Henryk Sienkiewicz's Epic Novel: Potop (The Deluge)

by Peter K. Gessner

The Deluge is a literacy masterpiece that today is almost unknown outside the author's native country. It's an epic tale of treasons, faith, selfishness, sacrifice, and heroic valor which sweeps across the planes and forests of Poland, Lithuania and Russia and takes as its setting the bloody background of the Swedish Invasion of 1655-1697

 

Yellow area - Grand Duchy of Lithuania
Red area - Kingdom of Poland
Striped areas - feudal duchies : Courland and Electoral Prussia

The Rzeczpospolita obu narodˇw - the Commonwealth of both Nations - was a federation of the Polish Crown lands and Lithuania. Although the Commonwealth had one sovereign and one parliament, it had otherwise parallel civil and military structures, the Lithuanian ones and the Polish ones, the latter being referred to as the Crown's.


Like the other two parts of the Sienkiewicz Trilogy, The Deluge depicts not only vital historical events but also mirrors a people's soul. It is a masterful blend of history and imagination that shows the whole nation, as well as individuals, caught up in earthshaking events, fighting for their lives and rediscovering themselves through their own commitments.

A new cast of fictional and historical heroines and heroes joins the unforgettable charters of the epic With Fire and Sword, and is brought to life with a depth seldom found in historical fiction. There is the turbulent and self-willed Andrzej Kmicic misled into treason, who triumphs over his enemies as well as himself; the beautiful and thoughtful Ole˝ka whose decency and kindness confronts a treacherous villain and inspire the hero; the valiant Father Kordecki whose defense of Poland's holiest shrine wakens the conscience of a nation; the tragic Prince Janusz Radziwi││ and his ruthless cousin Prince Boguslaw, who betray their country. and dozens of others. As in all three novels of Sienkiewicz's Trilogy, The Deluge dazzles with a gallery of characters: Kings, Chancellors, generals, magnates, mercenaries, brave soldiers, heroic spiritual leaders and other historical figures who populate the era in which this book is set. Rich in action, drama, humor, faith and simple wisdom they are part of the human experience, not confined to any single nation, as thrilling true and challenging today as in their own time and vital to our understanding of the new Europeans

The historical background of the novel is the Polish-Swedish War of 1655-57, the so-called Swedish Deluge. Taking advantage of Poland's weakness and its involvement in a war with Muscovy, the Swedish Army invaded the Polish Commonwealth, attacking first the costal regions and Inflanty. In July 1655, Wielkopolska gave in without a fight. In the following months the Lithuanian commander-in chief, Janusz Radziwi││, and his brother Boguslaw agreed to the Swedish rule for Lithuania. The Swedish troops occupied the whole of the Polish territory, including Warsaw, Cracow - which Czarniecki defended for a month - and many other important fortresses. The royal family escaped to Silesia, then part of the Czech Kingdom, and the Crown's Army fell in line under Charles Gustav, the Swedish king. Many social groups had expectations of economic benefits such as lowering of taxes, greater participation in the exercise of political power, and the preservation of freedoms. But all the Swedes did was pillage, rape and destroy. In autumn 1655, some of the peasant, the nobles, and parts of Crown's Army rose in rebellion. On the 31st of December, 1655 an anti-Swedish confederation was set up in Tyszowce.

The photographs on this page are from the epic's1974 screen version which was directed by Jerzy Hoffman and show Malgorzata Braunek in the role of Ole˝ka Billewiczˇwna and Daniel Olbrychski in that of Andrzej Kmicic. For historical information about the period covered by the epic go to a page that deals with the events of the Swedish invasion.

The section of this page which is devoted to the Deluge derives from an earlier verison created in 1997 by students of the Fifth General Education Liceum in Bielsko-Biala. The editing has been primarily orthographic and syntactic. The current version of this page is by Peter K. Gessner.



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