The Doll by Boleslaw Prus

If you’re looking for a good novel, why don’t you try Boleslaw Prus’ The Doll (1890). This second of four major novels by Prus is one of Poland’s most celebrated works. It has been translated into 28 languages and has been adapted as a television miniseries and film.

In The Doll, Prus focuses on the romantic relationship of a self-destructive, ambitious and insecure man. The plot is about Stanislaw Wokulski, a young candlemaker who, with the help of his friend, Ignacy Rzecki, falls in love with Izabela Lecka, a superficial and bankrupt aristocrat. As a result, the novel examines the effects of the inertia of Polish society.

The story takes place in the second half of the nineteenth century, and it describes the third generation of the Lecki family. Wokulski is the son of an aristocratic, insecure father. He is a talented writer, but he doesn’t have the right attitude to his family. He wants a wife, and his infatuation with Izabela inevitably leads him down a path of despair.

Prus’ novel presents a contrast between the aristocratic world of Warsaw and the backwardness of the lower classes. It also shows how inertia and chaos are affecting the individual and the national mood of Poland.

The novel is set in the late 19th century and is divided into 18 months. The plot revolves around Wokulski’s infatuation with Izabela Lecka, who is the daughter of the bankrupt aristocrat Tomasz Lecki. At first, Wokulski is interested in her because of her physical beauty. But as she gets older, she begins to lose her marketability.

Prus writes with a sense of place, and in particular, a deep interest in the Polish city of Warsaw. In the scenes that involve the river, he uses language that personifies rubbish.

Wokulski’s memory of Siberia returns in various situations, especially when they are particularly moving. His thoughts of the backwardness of Polish society and the inertia of his own life are echoed in the description of the river. Seeing people on the side of the hill, drunkards dozing in the sun, and the leprous woman with no nose are all examples of how Wokulski perceives the squalor of his native land.

As a result, Wokulski begins to see the value in science, as he helps a German scholar to name a new mineral. The novel, however, ends with his return to Warsaw, after spending seven years in Siberia.

While some exiles regard Wokulski as a thief, he does not feel any enmity towards Russians. Besides, he does not believe that a person must be a member of an aristocratic class in order to become successful. Rather, he believes that a person’s natural aptitude and enthusiasm can be the key to success.

Wokulski is seen as an intruder in the aristocratic world. In the end, his downfall highlights the overarching theme of inertia in Polish society.

Unlike other 19th century Polish novels, this novel reflects the best of both French and British mastery. It is a well-crafted story with a wide scope and a richly drawn, character-driven narrative.


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