Stanisław Wokulski’s Journey to Emigration in Bolesław Prus’s The Doll

The Romantic and Positivist trends apparent in Bolesław Prus’s novel The Doll are often attributed to his desire to present a multi-generation depiction of nineteenth-century Warsaw. In this respect, the middle-aged parvenu of this positivist novel, Stanisław Wokulski, embodies both the older generation’s tendencies towards Romanticism, represented by the Bonapartist, Ignacy Rzecki, whose diary allows him to participate actively in the narrative, and the younger Generation’s socialist ideals as represented by various clerks in Wokulski’s shop. However, this historically-contextualized interpretation of The Doll does not fully appreciate Wokulski’s transformation from a citizen of Warsaw to a Polish émigré. Therefore, I shall use Mixail Baxtin’s discussion of time and chronotope in the novel to show that the novel does not merely depict the biography of several generations, but rather, like the adventure novel of everyday life, describes Wokulski’s life at its critical moments in order to emphasize this protagonist’s metamorphosis.

For example, because his unsuccessful courtship of the aristocratic Izabela Lecka is significant for Wokulski’s character development, the novel begins with Wokulski’s return from a financially successful trip abroad to Warsaw where he plans to use his wealth to court Izabela. When Wokulski’s attempts to gain Izabela’s affection result in his becoming a pawn of the entire aristocracy, he exposes himself to the ridicule of his friends and of Warsaw society in general. Therefore he flees to Paris in order to regain control over his own destiny by abandoning his public persona as the admirer of Izabela.

Wokulski’s brief sojourn in Paris represents another critical moment in the narrative since it reveals how he learns to distance himself from his Polish homeland of which he becomes increasingly critical, as is evidenced by his disparagement of Warsaw society and of the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz. Indeed, Wokulski’s admiration for the Parisian work-ethic and his desire to finance the metallic invention by Geist link the Polish parvenu irrevocably with the city. As a result, even after his return to Poland to pursue Izabela, he still entertains the possibility of Parisian exile.

Because the novel does not center on the relationship between Wokulski and Izabela, but on Wokulski’s life journey, the termination of their relationship does not conclude the novel. Instead, Wokulski’s decisive rupture with his homeland and his flight abroad allow him to continue his life journey unobserved by the inhabitants of Warsaw. Wokulski’s emigration thus enables him to enter a new dimension of Baxtin’s adventure time, the miraculous world, typical of the chivalric romance, where Wokulski may begin his adventures anew.