman-centered life, and feminist work, and on the other, her socialist politics" (Marcus "Storming," 629), both essential for current Woolf studies. If, as Marcus notes, "Judith Shakespeare was, to contemporary audiences, very clearly a portrait of Radclyffe Hall" ("To the" 19), then Woolf herself became a custodian of the banned novel.

Similarly in Poland, Irena Krzywicka (1899-1994), a feminist writer and journalist, whose memoirs were tellingly titled Wyznania gorszycielki [Confessions of a Scandalizer], advocated and popularized The Well. When, in 1933, Zrodlo was issued by the Publishing Society "Roj," she wrote a preface to the novel. The implications of Krzywicka's text for Polish LGBTQ culture are enormous, as when in May 1933 this emancipatory manifesto was reprinted as a feature in the "Wiadomosci Literackie" [Literary News], both Hall's novel and lesbianism literally made headlines.

Yet, in Poland, taboo still surrounds the history of marginalized groups' emancipation--since the lost poetry of Sappho, their past has survived only in fragments and echoes. When I started my search I came across the views of some scholars who believed that The Well was translated, but it had never been distributed. As the 1933 press reviews were not discovered, Krzywicka's preface was considered the only remaining trace. How could a novel survive, if it has never truly existed? And I thought about the pertinent question asked by Marcus: "Does notoriety still ensure ignominy and social ostracism in those women's lives, and then, perhaps, posthumous honor by historians?" ("Middlebrow" 164). Yet, oblivion was apparent--The Well was obscured, but it did not disappear. On the basis of internet reviews, it canbe established that Hall's novel has been read by the modern Polish LGBTQ community--though the copies are scarce and locked up in the National Library. Moreover, after sixty-seven years, the extracts of Zrodlo and Krzywicka's preface were republished in the issues No. 3-4/5 (1999/2000) of the "Furia Pierwsza" [Fury First], a "literary feminist lesbian magazine."

Shortly after finding the reprints in the internet archives of the British Embassy in Poland, I came across a poignant epilogue to the story of Zrodlo. In 2011, Ric Todd, the Ambassador to Poland, and Clare Dimyon, an activist of PRIDE Solidarity, visited the National Library to see the Polish translation. Their homage was inspired by Joan Nestle, a co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York, who recalled the story of a Polish Jewish woman who had survived the Holocaust: "I had a chance to read The Well of Loneliness that had been translated into Polish before I was taken into the camps. I was a young girl at the time, around 12 or 13 and one of the ways I survived in the camp was by remembering that book. I wanted to live long enough to kiss a woman" (LGBT History Month).

Not often can we have such a proof--paraphrasing Czeslaw Milosz--that literature (disregarding its "brow" status), does save people and nations. Not often can we hear the voice of a lesbian Holocaust survivor. And yet, the questions are numerous, starting with the name of the woman who gave that testimony. As Dimyon comments, "this is what lesbian history often looks like... tiny fragments that escaped destruction, the most tenuous of connections.... These two or three sentences and this book are the only fragments we have of this woman and this astonishing story of survival" (LGBT History Month).

These words have been echoing in my mind during the time I have been researching the publications of Modernist and LGBTQ scholars. Zrodlo is never mentioned in the few studies of "Roj" Publishing, nor in the monographs on Polish Modernism, nor in publishers' memoirs. A few feminist and LGBTQ scholars (as for example Ewa Chudoba and Krzysztof Tomasik) have briefly discussed the fact that Hall's novel was published in 1933, but they do not mention the translator; others probably are not aware that it has been translated, as they use its English title or translate it literally as "Studnia samotnosci." Furthermore, while some Krzywicka scholars discuss her preface to Zrodlo, they are obviously not interested in Hall as an author, writing her name as "Radcliffe Hull" (a spelling that appeared in Krzywicka's reprinted preface). For several months I have been also researching the diaries, memoirs and letters of Polish writers and I have not found a single word about the novel nor about the Polish translation. It seemed that for the critics and writers, Zrodlo was tabooed and forgotten.

Such (self-)censorship, as Marcus has shown in her ground-breaking book Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy, "makes the reader mistrust the published text" and encourages the researcher to immerse herself in the "drafts of novels, letters, and diaries, proceedings of political meetings, and newspapers" (Languages xii). Following in Marcus's footsteps while undertaking broad archival and press research on Zrodlo, I have discovered that its interwar fate can be partly reconstructed, as the novel was reviewed, advertised in publishing catalogues and in press, and finally, mentioned in the publishers' postwar letters. Yet, the story of Zrodlo told by the archive is full of "blank pages"--censored, forgotten or lost fragments.

The Well first entered Polish culture when the echoes of Hall's trial were reverberating throughout the world. The daily "Gazeta Lwowska" [Lviv Newspaper] in October 1928 covered the story: "In London a book made a lot of noise, provoking lengthy discussion and comments about the censorship and freedoms of the written word. A renowned author, Miss Margaret Radclyffe-Hall wrote a book..., in which she raises the question of some abnormal tendencies in women" (8) (5). The journalist also mentioned the hostility of the Sunday Express and the withdrawal of the first British edition. After the trial, Biron's judgment must have also been known to some Polish intellectuals--because, as Celia Marshik notes, it was extensively covered: "The printed transcript of his words indicates that Biron could not separate his anger at Hall's insult to war workers from his horror at Mary's 'debauchery' at the hands of Stephen....Biron's comments on Hall's ambulance drivers were widely reported" (152).

Surprisingly, the influential and progressive "Wiadomosci Literackie" ["Literary News"] was silent about The Well and its trial. This literary weekly, "whose intellectual patrons were George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Bertrand Russell" (Zawiszewska 109), frequently informed readers about instances of literary censorship in Europe. Nonetheless, in December 1928, the journal published Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski's feature about Narcyza Zmichowska, a founder of the Polish women's rights movement, sentenced to prison for independence activism. Yet what Zelenski explored in his essay electrified some audiences--it was Zmichowska's lesbianism and the story of her love for Paulina Zbyszewska, presented in a heterosexual disguise in her novel The Heathen (Poganka 1846, Eng. transl. 2012). Even though it is possible that the essay was provoked by Hall's trial, it clearly belonged to Zelenski's project, concerning morality reform, to which this writer, interpreter of French literature and journalist committed himself--supported both privately and publicly by Irena Krzywicka.

In 1928 Zelenski started a "Bloomsbury affair" with Krzywicka, as they were both married--the spouses tolerated their relationship. Krzywicka recalls in her memoirs that for their first date she bought a hat, in order to mask her shabby coat. When she came to the meeting point, she saw Boy, waving to her with a hat and shouting, "Look! It's crazy, things I do for you. I have just bought a hat!" (193). Krzywicka and Boy-Zelenski inspired each other in their public activity: she persuaded him to write about women's reproductive rights, he convinced her to support his efforts concerning "sexual minorities." However, Wojciech Smieja cautions against overestimating their role: "Even though the liberal publicists (partially) take the blame from homosexuality..., still, those who 'know better' speak on behalf of the homosexual. Yet, what they say not always corresponds with the facts.... This phenomenon is particularly visible in the journalism of Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski or Irena Krzywicka" ("Topografia" 87). Nonetheless, as Krzysztof Tomasik observes, "homosexuality became discussed in an open forum thanks to the heterosexuals: the first emancipatory texts were formulated by Tadeusz Boy-Zelenski, a preface to Radclyffe Hall's Zrodlo samotnosci was written by Irena Krzywicka.... Their numerous homosexual colleagues did not resume the topic, rather hold it to ridicule" (16). Boy-Zelenski was also an important author of "Roj" Publishing (Kister 41-42), and thus could have inspired the publication of The Well in Poland.

In the publishing history of Zrodlo, the pivotal role was played by the Publishing Society "Roj," one of the most important Polish modernist publishers. In 1924 "Roj" was initiated in Warsaw by Melchior Wankowicz, a writer, reporter, and at that time a government official, soon joined by Marian Kister, a bookseller and publisher (Wankowicz "Wspomnienia," 16; Okopien 176-77). Because of Wankowicz, the company was initially close to the ruling Sanation camp, gathered around Jozef Pilsudski, who later advocated the authoritarian system. However, the "Roj" political profile was diverse as among its authors were Irena Krzywicka, a liberal feminist; Wanda Wasilewska, a communist activist; Adolf Nowaczynski, a nationalist and anti-Semite; as well as Sholem Asch ([phrase omitted]), a Yiddish writer.

This diversity of "Roj's" endeavor is already visible in its beginnings: "the company started off with a brochure series, 'Library of History and Geography.' With the innocent slogan 'To entertain without lying. To teach without boring,' it published books by such eminent writers as Julian Tuwim, Zofia Kossak, Maria Kuncewiczowa" (Pytlak 172). Among "Roj" authors were numerous Nobel Prize winners, such as Sigrid Undset, Thomas Mann, John Galsworthy, Roger Martin du Gard, Pearl Buck, and many others listed in Wankowicz's memoirs (Tedy 42-44). Ewa Gisges-Zwierzchowska, who has analyzed the few "Roj" catalogues that survive, underlines that translations constituted a significant part of its publications, and their average print ran is estimated at 1200-1500 copies. In 1938 alone, almost sixty percent of 360 new books were translations (among them fifty-three from English) (Giseges-Zwierzchowska 45).

The "Roj" catalogues do not usually reveal the publishing histories of individual books. As the company books and documents were burnt or lost, the search for archival materials concerning the "Roj" translating endeavor resembles looking for a needle, not in a haystack, but in a pile of ashes. During the Second World War many Polish libraries and archives were completely destroyed--the National Library alone lost forever almost 800,000 registered items of the most valuable part of its holdings.

The situation is further complicated by the postwar conflict between the "Roj" publishing partners, Wankowicz and Kister. In her memoirs Hanna, Kister's wife, briefly mentions Wankowicz and does not write a single word about his wife, Zofia, who in the 1940s tried to rescue "Roj" (Ziolkowska-Boehm passim). In a poignant letter to Wankowicz, dated 17th October 1945, Zofia relates the fates of their daughter Krysia, other relatives and the "Roj":
The orderlies and colleagues said that Krysia died on 6th August.... we
have buried many of her colleagues, but we have not found her group
yet. Rom was killed.... Bisia, who was last seen in the
Gestapo...disappeared without a trace. The Germans shot Tol....

I wrote to Kister about the "Roj," but I do not know whether he
received my letter. The Germans burned down the book warehouses.... So
far we have not resumed the "Roj".... Our little house has burnt down
and I stayed literally in one dress, without even a coat.... I live
from hand to mouth. (Ziolkowska-Boehm 32)

The Nazis burned 70,000 books published by "Roj" (Kister 88) and the company has never been rebuilt in Poland. However, "Roj" was reopened as "Roy Publishers" in New York by Hanna and Marian Kister, who escaped to the United States, and since 1943 were publishing translations of Polish literature (Kister passim).

Surprisingly, it was in the letters of the "Roy Publishers" from 1944-68 that I found the only instance in which the "Roj" publishers mentioned the publication of Zrodlo. In the papers preserved with the letters, Marian Kister and Aleksander Janta, a writer and journalist, reconstruct the scope of "Roj" interwar endeavors. Among the most popular British authors were E. M. Forster, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, Daphne du Maurier, Bertrand Russell, and Lytton Strachey. On the long list of writers, there is also "R. Hall" with a symbol plus used for "literature," and not with a circle, indicating "entertainment" (Listy Roy Publishers, cards 43-44). I consequently assume that the publishers considered The Well to be an interesting example of modern prose, and not a scandalous novel for the less discerning readers. The analysis of press advertisements for Zrodlo tends to confirm these conjectures. It seems that "Roj" tried to follow a strategy similar to that of Jonathan Cape, the British publisher of The Well, who "pitched the publicity, pricing, and reviews not to Hall's usual middlebrow following but to a more highbrow readership" (Doan and Prosser 4). The Polish publishers launched a reviewing and advertising campaign for Zrodlo in the prestigious "Wiadomosci Literackie," the journal of the literary world, which published two reviews of the novel, as well as "Roj" advertisements, in which the novel appeared. A case in point is an advertisement, published in July, in which only Zrodlo is visually singled out with a frame and recommended as "the latest publication" among "the most eminent new European books" (The "Roj" 6). Both the advertisement and the 1933 "Roj" catalogue show that initially Hall's novel was relatively expensive, as it was sold for 10 zloty, while the average price of the "Roj" foreign novels was 7 zloty. Nonetheless, in the late 1930s when the "Roj" held massive book sales announced in the press, Zrodlo became more available for the middlebrow audience, as it then cost 2 zloty.

While looking through the 1931 and 1932 "Roj" catalogues, I made a startling discovery. It turns out that "Roj" wanted to publish The Well as early as 1931, announcing it under the title "Meka samotnosci" [The Agony of Solitude]; a year later it appeared under its final title "Zrodlo samotnosci" (Polish "zrodlo" means both "a well" and "a source"), though the only two copies preserved in the National Library were published in 1933. It is possible that this delay was caused by ongoing changes in the Polish law concerning homosexuality. Although homosexuality was never penalized in independent Poland, in the years 1795-1918, when the country was conquered by three partitioning powers (Austria, Prussia, and Russia), it was a criminal offence. In interwar Poland, the authorities must have united the judicial systems of former partitions. Finally, in 1932, the new Criminal Code was completed and it was decided that homosexuality would not be penalized (Smieja "Boy," 65). The Code came into force in September 1932 and Zrodlo was published almost immediately in spring 1933.

Could it then be assumed that the "Roj" publishers were afraid of the confiscation of Zrodlo copies and its costly consequences? Similarly to Britain, the censorship system in interwar Poland was mostly repressive; however, instances of censorship occurred more often with the rise of authoritarian rule in the 1930s, and the press drew the public's attention to such practices by publishing the censored blank pages. Ryszard Nycz observes that the censorship "affected primarily the avant-garde writers--anarchist, leftist and those sympathizing with communism... yet it has been as well imposed on the authors connected to the ruling camp" (14). Among the most notable instances of literary censorship was the confiscation of the short story "Zenobia Palmura" by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz for an offence against "the sense of shame and beauty" in 1920, as well as the forfeiture of the novel Wspolny pokoj [The Common Room] by Zbigniew Unilowski, due to its alleged "moral offence" in 1932 (Zawada 202). However, only one example of official censorship interference appears in the "Roj" publishers' memoirs--in 1934, the novel "Oblicze dnia" [The Face of the Day] by Wanda Wasilewska was published without several censored chapters (Kister 41).

Although there is no proof of official suppression of Hall's novel in Poland, the mysterious story of the Zrodlo translator(s) casts some light on the fundamental role that censorship played in the Polish reception of The Well. Officially, The Well was translated into Polish by the enigmatic Dr J. P. Zajaczkowski, who cannot be found in biographical dictionaries. Yet, he was described by Wankowicz as "a renowned and highly regarded interpreter, an expert on the Napoleonian epoch, spying, the Great War, famous trials, aviation, a connoisseur of ladies' fashion, a chronicler of Australian rams, as well as an authority on ballet" ("Wspomnienia" 201). Certainly, nobody knows Dr Zajaczkowski better than Wankowicz, who created both this unmistakable figure and pseudonym. It became both a nom de plume adopted by the authors and a group pseudonym for the "Roj" translators and editors (Wankowicz "Wspomnienia," 199), who used it when the publication was prepared in haste, or if they were disappointed either with the original text or the results of publishing processes (Kister 57-58).

The National Library notes that in the case of Zrodlo, Dr Zajaczkowski was used as a pseudonym for "Karolina Beylin, Jerzy Panski, Andrzej Stawar, Adam Wazyk, Lucjan Szenwald (the editors of 'Roj')." Possibly, Panski, Stawar, and Wazyk could have worked on Hall's novel as editors, since they translated from French and Russian. It may be assumed that the most probable translator of Hall's novel was Karolina Beylin, a writer, journalist, Varsavianist, as well as Dickens's translator. (9) However, the question is more complicated, since Szenwald, a poet and communist activist, was also an accomplished translator of British poetry and crime novels (Tarczalowicz passim). Moreover, Kister (not surprisingly in view of other omissions) in her memoirs hardly mentions Beylin, who translated at least nine "Roj" books.

Whether Beylin translated Hall's novel or not, a close examination of Zrodlo reveals possible reasons for using the pseudonym, and yields important new insights into Polish reception of The Well. Before publication, the translation was considerably censored--almost all excerpts concerning "inversion" and the Great War were omitted or manipulated. From the very first pages, Hall draws Stephen's portrait as a "congenital invert," based upon the theories formulated by early sexologists (English 37-38). Hall carefully structured this theme: in the novel first appears the word "invert," denoting the individual, then its plural form "inverts," suggesting a community, and finally, from chapter 48 to the end, she uses the word "inversion" to embrace the phenomenon. This scheme is completely destroyed in the Polish translation, since for nine occurrences of the word "invert," only one survives in Polish; of five "inverts," two survive; and of seven uses of "inversion," four survive. Moreover, even when the words "invert/inversion" occur in Polish they are rendered as pejorative "zboczeniec/zboczenie" ("pervert/perversion"). More serious is the omission of the passages on lesbian/transgender visibility and emerging community in the chapters on the First World War. These Chapters (34 to 37) are seriously cut and manipulated. While in The Well, for example, the fourth part of Chapter 3 4 consists of five paragraphs (WL 319-21), in Zrodlo only two survived (ZS 265).

Since there is no proof of official censorship, it seems that the publishers decided to suppress themselves the "sensitive" extracts of Hall's novel, using Biron's statements from the trial as guidance--an ironic turnabout in the publishing history of The Well. Andrzej Zawada explains that such practices were common in the interwar publishing houses, as "the editors mediated with the authors to minimize the losses by convincing them to tone down the controversial extracts of their manuscripts" (203). Translators might not have wanted their names on the title pages of censored books, which could explain why Dr Zajaczkowski was the official translator of Zrodlo.

Undoubtedly, the mysterious person who translated The Well into Polish took great pains to convey Hall's original message. The most important emancipatory conversations between Stephen, Adolphe Blanc, and Valerie Seymour are rendered faithfully. For example, Blanc's hopeful visions for the future, as well as his idea of "invert's messiah," who can "make the ignorant think," "bring home the sufferings of millions" (WL 455), are only shortened in the Polish version, yet their message is played down by the translation of "an invert" as "a pervert." Thus, Hall's novel survived another censorship and entered Polish culture. Yet, the values of The Well could have been lost, if not for its contemporary preservers, Woolf and Krzywicka, who embodied them in their own--to use Marcus's term--echo texts.

While Zrodlo was forgotten by critics and writers, the delayed reception of Virginia Woolf in Poland may have resulted in the rediscovery of Hall's novel by Polish readers. When in 1997 A Room of One's Own was finally brought into Polish by Agnieszka Graff, followed in 2002 by a composite edition of A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas translated by Ewa Krasinska, Woolf became an icon for Polish feminist thinkers and activists. Ewa Kraskowska claims that they "made Virginia Woolf a canonical author in Poland. Moreover, the phrase of the essay's title as well as such expressions as 'Shakespeare's sister', 'a woman's sentence' or 'an androgynous mind' have become firmly established in contemporary Polish feminist discourse.... [Woolf] was recognized as one of the first politically engaged feminist women writers" (2). Interestingly, in the Polish translations of A Room of One's Own (1997, 2002), while both translators Agnieszka Graff and Ewa Krasinska, as well as Izabela Morska in the preface, retell the story of The Well, they use its original title--unaware (at that time) that the novel was translated into Polish.

A few years later, Krzywicka's intellectual prose has been rediscovered by feminist and LGBTQ scholars. In 2008 Agata Zawiszewska published Kontrola Wspolczesnosci [The Control of the Present], a volume of Krzywicka's selected essays and publicity, including her preface to Zrodlo. The role of Krzywicka, both as the Polish "custodian" of Hall's novel and the author of the first emancipatory texts, has been briefly acknowledged by Krzysztof Tomasik (16). Yet, there is to date almost no scholarship on the publication of Zrodlo in Poland. Therefore, it seems that while Zrodlo became forgotten after the Second World War, Hall's novel has lived primarily in Krzywicka's echo text, and later also in the Polish translation of Woolf's A Room of One's Own.


Having presented the publishing history of Zrodlo, I would like now to look at the reception of Hall's novel in Britain and Poland from a unique perspective offered by two public intellectuals: Virginia Woolf and Irena Krzywicka. In the comparison of Woolf's A Room of One's Own with Krzywicka's preface to Zrodlo, I explore their discussion of Hall's novel and its trial, as well as their textual strategies used to structure their own writing on "inversion" around the themes of censorship and social norms. Finally, as there is a substantial amount of research on press reaction to The Well and A Room of One's Own, I will discuss only the responses of the Polish press.

The legislative contexts in which Woolf and Krzywicka defended the novel could not have been more different. While attending the exhibition "Queer British Art 1861-1967" at Tate Britain (5 April-1 October, 2017), I could stand right in front of the door to Oscar Wilde's cell in Reading prison, and I thought about the writers like Woolf or Hall who needed to "face" that door and find their own strategy of survival. In the United Kingdom, (male) homosexuality was severely penalized and remained illegal until 1967 (Moran passim), while in independent Poland it has never been mentioned in the Criminal Code. Though the censorship in both countries was repressive, it seems that its chilling effect was more profound for British intellectuals.

Consequently, in Britain, self-censorship was a matter of survival--allowing the writer only allusions, which could turn into echoes if their readers joined the conspiracy. In Virginia Woolf and the Languages of Patriarchy, Marcus presents a captivating interpretation of A Room of One's Own as "an echo chamber, in which Echo, the woman artist, who transgressed both sexually and verbally in the myth... may speak in her own words" (164), and creates the term "Sapphistry" to denominate Woolf's subversive narration.

The chilling effect casts a shadow over Woolf's brilliant essay, which is one of the first attempts at analyzing the social and material circumstances of women's creative activity. As Hermione Lee notes, "while she committed herself publicly to the protest against censorship which the Radclyffe Hall case aroused... she carried out a telling piece of self-censorship in those cancelled pages of A Room of One's Own" (519). Lee refers to Woolf's draft note on a passage that begins with "Chloe liked Olivia. They shared a..." thus quoted in Marcus's analysis:
The words covered the bottom of the page: the pages had stuck. While
fumbling to open them there flashed into my mind the inevitable
policeman... the order to attend the Court; the dreary waiting: the
Magistrate coming in with a little bow... for the Prosecution; for the
Defense--the verdict; this book is called obscene + flames sing,
perhaps on Tower Hill, as they compound (?) that mass of paper. Here
the paper came apart. Heaven be praised! It was only a laboratory.
(Languages 186)

Woolf's ominous vision of her own persecution reveals how difficult it is for the modern author, say "Mary Carmichael," to tell this story. Consequently, the fragmented scene "Chloe liked Olivia" is revived several times--first in the "flirtatious passage" (Marcus Languages, 169), which subtly alludes to lesbian attraction:
I turned the page and read...I am sorry to break off so abruptly. Are
there no men present? Do you promise me that behind that red curtain
over there the figure of Sir Charles Biron is not concealed? We are all
women you assure me? Then I may tell you that the very next words I
read were these--"Chloe liked Olivia..." Do not start. Do not blush.
Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things
sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women. (AROO 70)

In the final part of her essay, Woolf, playing on the word "like" used in the story of Chloe and Olivia, comes back to the lesbianism: "The truth is, I often like women. I like their unconventionality. I like their completeness. I like their anonymity. I like--but I must not run on in this way. That cupboard there--you say it holds clean table-napkins only; but what if Sir Archibald Bodkin were concealed among them?" (AROO 96). The allusion to Hall's trial must have been clear to her audience, as the Director of Public Prosecutions Bodkin (together with the Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks) "successfully" opposed the novel.

If, as Marcus says, A Room of One's Own "sings sisterhood in homoerotic tones, slyly seducing the woman reader and taunting patriarchal law just this side of obscenity" (Languages 163), then it is important to notice that all allusions to lesbianism are accompanied by the ubiquitous censors. While Hall's name does not appear in Woolf's essay, all the patriarchal figures involved in the trial are identified and ridiculed: Biron eavesdrops behind the red curtains, Hicks is summoned to give evidence on the apparently non-platonic relationship of writers, and finally, Bodkin hides in the cupboard. As Leslie Kathleen Hankins underlines, "Woolf's lesbian signatures, messages, and strategies were shaped by the brooding presence of the censor, for no lesbian writer in 1928 was immune from the perils of censorship" (182-83).

In Woolf's essay, there is no "inversion," yet there are passages on canonical writers, like William Shakespeare, whose androgynous mind allows for gender and sexual transgressions in his art. As Marcus has shown, Woolf's subversive textual strategies of "Sapphistry"--ellipses, pauses, broken sequences, a whole discourse of interruption--successfully creates the women's community, a precursor to her Outsiders' Society. Importantly, this conspiracy empowers her readers to write the blank pages of Orlando with their own experience and enables the rebirth of The Well in new literary shapes.

Writing in a very different cultural and legal context, Irena Krzywicka was more explicit in her preface to Zrodlo. Zawiszewska in her monograph on Krzywicka's "modern intellectual prose" characterizes her idiosyncratic style of reviewing. While in the early reviews the writer discussed the literary works from a perspective similar to Woolf's "common reader," in the 1930s, she adopted "the role of popularizer and advocate" and used free indirect speech to render the meaning and poetics of reviewed texts (Zawiszewska 155), thus creating her own echoes.

In the preface to Zrodlo, she introduces Hall as an author of a "notoriously and provocatively lesbian novel" (ZS vi), yet asserts that it is not pornographic, but on the contrary, "full of love poetry" (ZS vi) and "profoundly reverential about religion" (ZS x). However, she treats Hall's literary talent with reserve: "Radclyffe Hall is not a great writer. Yet, she is courageous and conscientious, loyal and honest" (ZS ix).

It is interesting that for Krzywicka inversion emerges as an amalgam of identities, close to Halberstam's "tangle of cross-gender identification and sexual preference." On the one hand, she describes Stephen as "a type of modern girl," "a new woman," "with little breasts and the good brains" (ZS vi), on the other hand, she calls the protagonist "a boy, an unhappy boy" (ZS vii). Furthermore, from the very first words, Krzywicka restores the word "inversion," completely lost in the Polish translation:

Sexual inversion? I do not want to translate this word as "perversion." Perversion suggests pathology. Yet, it is rather a shift, a reversal of instinct. This reversed instinct could be completely normal at its core. Nobody will call a left-handed a pervert. Therefore, in accordance with the rules of contemporary knowledge, it is high time people stopped to consider these... sexual "lefties" to be degenerates, and understood how many fine full people are among them. (ZS v)

In her preface, Krzywicka uses several strategies to oppose the prejudices faced by LGBTQ people. She refers to the scientific authorities ("contemporary knowledge"), juxtaposes "inversion" with more familiar left-handedness ("sexual lefties"). Moreover, she questions the social norms, when she underlines that the ideal woman of the 1930s would have been considered "a freak and born spinster" (ZS vi) in the past. Krzywicka challenges also the conventional notions about lesbian/transgender women: "good writers are few, yet lesbians are numerous" (ZS vii), "this two women couple is a common marriage" (ZS ix) and speaks up for common "inverts": "What could a woman do, if she resembles Stephen, but could not tell the people to their face a well-known name?" (ZS vii).

It is also worth noting that rhetorically Krzywicka starts with the mistranslation of the word "inversion" as "perversion," then experiments with neologisms such as "sexual lefties" and "majoritians" ("wiekszosciowcy"), and towards the end of her text repeats the words "normal," "human being(s)," and "love." She concludes the preface calling for the change of attitudes towards "people like Stephen" (ZS xi), and in a moving manifesto opposes the censorship of the novel:
Love, true love, is the most demanding test of morality on the heart.
Where there is no love, there are boredom, abomination, and
dissolution, yet where there is love all becomes pure and bright. This
novel, confiscated in England as "immoral" in the common meaning of
this word, propagates the sanctity of feeling and all noble impulses of
the human heart. (ZS xi)

The implications of Krzywicka's preface for LGBTQ culture in Poland are enormous. When in May 1933 the text was published as a feature in "Wiadomosci Literackie," both Hall's novel and lesbianism literally made the headlines.

The feature provoked a debate within the "Wiadomosci Literackie" and some brutal attacks from the conservative press. A case in point is the article by Adolf Nowaczynski, a radical right-wing journalist and writer, entitled "Safona z Y.P.S.U.," which appeared in "Mysl Narodowa" [National Thought] in June 1933. He used the polemics to promote anti-Semitic and homophobic views; thus he attacked the echo of Hall's religious views and Krzywicka's Jewish identity:
Not for this purpose, in hospitable and tolerant Poland hundreds and
thousands of Goldbergs [Krzywicka's maiden name] were rescued from the
foul smelling abyss of Ghetto, taught not to use the Yiddish jargon,
taught to use the Polish language, that colleague Krzywicka might
write in Polish similar cochonneries and...her godless, trivial and
anti-Catholic shmontzes. (Nowaczynski 399)

Two months later, "Wiadomosci Literackie" published the review of Zrodlo, written by Wanda Melcer, a writer and journalist. Her reaction to Hall's novel reminds us of that of Leonard Woolf 's mother (10): she was moved by the story of Stephen's horse and awkwardly admired Krzywicka's skill in writing about "these matters." Yet, homosexuality is for Melcer perversion, and she mentions in her text "the hospitals for stuffy that it is difficult even for nurses" (3). In September 1933, Boleslaw Dudzinski, a literary critic and activist, formulated the most positive response to the novel, published in the papers of the Polish Socialist Party, Cracow "Naprzod" [Forward] and Lviv "Dziennik Ludowy" [People's Daily]:
Describing courageously and with gravity, the matters, which are not
trifles, yet are usually kept under the hat, Miss Hull [sic!] with
fiery faith and almost religious (Yes!) passion defends the right to
existence and happiness of creatures similar to Stephen. She
understands well their personal tragedies and is aware that "the
intellect and courage often go together" with what the majority see as
"physical perversion". (4)

The role of Dudzinski's review cannot be overestimated, since the socialist press was read by the intelligentsia and social leaders, who may have educated the working class communities and fostered tolerance.


"Every burned book or house enlightens the world; every suppressed or expunged word reverberates through the earth from side to side," says Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay "Compensation" (299). This dream of global solidarity has come true for Hall's The Well of Loneliness, one of "these rare instances of survival" cherished by Woolf in A Room of One's Own. Woolf repeatedly stressed in her diary and correspondence that while the act of writing was vital for her existence as an individual, readers were essential for her survival as an artist (Snaith 42).

In the context of the dramatic trajectory of Hall's, Woolf's, and Krzywicka's (11) lives, the concept of surviving in writing overlaps with existential survival. These three women writers have embodied Woolf's ideal, described by Jane de Gay as "the custodians of literary culture," who manifest their "power to foster survival and renewal" (93). Modernism cherished this unique ability, enhancing the networks of solidarity and hospitality. As numerous scholars, inspired by Marcus's groundbreaking research in all four corners of the world, assure us, these are also key values in academia. (12) In one of her last published works, the critic warns us that "the whole weight of the war culture is working against us. So the bonds of scholars working together as 'communal modernists' studying 'communal modernisms' are fragile and we must work to keep them alive" (Marcus "Afterword," 179).

A possibility for strengthening these bonds is a "trans critical optic," recently proposed by Jessica Berman during a Comparative Modernisms Seminar held at the University of London in June 2017. Thus, the perspective adopted in this article and inspired by Marcus's transgressive insights, "serves to decenter the 'national tradition' as an object of inquiry, exploring texts in relation to other, comparative and transnational horizons of expectations" (Berman "Trans Reading"). In Poland, transnational works such as The Well and A Room of One's Own remind us that while the Solidarity movement has brought us freedom, the Polish word "goscinnosc" (hospitality), or rather as Pawel Leszkowicz and Tomek Kitlinski propose "gosc-innosc" (hospit-alterity), still asks us to embrace otherness (279).

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(1) I use the following abbreviations for works frequently cited: The Well, WL for Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness and Zrodlo, ZS for its Polish translation, Zrodlo samotnosci.

(2) A case in point is Marcus's search for the lost legacy of African, West Indian, and South Asian public intellectuals in her book Hearts of Darkness: White Women Write Race (2003).

(3) See Tschacksch, Nadine. "Sexual Identities and Patriotism in Wartime Britain: Literary No-Man's Land." English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920 vol. 60, no. 4, 2017, pp. 449-70.

(4) See Roche, Hannah. "An 'ordinary Novel': Genre Trouble in Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness." Textual Practice, 2016, pp. 1-17, Accessed 8 November 2017.

(5) See Costello, Katherine A. 2017. "A No-Man's-Land of Sex: Reading Stephen Gordon and 'Her' Critics." Journal of Lesbian Studies, 2017, pp. 1-20, http://dx.doi.Org/10.1080/10894160.2017.1342457. Accessed 8 November 2017.

(6) The first attempts were studies by Gillian Whitlock (1987), Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar (1989).

(7) Although Detloff notes in the essay cited that The Well is a text "of transgender/ FtM subjectivity" (89).

(8) All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.

(9) Regrettably, Beylin's interwar years in the "Roj" are not documented. Her private archive was preserved by Marek Beylin, the son of her nephew, and then handed down to Joanna Olczak-Ronikier, who was working on her book In the Garden of Memory: A Family Memoir about the Horowitz family--among them Regina Beylin, Karolina's sister, whose premature death ended her career as a follower of Wanda Landowska, a Polish-French harpsichordist and member of Natalie Clifford-Barney's lesbian circle, portrayed as Wanda in The Well. As Marek Beylin informs me, Karolina's interwar papers have not survived. Yet, he recalls that she belonged to the progressive intelligentsia in the spirit of Boy-Zelenski and the "Wiadomosci Literackie" (conversation with Marek Beylin). Beylin, a Polish Jewish woman, could have easily perished in the Holocaust: "Karola was caught, arrested and imprisoned for a few months. Miraculously she escaped on the first day of the ghetto liquidation, when everyone was transported to the gas chambers" (Olczak-Ronikier 303, transl. A. Lloyd-Jones). Later Beylin was rescued by the Wolk Family, awarded the title Righteous among the Nations (Rytlowa). After the war, she belonged to the literary world--the famous writers Maria Dabrowska and Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz wrote about her in their memoirs. Interestingly, Dabrowska also praised Beylin's novel Mieszkamy na Pulawskiej [Living at Pulawska Street]--though she was not aware of her authorship, as it was published under a nom de plume. In her lifetime, Beylin used at least nine pen-names and thirty journalist pseudonyms. Why was she so secretive? Juliusz Gomulicki suggests that Beylin was ashamed of certain interwar publications, produced to eke out a meager existence (1985 10). In a recollection "The Woman-Institution," Alicja Wielgolawska wrote, "It was hard to know her.... Her life was her own and she felt completely fulfilled. And yet, she was always detached" (20).

(10) Cf. In a letter to Vanessa Bell, Woolf parodied Marie Woolf's long monologue on The Well: "I am seventy-six--but until I read this book I did not know that such things went on at all. I do not think they do. I have never heard of such things...But I think much of Miss Radclyffe Hall's book is very beautiful. There is the old horse--that is wonderful--when she has to shoot the old horse...All that about the old horse and the old groom is very beautiful. But the rest of the book I did not care for'' (L 525-26).

(11) During the Second World War Krzywicka witnessed the deaths of her son Piotr, Boy-Zelenski executed by the Nazis, and her husband Jerzy Krzywicki, murdered by the Soviets (Krzywicka passim).

(12) Cf. among others the tributes to Jane Marcus published in Virginia Woolf Miscellany (Spring/Summer 2015).

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Title Annotation:Virginia Woolf and Irena Krzywicka
Author:Pajak, Paulina
Publication:Woolf Studies Annual
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EXPO
Date:Jan 1, 2018
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