Jews in The Promised Land

Edward Manouelian, University of Texas, Austin

In 1896 Wladyslaw Reymont, having signed a contract with the prestigious publishing house of Gebethner and Wolff for a novel devoted to what was already known at the time as the Polish Manchester, the sprawling industrial metropolis of Lodz, spent several months in the city before, over the course of the next two years, writing The Promised Land, a novel published serially in 1897-1898 and in book form in 1899. While Kazimierz Wyka has summed up the conventional view of its author as "a writer of direct observation and vital experience" (11), in fact The Promised Land offers a highly caricatured view of the three ethnic groups (Polish, German, and Jewish) that made up the city's growing population in the final decades of the nineteenth century. A kaleidoscopic attempt to represent the effects of rapid industrialization, Reymont's novel stands as an exemplary instance of narrative that is, as Jameson has put it, "an ideological act in its own right, with the function of inventing imaginary or formal 'solutions' to irresolvable social contradictions." The present paper explores the connections between the narrative shape of the naturalist novel and the anti-Semitic discourse that underlies Reymont's representation of inter-ethnic relations in The Promised Land.