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Literature / Pan Tadeusz

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O Lithuania, my country, thou
Art like good health; I never knew till now
How precious, till I lost thee.
— translation by Kenneth R. Mackenzie

In 1811, young Tadeusz Soplica comes back home just in time to witness the resolution of the quarrel his paternal uncle and the count Horeszko have about a (not so ancient) castle. He then catches a glimpse of a very pretty girl...

The national epic poem of both Poland and Lithuania, written by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), Pan Tadeusz, or Pan Tadeusz, czyli Ostatni zajazd na Litwie: historia szlachecka z roku 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu ksiegach wierszem ("Mr. Tadeusz, or The Last Foray in Lithuania: the story of nobles from year 1811 and 1812 in twelve rhymed books"), tells us of the struggle between the noble families of Soplica and Horeszko and its dissolution, or the titular "zajazd" (which meant one nobleman raiding another's lands, a XVI-XVII century custom, not really practiced anymore in the XIX).


Written in 1832 and published in 1834, the poem was meant to comfort the members of the Polish emigration in France after the trauma of the lost November Uprising. It is set, though, before Napoleon's Russian campaign (and at its beginning, a little), which was a huge surge of hope for Poland's restoration (see the Other Wiki for more information on how that turned out for Poland), much like the Uprising was.

Gained a cult following among the Polish intellectual class ("inteligencja"read ), eventually becoming the Cult Classic of Polish literature.

Adapted into feature films.

Fun fact - the metre of Pan Tadeusz is 13-syllable alexandrine, a rather uncommon one in English (compare The Faerie Queene). The 1999 adaptation retains the rhymed dialogues, which doesn't make it any less realistic.


An English translation (in prose) can be read here.

Pan Tadeusz contains examples of:

  • Accidental Pervert: See Fully-Clothed Nudity.
  • Accuser of the Brethren: Gerwazy hates Jacek Soplica viciously for killing his beloved master.
  • Agent Provocateur: Father Robak, against the Russians.
  • All There in the Manual: The author wrote footnotes explaining in details many aspects of the story and describing some mentioned characters, items and events.
  • The Atoner: Father Robak, a.k.a. Jacek Soplica.
  • Badass Bookworm: The Count, well, counts.
  • Badass Preacher: Father Robak. He's got a freaking scar across his face! The narrator openly states that his youth must have been spent somewhere else than seminar. Turns out true.
  • Big Damn Heroes: An uncharacteristically jolly monk may seem an odd harbinger of heroic rescue, but father Robak is.
  • Blue Blood: Set among country gentry.
    • Though only the Count, a regular aristocrat, could be seen as this. The other characters are either middle-class landed gentry like the Judge and Podkomorzy, impoverished gentlemen like Rejent and Asesor, "grey" gentry (gentry so poor that they lived off farming, the only difference from peasants being their title, coat of arms and the way of clothing) like the Dobrzyńskis, and finally, "naked", that is landless gentry, whose only source of income was serving wealthier lords (Gerwazy to the Horeszkos, Wojski to the Soplicas).
    • But keep in mind all the aristocratic titles were given by the foreign monarchs (except Lithuania due to Grandfather Clause). Actual Polish gentry valued its equality very highly (i.e. you could have been a "naked" with naught but your sabre to your name, but still take no orders from any "prince").
  • The Clan: The Dobrzyński family.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: The Count, which doesn't stop him from showing some feats of real badassery.
  • Cool Old Guy: Wojski - he's proficient at hunting, playing instruments, throwing knives, storytelling, settling quarrels, and he's the master of ceremony at the feasts organised by the Judge.
    • Also Jankiel, being a popular innkeeper, successful trader, sincere patriot and matchless musician. He basically serves as a grandfather figure to Zosia.
  • Cool Sword: Scyzoryk ("penknife"), Gerwazy's rapier.
  • Country Mouse: Praised throughout.
  • Crush Filter: When Tadeusz thinks Telimena is the girl he's seen before. Romantic Hilarity Ensues. Played for Laughs even more when the Count meets Zosia and gets dissappointed.
  • The Dandy: The Count, very, very much.
  • Deathbed Confession: Of Jacek Soplica to Gerwazy, who (finally and with some hesitation) forgives.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The main protagonist seems to be Tadeusz, the first few chapters seem to confirm this... and after a while we discover that the hero of this story is actually father Robak a.k.a. Jacek Soplica, his father.
  • Description Porn: Loads and loads. In 1999 adaptation it transforms into Scenery Porn.
  • Dirty Coward: Major Płut feels confident when arresting hungover gentlemen. When he later gets challenged to a duel, he frantically begs his second-in-command to take up the challenge claiming that, as the commander, he's irreplaceable.
  • Divided We Fall: Father Robak's opinion.
  • Driven to Suicide: Played for Laughs along with some other Romantic tropes. After his breakup with Telimena, Tadeusz feels an "unspeakable desire to drown in mud".
  • Duel to the Death: For an affront to his uncle, Tadeusz challenges the Count. It never has the chance to actually happen.
  • Empathic Environment: While father Robak is dying, there's a rainstorm outside.
  • Foil: Telimena to Zosia - an experienced, slightly vampish Mrs. Robinson who likes all things high and lofty and foreign against a sweet, shy, young homeboding The Ingenue.
    • Captain Rykov, a decent, honorable Russian officer who wants to release the raiders unpunished and later admits that Poland should belong to the Polish, to Major Płut - a Polish renegade who gleefully speaks about hanging, flogging and banishing to Siberia of the "Polish rebels".
  • The Empire: Russia.
  • Food Porn: The feast in the finale, described in detail.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: The Count, to Italy. He also seems to pose as a Dashing Hispanic.
    • Telimena, to Russia. Of course, cosmopolitan Russian upper-class, not Russian folk culture.
    • Averted in case of Tadeusz, the Judge and the whole Soplica family. Telimena ironically lampshades that.
    • According to Podkomorzy, the unconditional admiration for French culture and politics is what led to moral decay and the eventual downfall of Poland.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Zosia, in an idyllic sort of a way.