Interwar period (1918-39)
After the establishment of statehood, ideological and artistic contradictions emerged more clearly in literary groups and were more sharply expressed in literature, with aesthetic issues predominating.
In addition to the older poets B. Leśmian and L. Staff, new groups of poets formed around magazines: for example »Skamander« (1920 ff.), Who advocated everyday language and content in poetry and united poets such as J. Tuwim and A. Słonimski, J. Lechoń, J. Iwaszkiewicz, who were close to the two poets Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska and Kazimiera Iłłakowiczówna. The expressionists J. and Witold Hulewicz (* 1895, † 1941) and E. Zegadłowicz were grouped around »Zdrój« (1917–22); decisive impulses came from the futurists B. Jasieński and A. Wat; the »Cracow avant-garde« gathered around T. Peiper and the magazine »Zwrotnica« (1922–27), whose conceptions were further developed both practically and theoreticallyin »Linia« (1931–33) by J. Przyboś and A. Ważyk. Revolutionary poetry was written by Jasieński, W. Wandurski and W. Broniewski,and catastrophism was represented by M. Jastrun, Józef Czechowicz (* 1903, † 1939), C. Miłosz and K. I. Gałczyński, who took refuge in the grotesque and the fantastic.
The prose dealt mainly with the world war and the political and economic reconstruction of the state. These include S. Żeromski’s “Przedwiośnie” (1924; German “Vorfrühling”), A. Strug’s “Pokolenie Marka Świdry” (1925), and J. Kaden-Bandrowski’s pamphlet-like novels.
After 1930, fiction reached new heights: Maria Dąbrowska’s family saga “Noce i dnie” (1932–34; German “Nights and Days”), Zofia Nałkowska’s psychological analysis of society “Granica” (1935; German “Die Schranke”), the psychological novels M Choromańskis and Maria Kuncewiczowas, the historical novels by Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, Iwaszkiewicz and L. Kruczkowski as well as the anti-realistic, grotesque novels by S. I. Witkiewicz (»Nienasycenie«, 1930; German »Insatiability«), B.Schulzynamon, 1934; German “Die Zimtläden”) and W. Gombrowicz (»Ferdydurke«, 1938; German).
In terms of drama, the Young Polish and Expressionist tradition was initially continued. J. Szaniawski wrote comedies and Zofia Nałkowska wrote psychological dramas. All towered over S. I. Witkiewicz, who wanted to create the “theater of pure form” with grotesquely absurd dramas.
Post-war period until 1989
The Second World War and the time of the German occupation claimed numerous victims among the writers; many representatives of the spiritual life emigrated. – After 1945 in literary magazines – the Marxist »Kuźnica«, the Catholic »Tygodnik Powszechny« and the liberal »Odrodzenie« – the discussion about the meaning and purpose of literature and about the nature of realism began.
The prose dealt with the war (Zofia Nałkowska, »Medaliony«, 1946; German »Medaillons«), concentration camp experiences (T. Borowski, »Pożegnanie z Marią«, 1948; German »With us in Auschwitz«) and the turmoil the post-war period (J. Andrzejewski, “Popiół i diament”, 1948; German “Asche und Diamant”), but also with updated historical material. In the poetry, the war was reflected in the poems of T. Różewicz; in addition, the older poets such as Staff, Tuwim, Broniewski, Przyboś, Miłosz and Gałczyński continued to work. Significant dramas wrote Kruczkowski (»Niemcy«, 1949; German »Die Sunuchs«, also under the title »Die Sonnenbrucks«) and J. Szaniawski (»Dwa teatry«, 1946; German »Theater im Spiegel«). The socialist realism decided on at the Szczecin Writers’ Congress in January 1949 led to the loss of artistic diversity.
In 1955 criticism of the state’s cultural policy began, and the onset of the »thaw« received its programmatic text in Ważyk’s »Poemat dla dorosłych« (1956; German »A poem for adults«). A wave of “accounting literature” followed, in which the Stalinist abuse of power was exposed (Andrzejewski, K. Brandys). Great novels emerged, such as Iwaszkiewicz’s »Sława i chwała« (1956–62; German »Fame and Honor«), historical narratives (T. Parnicki) and science fiction literature (S. Lem). The short narrative prose preferred the representation of the socialist everyday life in the city (M. Hłasko) and in the country (E. Bryll); grotesque design found its way into S. Mrożek, parables wrote L. Kołakowski, essays Z. Herbert.
The lyric was particularly characterized by formal experiments. In addition to the already well-known poets (Różewicz, W. Wirpsza, Herbert) there was the new “Generation of 1956” (S. Grochowiak, J. Harasymowicz, Wisława Szymborska), who are characterized by artistic refinement and ironic attitude. In the 1960s, around the magazine Orientacja, an opposing group of poets emerged who wrote neoclassical, neo-symbolist and neo-expressionist poems. In the drama, the absurd dramas of Mrożek came to the fore.
A new phase of literary life began in early 1968 with a performance of Mickiewicz’s »Dziady« (German »Die Totenfeier«), which was canceled for political reasons. The following March student riots caused a number of writers (including Kołakowski) to show solidarity; Andrzejewski, Mrożek and others condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops.
According to businesscarriers, the anti-Semitic campaign (from 1967) forced some authors to leave Poland. The poetry reacted with the linguistic and socially critical generation of the »New Wave« (S. Barańczak, R. Krynicki, J. Kornhauser, A. Zagajewski); Kornhauser and Zagajewski published the programmatic collection of essays »Świat nie przedstawiony« in 1974, in which they, inter alia, urged the democratization of socialism. The following years saw an increasing confrontation between the state and literature. Some authors avoided censorship through publications abroad or in the illegal publishing industry that was being developed (“second circulation”).
The village theme made a name for itself in the prose (alongside J. Kawalec, T. Nowak and Edward Redliński, * 1940, especially W. Myśliwski with »Kamień na kamieniu«, 1984; German »stone on stone«). Furthermore, a turn to linguistic experiment was noticeable in the prose.
The award of the Nobel Prize to Miłosz (1980) increased public, publishing and academic interest in literature by emigrants, which had not been accepted by the state until then. Martial law, which was imposed in December 1981, led to a polarization that lasted until the end of the 1980s. The political events of this period found a wide range of echoes in literature that was printed underground or abroad: in the stories by M. Nowakowski, »Raport o stanie wojennym« (1982; German »Carp for the militia. Satires and news«), in the diary entries »Miesiące« (1981–82; partly in German »Warschauer Tagebuch«) by Brandys or in the volume of poetry »Raport z oblężonego miasta« (1983; German »Report from a besieged city«) by Herbert. – In addition, however, after 1985 there was a tendency towards apolitical, individualistic, linguistic-aesthetic literature.