Literature Positivism

Intention & Reception: Re-Reading Polish Positivism

I am writing a postdoctoral thesis about Polish positivist literature where I investigate the relationship between literature and politics in 19th century Poland. The so-called “powieść tendencyjna”, or tendentious novel, is not imaginable without an author’s intention. This category, however, was rightfully problematized by poststructural theory.

My goal is to bring back ‘intention’ as a category for literature theory; in order to achieve that goal, I investigate four different ‘positions of intention’: author, text, reception, and imagination. First of all, the positivist authors had a clear goal in mind, as is demonstrated by their poetological texts: They strove to educate the people. This original intention cannot be overlooked. Second, the text employs various literary devices to achieve a specific impact on the reader’s side. Third, the reader has intentions as well, which fundamentally shape the reception process. Fourth, the audience often imagines the author’s alleged intentions. These imaginary intentions often prove to be impactful as well.

By means of bringing together Eliza Orzeszkowa’s, Bolesław Prus’ and Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novels and poetological texts with the reception of contemporaries and later generations, I try to uncover how these ‘positions of intention’ work.