Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Is Sienkiewicz Relevant in the 21st Century?

Whenever one contemplates a lengthy project, one has to ask about its relevancy. And so, the question arises: Is Sienkiewicz relevant in the 21st Century?

We now see before us a European Union, the absence of conflicts between nations in Europe, and freedom of nations to live without the military domination of an outside force--circumstances perhaps dreamed of in Sienkiewicz's time, but certainly very far from any reality.

Sienkiewicz was certainly a product of his time. Much of his passion can be directly related to the environment he grew up in, and his work reflects that passion. But what of us who live under vastly different conditions? Can we appreciate and find value in Sienkiewicz's work?

I believe so.

Firstly, on a basic level, Sienkiewicz was a great storyteller, and so his literary output can be read for the simple, but no less significant, pleasure of a splendid read.

Secondly, Sienkiewicz was a talented Romanticist, and his best works enthrall one with poetry, passion and a sense of life as being bigger and grander than we usually think of it. There are many passages in Sienkiewicz's books which nearly stun the reader with their Romantic beauty and power.

Thirdly, he was an honest writer, demanding the truth in the historical fiction he wrote and truth in the contemporary novels he wrote about the human condition. Readers will get as accurate a reflection of life in historical times as it was possible for Sienkiewicz to research, and they will certainly get an accurate reflection of what life and thought was like in Sienkiewicz's time in novels of contemporary life in Poland.

So, yes, we can find value in Sienkiewicz's work, and even get spiritual nourishment from it, that nourishment that comes with any great work of art.

If there is one problematic strain in Sienkiewicz's work for today's reader, it is the author's deep patriotism that seems at odds with our modern sensibility. And, of course, considering the conditions that Sienkiewicz lived under, in which Poland did not even exist and the Polish people were under the domination of foreign elements, the different tone of his patriotism and ours is completely understandable. What should be kept in mind for those to whom patriotism may be a bad mindset is that Sienkiewicz was never a jingoistic nationalist who wished that Poland would dominate other nations. He merely wanted Poland to exist and the Polish people to be free.

There is another strain in Sienkiewicz's work that may bother certain contemporary readers: his Catholicism. But, here again, Sienkiewicz was merely being honest with the historical and contemporary times he was writing about. Yes, he was a Christian, but he was an intelligent Christian, non-dogmatic and burdened as all thinking Christians are by doubt and bouts of lack of faith.

In summation, Sienkiewicz was a great writer, and much of his writing is extraordinary and astonishing and transformational. He was a titan and remains a titan--yes, even in this 21st Century.

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