Onesuch Press

Franziska Krasinska was born into the Polish Slachta (aristocracy) in 1743 or possibly 1742, daughter of Stanislaw Krasinski, the land owner of Maleszowo and Wegrow and Staroste of Nowomiejsk. Her mother was Aniela Humiecka, daughter of Stefan Humiecki the Wovoide of Podole.
After finishing her education her introduction into society was deftly managed by her aunt Zofia, the powerful wife of Antoni Lubomirski the Wovoide of Lublin. She introduced Franziska to the best salons in Warsaw and before long Franciszka, beautiful and charming, reportedly inflamed no small passions among the Polish nobility. She was courted by Jan Chodkiewicz, later the Staroste of Zmudzki; and Jozef Radziwil the Magnate of Klecko. But Prince Charles Christian Joseph of Saxony met Franciszka in 1757 and within three years they were secretly married. Because Franziska did not belong to a ruling dynasty or immediate noble family, the marriage was morganatic.
Prince Charles' father, King Augustus III appointed him Duke of Courland in 1758 and invested him with the Duchy the following year. The aristocracy of the Duchy of Courland mistrusted Prince Charles--they feared a Roman Catholic Duke might favour a Polish-Roman Catholic State. They tried to negotiate limits to Prince Charle's power and many refused to pay homage to the duke's appointment, instead lodged protests in Warsaw and St. Petersburg. For reasons of political sensitivities Prince Charles marriage to Franziska Krasinska was kept secret. Poland's unique political system ensured that power lay not with the elected Saxon King, but with the electing nobles, the King being dependant on their continuing support. The potential for nobles to shift allegiances kept social relationships in a continual political tension.
After her father's death in 1762 Franciszka, under the protection of the Lubomirski family, fought for her rights with the support of the powerful Czartoryski family. There was a flicker of hope after the death of August III, when candidates for the Polish throne were submitted by the Saxons, and Prince Charles was among them. The election of Stanislaw August Poniatowski doused these hopes.
Charles neither obtained the Polish crown nor prevailed in the face of changing fortunes in Russia. The Duchy of Courland was taken from him. In 1763 he was himself dethroned and replaced by his predecessor on the order of Empress Katharina of Russia.
In James Boswell's words "Prince Charles of Saxony, Duke of Courland, of which last dignity the Russian tyrant has deprived him." Boswell was introduced to Prince Charles whom he described as "a charming prince, perfectly gay and affable", at the Palace of Princess Wilhelmine of Anhalt-Dessau, "who gave there this day a splendid entertainment" to the deposed Duke of Courland. At the ball that same evening, "The Duke of Courland danced the best of any man I ever saw." After losing Courland he settled in Dresden for good and dedicated himself to the hunt in Annaburger Heath
Franciszka, separated from Prince Charles, was in straitened circumstances, existing on the meagre funds coming from her inherited Wegrow estate. Receiving little support from her husband, she travelled from place to place. Often she resided in Opole, in the Lublin area with her aunt, Zofia Lubomirska, or with the Sisters of the Holy Sacrament in Warsaw.
In 1767 she stayed in Krakow with the Franciscan Sisters, from there she moved to the Mniszchowski Palace where she organized an open court. At that time Jozef Aleksander Jablonowski, the Wovoide of Nowogrod, was vying for her favours and tried to persuade her to divorce her ungrateful husband.
In 1768 the Bar Confederation was formed by Polish nobles in order to defend the independence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth against Russian influence, King Stanisław August Poniatowski and reformers who were attempting to limit the power of the Commonwealth's magnates.
The connection between the Krasinksi family, the Confederation and the Saxon court gave Franciszka political opportunities and the princess worked to extend the Confederation in Krakow. In the summer of 1769 she moved with Antoni Lubomirski, first to Opole in Silesia, then to Lubliniec where she intensified her activity in the political circle that surrounded the Bishop of Kamieniec.
Her gentleness and nobility made her a guiding light of the confederation and one of the most sympathetic and active women of the movement. She assisted in organizing the Generalnosc (General Staff), sending messengers to Rome and Vienna, maintaining relations with the Prussians, and was an intermediary in border disputes among the confederates. Her own interests were closely aligned with Saxon policies. In 1771, after the departure of the French General Dumouriez she collaborated with Adam Krasinski in planning to bring Prince Charles to Poland as commander of the scattered confederation forces.
As an intermediary she tried to assuage the disputes and antagonisms between the confederation commanders. Josef Bierzynski sought her help after the Generalnosc passed verdict on him; then Szymon Kossakowski went to her for assistance after he was accused of defrauding the confederation of money. She was especially protective of Casimir Pulaski--future hero of the American Revolution and Father of the American Cavalry. He had been in love with her when he was the young Staroste of Warka.
Using these activities as a pretext, Stanislaw August Poniatowski, King of Poland accused Franciszka Krasinska of "moral participation" in the kidnapping plot against him in 1771 and supporting his dethronement. These were unfair accusation because Franciszka condemned the "act of interregnum" and believed a conflict was dependent upon a good relationship with the king.
She dreamed of regaining Courland. She busied herself in trying to recover her husband's inheritance there which had been assumed by the Kettler family. In February 1772 she moved to Koszecin in the misguided belief that diplomacy had the power to make Frederick II, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel a candidate for the Polish throne. By July all confederate resistance had failed and with them Francoise's hopes and dreams. The Bar Confederation proved to be a trigger for the first partition of Poland. The country was carved up between Prussia, Austria and Russia--Poland was no more.
At the end of 1774 she went to Bytom to attempt reconciliation with her husband. Disappointed, she returned to Opole and her beloved sister Barbara Swidzinska. Finally, after intervention by Austrian Empress Maria Theresa and the efforts of Zofia Lubomirska, Prince Charles agreed to have his wife to live with him. In June 1775 he came to Opole incognito and spent several pleasant weeks there. Afterward, Princess Franciszka, sumptuously equipped by her aunt, travelled in the company of Antoni Lubomirski to join her husband in Saxony by New Year's Day. She settled with him at the castle in Elsterwerd.
The life she led there was often unhappy; she had to endure frequent solitude, constant material worries and humiliation of courts which denied her inheritance. After giving official recognition to the marriage in 1776 the Polish Sejm granted her life-long financial support as a Polish princess. With the help of Maria Theresa she bought the Lanckorona estates, but nevertheless had always material difficulties. She died in Saxony in her castle in April 1796.

At the time that Reymont wrote The Comedienne, Warsaw was experiencing tumultuous growth; emancipated peasants, ruined gentry and Jews from across Poland and Russia abandoned the countryside. The masses sought work in the cities and in their free hours, inexpensive diversions. On warm summer evenings crowds flooded the streets and frequented a new entertainment, the so-called garden theatres in the courtyards of restaurants and cafes.
There were about thirty such theatres in Warsaw. They initially catered to artisans and their families but soon to a more upscale audience as well. Seating reflected class divisions, with wealthier patrons in armchairs and the poorer clientele standing behind wooden barriers.
The State Theatre, in response to the growing popularity of garden theatres poached the more gifted actors. Plays which premiered in the State Theatre were revived in the garden theatres and sometimes a popular garden theatre hit made to the State Theatre. All the while the press decried the immorality of garden theatres and its stars, like those of today, became objects of public fascination.
Impresarios and entrepreneurs who ran the theatre companies were motivated by profit and maintained overworked, underpaid troupes. The actresses were often chosen more for their physical appeal than talent and were expected to entertain wealthy merchants after the show.

This excerpt is from the introduction to The Comedienne. Writing in 1875 one of Poland's Nobel Laureates, Henry Sienkiewicz, reported on Polish garden theatres thus;

These theatres are peculiarly enticing and seductive to our public. How much freedom there is in all this and how colourful! Theatre and bazaar, dreams and cigarettes, scenic enchantment and starry night overhead-what contradictory elements. In the chairs, patrons with hats pushed to the back of their heads; behind the barrier, the public, artless, impetuous, fascinated, constantly calling: "Louder! Louder!" at interesting moments not stirring from their places even in a downpour, prone to applause and impatient. Finally, what a mixture! Young gentlemen who have come expressly for the radiant eyes of Miss Czesia (a contemporary heartthrob). They converse of course in French, while Prince Lolo, unrivalled in the realm of chic, wipes his opera glasses, and the "divine" Comte Joujou grasps one leg and crosses it over the other, thereby permitting the rabble to marvel at his genuine fil d'Ecosse stockings; then several gentry of the bronze faced and serene glance "my-dear-sir" each other about the price of wool instead of the play, crops instead of actors. Further, a group of counting-house clerks in collars which can only be seen in the Journal Amusant converse softly, and only occasionally can one overhear in the 'national language' the phrases; "zewu zasiur, Michasz" or "antrnusuadi, Staszu!"1 Behind the barrier one hears the dialect of Franciszkaner Gasse.2 There too ladies of the demi-monde swish their dresses, and chattering, dart flashing looks from darkly painted eyes. Elsewhere several artisans argue with a Jew about a spot near a pillar; overhead the leaves of trees rustle, from the snack bar threatening exhortations; in a word: a mixture of voices, languages, social classes, manners, moods, a veritable Tower of Babel of people linked only by the hope of relaxation, freedom and entertainment.
1A parody of polonized French:"Je vouse assure," "Entre nous soit dit." ("I assure you, Michael", "Between you and me, Stan")
2Germanizing or yiddishizing the name "Franciszkanska" a main street in the Jewish quarter, to drive home the point