Someone shared with me today a nice review, published in the Spectator, by Boyd Tonkin of a new translation of the great work of Polish literature, Adam Mickiewicz’s Pan Tadeusz.
In remote Soplicowo, its flower-filled meadows, ringed by deep woods where bears, auroch and bison â€” â€˜the forestâ€™s emperorsâ€™ â€” hold sway, family quarrels echo in miniature the convulsions of Europe. Young Master (â€˜Panâ€™) Tadeusz returns from his studies in Vilnius to the manor where his uncle, the Judge, runs the estate. The fate of Tadeuszâ€™s absent father Jacek, a fabled hell-raiser, casts a long thread of suspense that Mickiewicz spins at the close into a deftly-managed coup.
As the callow heir falls first for the sophisticated Madame Telimena and then her teenage ward, the garden-loving Zosia, a Romeo-and-Juliet motif sounds. A match between the pair might â€˜reunite two feuding housesâ€™. For now, the Soplicas â€” Tadeuszâ€™s lot â€” and their Horeszko neighbours, Zosiaâ€™s clan, remain at daggers (and cudgels, broadswords and muskets) drawn.
The rough-hewn gentry let off steam through hair-raising bouts of scrapping and drinking. In these parts, â€˜lawsuits will always be superfluousâ€™. Vodka-fuelled posses enforce court orders in â€˜foraysâ€™. Think Henry Fieldingâ€™s rambunctious squire-archy, with a steeper body-count, and higher alcoholic proof.