“What, meanwhile, had been happening at the castle—that age-old giant of brick and stone whose swamp-skirted tower loomed formidably in the gathering dusk, and within whose proud and massive walls, guardians of bygone pomps and the traces of a vanished splendour, passion, fear, and madness held sway?”
The novel Possessed (1939) is a parody of horror stories in the gothic style of Horace Walpole, as well as a serial novel after Eugène Sue.
"To create a good novel for the upper ten thousand, or even hundred thousand people—that can always be done, it’s banal and tedious. But to write a good novel for lower, inferior readers, for whom what we call ‘good literature’ is not to their taste..."
―Polish Memories [Trans. Johnston]
After two or three attempts in the 1920s to write good “bad novels” or “novels for cooks” that he destroyed, Witold Gombrowicz wrote a serial novel, Possessed, which was published in two Polish dailies under the pseudonym Zdisław Niewieski, an allusion to the Niewieża River in Lithuania.
The first installment appeared on June 4, 1939, and the last appeared on August 30, on the eve of Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
On July 29, Gombrowicz boarded for Argentina and unknowingly left Poland forever.
The mystery remained: did Witold Gombrowicz leave for Argentina without publishing the end of his serial novel? Or had he in fact finished it, only the war having prevented its publication?
Witold Gombrowicz never claimed authorship of Possessed—either because of the circumstances of his exile or because “he was a little bit ashamed and had accepted to write it because the fees were high,” as his brother Jerzy Gombrowicz wrote. Gombrowicz never had it republished in any form during his lifetime.
Near the end of his life, Gombrowicz spoke to several friends about it, and finally mentioned it in his biography, dictated several days before his death in July 1969. This biography was destined for the Cahier de l’Herne Gombrowicz, prepared by Dominique de Roux.
In 1973, four years after the writer’s death, Jerzy Giedroyc’s Literary Institute (Kultura) edited the novel as a book for the first time.
In autumn 1986, Ludwik B. Grzeniewski discovered the three final installments in several old copies of the Kurier Czerwony (September 1, 2, and 3, 1939) that had been kept by his grandfather.
With the final three installments finally in tact, the complete edition, which serves as a reference today, was published by Wydawnictwo Literackie of Krakow, Poland in 1990.
The pseudo-gothic Possessed inspired several stage adaptations.