Places: Ferdydurke

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1937 (English translation, 1961)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Farce

Time of work: 1930’s

Places DiscussedPiorkowski’s school

Piorkowski’s Ferdydurkeschool. Institution in which Ferdydurke is forced to enroll when mistakenly believed to be only half his actual age. Much of the humor of this section of the novel stems from Ferdydurke’s realization that there is a sense in which he does in fact belong in school. Because he learned little during his earlier years as a student, a further round of education is in theory a reasonable prescription for his self-confessed ignorance. The education provided at Mr. Piorkowski’s school, however, is not likely to prepare anyone for a successful future. This establishment is depicted as an anarchic wasteland whose staff members are incompetent, and whose students are clever only at avoiding the need to learn anything. Its classrooms are portrayed as war zones in which students oppressed by mindless rules strike back with stubborn silence. Ferdydurke eventually concludes that he must escape this madhouse if he wants to avoid being warped by its insane methods of operation.

Youthful home

Youthful home. Residence of the Youthful family, whose name symbolizes their commitment to the radical reform of society. Ferdydurke goes to live with them in hopes of discovering a more nurturing environment but soon finds out that the Youthfuls are, if anything, more oblivious to his real needs than are the people at Mr. Piorkowski’s school: Where the school tries to stamp out student curiosity by force, the Youthfuls’ efforts to abolish discipline and encourage liberal thinking produce only chaotic confusion.

The failure of the Youthfuls to guide their children’s development is most tangibly illustrated by the place in which their own daughter sleeps. Although the family is fairly well off, Zutka does not have a room of her own but instead occupies a bed in a corner of the house’s main hallway. Rejecting her parent’s assumption that this arrangement symbolizes the relaxed, open character of their family’s relationships, Zutka leads a totally self-centered existence and has acquired a legion of lovers with whom she carries on clandestine sexual relations. Ferdydurke observes that Zutka’s circumstances reflect the topsy-turvy nature of contemporary existence, with the public hustle and bustle of her family life masking the ingenious private arrangements she has contrived as a means of expressing her inmost desires.

Aunt Hurlecka’s estate

Aunt Hurlecka’s estate. Affluent country property to which Ferdydurke is taken when his aunt realizes that he has been associating with people beneath him on the social scale. Intending to put their nephew back on the proper track of accumulating wealth and improving social status, his aunt and uncle introduce him to a way of life characterized by the meaningless repetition of rituals whose only purpose is to kill time and provide an illusion of activity. Scenes set in the Hurleckas’ dining and living rooms have the quality of still-life paintings, as any thought of independent expression is quashed by the force of dark, massive furnishings and rigid social convention.

Life on the estate is portrayed as a microcosm of the human condition, with the oppression of its servant masses by an aristocratic elite symbolizing the general condition of society. When the servants eventually revolt in protest against the oppressive regime, Ferdydurke realizes that just as he has been entrapped by his school’s attempt to return him to infancy, so have the estate’s employees been treated like children who do not understand what is good for them.

Hotel Bristol

Hotel Bristol. Site of a lunch at which two of Ferdydurke’s college professors engage in ridiculous, pedantic arguments that mock their pretensions to intellectual superiority. This brief but memorably satiric scene extends the novel’s attack on educational institutions to the university level.

BibliographyGombrowicz, Witold. Diary, Volume 1. Edited by Jan Kott and translated by Lillian Vallee. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1988. Gombrowicz himself provides some of the best insight into the novel in this first volume of his diaries, which he began in 1953 for serial publication in the Polish emigré press.Gőmőri George. “The Antinomies of Witold Gombrowicz.” Modern Language Review 73 (January, 1978): 119-129. A brief but essential introduction to Gombrowicz’s major themes, with special attention to Ferdydurke, and emphasis on his use of paradox.Holmgren, Beth. “Witold Gombrowicz in the United States.” The Polish Review 33, no. 4 (1988): 409-418. Gombrowicz has remained a rather obscure figure in the United States, and this article addresses some of the reasons why. Also gives a thorough overview of work on Gombrowicz in English.Longinovic, Tomislav. Borderline Culture: The Politics of Identity in Four Twentieth-Century Slavic Novels. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1993. Discusses the conflict of identity and ideology in Ferdydurke, and argues that it is a parody of the entire Western metaphysical tradition.Thompson, Ewa. Witold Gombrowicz. Boston: Twayne, 1979. An excellent introduction to Gombrowicz, a straightforward discussion of his life and works. Includes a bibliography.
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