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Magdalena O?arska

?ucja Rautenstrauchowa's Travelogue Encyclopaedia with a novelistic twist


The text I am going to discuss to demonstrate a Polish woman writer’s transcending generic boundaries is ?ucja Rautenstrauchowa’s 1847 travelogue W Alpach i za Alpami (In and Beyond the Alps). The author's intention is, ostensibly, to write what she calls an encyclopaedia for travellers following her footsteps in Italy. Yet, on closer inspection, Rautenstrauchowa’s text reflects an inexact understanding of the concept. While large parts of her three volumes contain information on Italian cultural and material heritage, which is frequently conveyed through stories involving Italy’s eminent historical figures, substantial portions of the text are far removed from the initial authorial declaration. Flouting the declared intention, Rautenstrauchowa’s most conspicuous departure from the objective encyclopaedic convention is her tendency to include sentimental fictional stories.

Naturally, as travel writing convention required, ?ucja Rautenstrauchowa makes repeated claims to truth-telling. She also includes large numbers of intertextual references to other writers, such as Germaine de Staël, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alexandre Dumas, Jacques Marquet de Norvins, Jules Janin or Joseph Méry. This is meant to demonstrate her wide reading and general knowledge, as well as corroborating the impression of narratorial trustworthiness. ?ucja Rautenstrauchowa’s most accomplished sentimental story spans the volumes I to III. The characters include a fair-haired, presumably Polish, poet and two ladies, entangled in a love triangle which terminates dramatically with one taking of the veil and one dying due to unrequited love.

In view of the above, it is indeed interesting that Rautenstrauchowa’s nineteenth-century readers failed to relate to these aspects of her book. The reviews of In and Beyond the Alps which appeared in Polish periodicals of the late 1880s stressed the fact that the book was a true encyclopaedia for women, written in properly accessible language; that all the more educated Poles had read it; and that it was a realistic and comprehensive study of plentiful material, skilfully handled. Clearly, Rautenstrauchowa’s transgressive handling of her genre escaped her readers’ attention.

SvD, November 2012

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