On the Niemen (2014)

Polish title: Nad Niemnem (1888)
By: Eliza Orzeszkowa
Translated by: Michelle Granas
Published by: Michelle Granas
Originally published by: ridero.eu

Unhappy after being abandoned by her fiancé, Justyna, an impoverished young woman who lives in a manor house belonging to relatives, desires a life of greater usefulness. While being pursued by a wealthy aristocrat and by her former love – now married – she meets Jan, a man of lower social standing, who introduces her to a different world: one of closeness to nature, manual labor, and communal enjoyments. To leave the manor for a farmstead would be a very peculiar proceeding, however, and furthermore, the farming community is feuding with Justyna’s uncle.

Set in the 1880s among the Polish population in a part of what was once the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the story involves the consequences of the January Uprising, twenty years before, against Russian rule. The characters are drawn from a cross section of society and the novel’s topics include love, social justice, egotism and materialism, the psychological effects of war, the emancipation of women, marriage as partnership, drug addiction, dignity, obligations to one’s fellow humans, what it means to be civilized – and joy.

Eliza Orzeszkowa (1841–1910) was born to a noble Pawłowski family in Milkowszczyzna, and died in nearby Grodno (now in Belarus). Aged sixteen, she married Piotr Orzeszko, a Polish nobleman twice her age, who was exiled to Siberia after the January Uprising of 1863. They were legally separated in 1869. She married again in 1894, after a 30-year-long relationship with Stanisław Nahorski.

Orzeszkowa wrote a series of novels, dramas and novellas, dealing with the social conditions of partitioned and occupied Poland.