I’ve encountered Sienkiewicz before: as the author of “Quo Vadis”, which became a Hollywood movie in my childhood, and as a statue in the parkland I walk though on the way to the Chopin summer concerts in Łazienki. Now, at the Museum of Polish Independence, there is an exhibition devoted to him, all in Polish fittingly, although for me unfortunately.
He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1905 for his “outstanding merits as an epic writer.” The citation is fulsome in praise of his ability to describe battles without writing set pieces, and to portray individual characters in all their complexity. In his acceptance speech he says this honor was of particular value to a son of Poland, partitioned and shrunken: “She was pronounced dead — yet here is proof that she lives on…. She was pronounced defeated — and here is proof that she is victorious.”
A display case is devoted to the Nobel prize; and others to stills from “Quo Vadis” and illustrations of his books. But my greatest pleasure comes from mannequins dressed in the costumes of a number of his characters, with all the glorious detail of clothing of the past.
I like the way my knowledge of Warsaw expands unexpectedly. I did not expect to see the statue of Adam Mickiewiecz, Polish national poet, and a familiar inhabitant of Krakowskie Przedmieście, being raised, but here it is. Sienkiewicz was one of the people who promoted the idea of such a monument.