The Comédienne (Komendiantka) was written by Wladyslav Reymont in 1896. He drew on his own personal experience to show the drama and tragedy of actors in struggling provincial theatres. His writing about life in Warsaw and theatres is rich in cultural references which needed no explanation then but might be missed by the English language reader of today. We have included an introduction by Marianna Rychlowska which provides some context to the time and subject of this novel.
Reymont's family in 1885 expected him to be a tailor. He had had a poor education and as soon as he received his journeyman tailor qualifications, he disappointed them. He ran away and joined a travelling theatre. Later, in summer, he returned to Warsaw for the garden theatres. Afterwards, and before he realised his calling as a writer, he worked as a railway gatekeeper, a medium for a spiritualist in Paris and London and returned once more to the theatre.
In this book Reymont paints a drama of a rebellious provincial girl, Janina, the comédienne of the title, who joins a Warsaw theatre company. In translation the title loses a little of its meaning. It was a term used to distinguish provincial actresses from their more esteemed counterparts at the State Theatre in Warsaw. 'Comédienne' did not mean a player of comedy as in the present sense, as comédiennes played all roles including drama and tragedy. The word in Polish also connotes a deceiver. A Pole of the time might have referred to a temptress as a comédienne. The title in Reymont's day would not have implied the lighter novel that we might unwittingly expect today.

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