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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Polish
The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Historical novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, published in Polish under its Latin title in 1896. The title means "where are you going?" and alludes to a New Testament verse (John 13:36). The popular novel was widely translated. Set in ancient Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero, Quo Vadis? tells the story of the love that develops between a young Christian woman and a Roman officer who, after meeting her fellow Christians, converts to her religion. Underlying their relationship is the contrast between the worldly opulence of the Roman aristocracy and the poverty, simplicity, and spiritual power of the Christians. The novel has as a subtext the persecution and political subjugation of Poland by Russia.
About the Author
Far more celebrated than any of his positivist contemporaries, Sienkiewicz began as a journalist and achieved considerable renown with his account of a two-year journey to the United States. Between 1882 and 1888 he wrote three historical novels dealing with political and military events in seventeenth-century Poland: With Fire and Sword, The Deluge (1886), and Fire in the Steppe (1888, also translated as Pan Michael). Although superficial in its analysis of historical events, the trilogy gained enormous popularity both in Poland and in other Slavic countries thanks to Sienkiewicz's masterful use of epic techniques and of the seventeenth-century colloquial idiom. Even more popular, if artistically far weaker, was his Quo Vadis? (1896), a novel about Rome in the age of Nero (Sienkiewicz's fame in the West is chiefly based on this work). Another historical novel, The Teutonic Knights (1900), deals with the fifteenth-century struggle between Poland-Lithuania and the Teutonic Order. Among his other works is The Po:eo@lcpl:esaniecki Family (1895), a work that extolled the virtues of philistinism and was sharply attacked by the progressive intelligentsia.
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