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The Warsaw Voice, 8 August 1989

Flinging Truth in Their Faces

Irena Krzywicka became something of a legend at a very early date, almost on a threshold of her litearty career. She was a journalist on the staff of Wiadomości Literackie, the most authoritative literary work in pre-war Poland, a popular crime reporter, theatre critic, , translator and one of the patrons of Ziemiańska café, the hub of Warsaw literary life and gossip; but above all she was a woman's lib campaigner, energetically championing the cause of liberated womanhood and an uncompromising openess regarding matters of sex.

After three young women in her neighbourhodd had died after illegal abortions she decided to bring the matter to light. Together with Boy-Żeleński, her companion and one-man institution in pre-war literature, she launched a fervent campaign for sex education, legalization of abortion and popularization of contraceptives. In the morally-rigid Polish society such views brought them nothing but ill repute, making them a target of smear campaignes and ridicule. The establishment was outraged, which only encouraged Krzywicka to continue writing about love which needs no church stamp, children conceived out of wedlock, homosexuals, the erotic needs of prisoners, menstruation. She claimed women had the right to have love affairs, then an unwritten privilege of men, argued for sexual freedom, claiming that a third person (she, she) may add diversity and enrich the happiness of a couple in love. Morality watchers thundered that hers was a battle for a "deformation" of moral norms, simpletons sniggered at her "gynaecolgical" elucidations, more sophisticated critics asked pointedly waht made Krzywicka advocate quite so devotedly "the idea of unrestrained fornication". Her writings provoeked mixed reactions - from lewd grins to abhorrence. A few bolder people with independent views ackonwledged her "honest courage" but more often than not her articles and books were shrugged off as the "confessions of an exhibitionist". And yet Krzywicka enjoyed enormous popularity as evidenced in the outcome of a poll organized by Wiadomości Literackie which asked its readers who they would elect to the Academy of Literature. She received 1500 votes, winning one of the top places, well ahead of Marshall Piłsudski himself.

She was a rebel social writer. She riciculed moral hypocrisy and double standards, fought for a new code of sexual ethics. Casting truth in the face of the establishment she came across lewd. She was charged with immorality (and was proud of that) having boldly tackled and exposed matters which had so far been papered over by a layer of secrecy and silence. Scandalized prigs raised a hullaballoo: "Save our children from Krzywicka!"

She was a well-known and prominent figure on the artistic and literary scene in Poland between the two world wars. Attractive, witty, admired, she knew how to live a beautiful life and attract publicity, comfortably and extravagantly. She was very much present in both the intelectual and social life of Warsaw. She knew everybody and everybody knew her. Exercising enviable honesty, sometimes bordering on indiscretion, she unveiled the secrets of salons and alcoves including full description in her memoirs of many love affairs and triangles involving well-known personalities. This sensational erotic leitmotif adds just that necessary touch to her memoirs to heighten their taste. But it is far from shocking  which may be a disappointment to that part of the reading public who cherich the vision of Krzywicka as a "vamp who had an affair with anyone who fell into, say, her hands". But in reality the fighting feminist admits with shame how late she came to know the male body and confesses with regret that the first time she had an opportunity to see a blue film she sat at the end with her eyes firmly closed.

A special place is occupied in her memoirs by Boy-Żeleński, the great love of her life - a rich life which brought her a great deal of happiness and joy but also a great deal of suffering and tragedies. During the Second World War Krzywicka lost almost all her loved ones and was forced to hid from the Nazis in Warsaw under an assumed name. She emerged from the war-time horror a different person. But that was not the end of her ordeal. Shortly afterwards her son fell seriously ill. Both left for France where Krzywicka decided to stay. She stopped writing. Her eyesight began to fail slowly but irreversibly.

She decided to publish her memoirs though she had never intended them for publication. "I have nothing to corroborate what I have written. You have to take me at my word". And she adds: "To relate so many years of my life seems like telling dreams".


This year Irena Krzywicka, permanently resident in Paris, turned 90. The Czytelnik Publishing House is preparing her Memoirs for publication.

Agata Tuszyńska