Saturday, 11 May 2013

The last attempts to rescue Poland

Renata Czarnecka

Pod sztandarem miłości. Rok 1794
 (Under the Banner of Love - 1794) 

 Published by ŚWIAT KSIĄŻKI
Warsaw 2012

Everyone, who knows Polish history very well, realizes that the Republic of Poland was occupied even before its second partition. This military-occupation of foreign powers and the rule of Targowica became extremely difficult for the country, and therefore the population very quickly began to manifest their dissatisfaction and rebel against that situation, trying conspiracies against the occupier. The second partition of Poland was probably the bloodiest event of all three partitions.

What brought that memorable year 1794? Well, in March, the national uprising against Russia and Prussia broke out. The revolt was commanded by General Thaddeus Kosciusko. However, the king Stanislaw August Poniatowski did not support the struggle of the people, in order to get out from under the yoke of the occupier. In return, on March 19 the monarch sent a letter to prince Josef Poniatowski, which considered his scared duty “to keep the Russians”. That was not all. When he learned about the nature of the activities of Thaddeus Kosciusko, he immediately recognized him as a rebel, whom he, as an ally of Russia, must combat all forces. In response, on April 2, the king placed his signature on the document against the uprising, which was prepared by the Department of Justice of the Permanent Council. In that document Stanislaw August Poniatowski strongly condemned the French Revolution, while his people were calling to abandon and strongly warning against the belief in the help of France.

As a result of hostilities between the army and the people of Warsaw and the Russian garrison occupation on 17-18 April 1794 was captured Russian Embassy and seized the documents, which were irrefutable evidence of treason. They certified that people, who were the nearest setting of the king, took salary from Tsarina Catherine II. From that moment the king became a hostage of insurgents and locked himself in the castle.

However, those fights were just the beginning. The bloodiest ones took place at the time when the troops, led by Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov, enetred Warsaw. The memorable onslaught of Prague reflected echoes among the people of Warsaw for a long time.

This is the historical background of the events which take place in the novel of Renata Czarnecka entitled “Pod sztandarem miłości. Rok 1794” (Under the Banner of Love – 1794). The novel is the second part of the story told in the book: “Pożegnanie z ojczyzną. Rok 1793” (Farewell to Homeland - 1793). The reader enters the salons along with former Warsaw aristocracy again. Once again we are invited to the palace of the Radzivill and Czartoryski families. We also meet the representatives of the Potocki and Lubomirski families. However, just as in the previous part of this story, here on the foreground also the Duchess, Helena Radzivill, extends. She is heard as the loudest woman. Her voice is re-echoed in the palace walls, and the heels of her shoes clatter on the marble floors. She is so real that we can even smell her perfume and hear the rustle of her elegant dresses.

Despite the riots in the streets of Warsaw and the danger of loss of life, which may reach to the end, the Radzivills still remain faithful to Catherine II. Helena still trembles so that none of her family gives a bad word at her warmest friend that in her opinion is the Empress. But is that friendship as strong from the Empress? Probably not, because since after the cancellation of Ambassador Jacob Johann Sievers from Warsaw, Regina of Vilnius has done everything what is possible to sneak in favor of his successor and thus regain the trust of Catherine II. She is still thinking about the preferred edition for the husband of her daughter, Christine, and she knows that only the Empress is able to help her. Of course, as in real life, not everything is going her way. She has a large family and consequently there is a risk that not all of its members will share her opinion. As in the previous part of this story, so here the aristocracy is trying to live a normal life, though they also think about issues which are very important for their country. For obvious reasons the Radzivills are sympathetic with the Russians and they mainly invite them to their palace.

Besides Helena Radzivill, the reader also meet another woman, who is equally strong as the Duchess. Her name is the Countess Maria Naryshkin (Czatwertynska). She is not only the nearest friend of Helena Radzivill but also a wife of a Russian. This last fact makes her still trembles for her safety. Maria is also a very beautiful woman, so it is not surprising that she falls into the eye of a Russian officer, who is by no means her husband. Will this love for the married woman in the end meet? Or can bloody unrest in the country make it remains only a dream?

Renata Czarnecka again made ​​something extraordinary. Well, she created a difficult novel in terms of historical background, but on the other hand it is so addictive that it is impossible to break away from it. Confusing political issues intertwined here with everyday life of the heroes. A reader is well aware what a character feels and what he or she intends to do. Not only Helena Radzivill gives the impression of a woman of flesh and blood. This happens in the case of each character we meet in the pages of the book. When the author writes that behind the window of the Radzivills’ palace the thunderstorm has been unleashed, in fact it is. The reader also hears the sound of thunder, the big drops of rain hitting the window frames and quick steps of one of the Duchy’s sons, who has just pulled up in front of the palace in a carriage. On the other hand, when you wander the streets of Warsaw, almost with your own eyes, you can see the crowds of townspeople who are eager for the blood of the traitors.

In front of our eyes the gallows are growing and we can feel the fear of those who are led to execution. Together with Maria Naryshkin and Helena Radzivill the reader can hear the roar of cannon and the clash of arms. We see the bloody people and we catch the ear of their moans, when death is near. The author uses a kind of simple words, but they are chosen in such a way that at some point, the reader loses all sense of reality.

In this book there are also some scenes of humor, while the overall theme of the novel is serious. This fact undoubtedly varies the plot of the novel. Thus, the readers will find in this book everything that should have a well-constructed novel, which perfectly created characters, feelings of self-preservation tearing them, love, friendship, betrayal, and linguistic situation, and because it is a historical novel, not lacking in it images from Polish history painted with wards perfectly. The author took care of the smallest detail, of course, in so far as permitted by the volume of the book. The additional advantage are well-constructed dialogues.

Needless to say that I am very impressed with this novel, like Renata Czarnecka's other books I have read. However, in this case there is even difficult historical background that the author coped fantastically. Just this fact suggests that I decided to raise scores of this novel, because I realize how much work it costs to write such a book. I fear, however, that the word "revelation" is not enough to express this novel phenomenon. In this context, "outstanding" fits much more. 

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