Northern Illinois University Press


The Heathen

Narcyza  Zmichowska

Ursula  Phillips

Narcyza Zmichowska (1819–76) was the most accomplished female writer to come out of Poland in the mid-nineteenth century. In terms of influence and popularity, she was the George Eliot of East European letters, but her fiction was written less in the realist style than in the romantic one. Her novel The Heathen, rendered here in a crystalline English translation by Ursula Phillips, is the tale of a doomed love affair between Benjamin, a young man from a poor but patriotic rural family, and Aspasia, a femme fatale who is older, beautiful, worldlier, and more sexually liberated.

As the story unfolds, Benjamin falls in love with Aspasia, accompanies her to Warsaw, and under her influence achieves incredible intellectual and professional heights—until she tires of him and takes another lover. Jealous, Benjamin murders Aspasia’s new paramour and flees to his mother in the countryside—where he realizes the full extent of what he has lost and betrayed. Hence the fundamental tension in this work, represented by the two women who compete for Benjamin’s affection: the mother, who represents self-abnegation and redemption from sin, and Aspasia, who represents self-indulgence and sin itself. In the end, The Heathen embodies a profound meditation on the limits of these stereotypes: the novel not only explores the restrictions they placed on women during the nineteenth century, but on human happiness, and Poland’s then tenuous impulse toward modernity.

ISBN 978-0-87580-684-6
$18.95t, Nov 2012, Paper
5.5x8.5, 264 pages

Narcyza Zmichowska is also the author of Book of Memories, White Rose, and Is This a Novel? Ursula Phillips is a translator of both literary and academic works and a writer on Polish literature. Her most recent translation, the novel Malvina, or the Heart’s Intuition, by Maria Wirtemberska, is also published by Northern Illinois University Press.

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-684-6
Paper $18.95