The Doll

The Doll

Book - 2011
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Bołeslaw Prus is often compared to Chekhov, and Prus's masterpiece might be described as an intimate epic, a beautifully detailed, utterly absorbing exploration of life in late-nineteenth-century Warsaw, which is also a prophetic reckoning with some of the social forces--imperialism, nationalism, anti-Semitism among them--that would soon convulse Europe as never before. But The Doll is above all a brilliant novel of character, dramatizing conflicting ideas through the various convictions, ambitions, confusions, and frustrations of an extensive and varied cast. At the center of the book are three men from three different generations. Prus's fatally flawed hero is Wokulski, a successful businessman who yearns for recognition from Poland's decadent aristocracy and falls desperately in love with the highborn, glacially beautiful Izabela. Wokulski's story is intertwined with those of the incorrigibly romantic old clerk Rzecki, nostalgic for the revolutions of 1848, and of the bright young scientist Ochocki, who dreams of a future full of flying machines and other marvels, making for a book of great scope and richness that is, as Stanisław Barańczak writes in his introduction, at once "an old-fashioned yet still fascinating love story . . . , a still topical diagnosis of society's ills, and a forceful yet subtle portrayal of a tragically doomed man ."

Publisher: New York : New York Review Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781590173831
Branch Call Number: F PRU
Additional Contributors: Welsh, David J.


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Mar 11, 2016

The Doll takes place over an eighteen-month period during 1878-9 and looks at Polish society, with most of the focus on the growing conflict between the upper classes and the emerging tradesmen. Two ideologies are contrasted in the novel—the older Romantic ideal and the newer Positivist outlook. From the New York Review Books’ page:

"Prus’s work centers around the stories of three men from three different generations: Wokulski, the fatally flawed and hopelessly love-struck hero; Rzecki, the methodical and romantic old clerk; and Ochocki, a bright young scientist who hopes for universal progress in the midst of a darkening political climate. As the stories of the three men intertwine, Prus’s novel spins a web of encounters with an embattled aristocracy, the new men of finance, and the urban poor. Written with a quasi-prophetic sensibility, The Doll looks ahead to the social forces of imperialism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism that would soon hound the entire continent."

I think the last statement might be a little strong, but they did qualify it with “quasi”—Prus makes it clear that there are no easy solutions to the many problems raised in the novel. Furthermore, he recognizes that advancements, economic or social, come at a cost. As I noted in my first post, the book has its flaws, especially when Prus is a bit heavy-handed on his message, but I still highly recommend it.

(For anyone interested in reading this novel, I have a character list available on my website.)

Aug 16, 2011

This book requires some patience in the early going, but is quite engaging once the meat of the story has been reached. Within is a fascinating visit to Nineteenth Century Warsaw, Poland. The central character, Wokulski is admirable, but sometimes infuriatingly naive or optimistic. The thing that kept my interest was wondering if Wolkulski would ever come to his senses and regain his equilibrium.


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