“This raises a simple question: If in the course of several years a person fulfills the function of a madman, is he not then really a madman? And what does it matter that I am healthy if my actions are sick?”
The Marriage is Witold Gombrowicz’s second play, written after Ivona, Princess of Burgundia (1938) and before Operetta (1967).
Witold Gombrowicz himself qualified this play as a “mystic Missa solemnis.” The play recalls Shakespeare, especially Hamlet.
Begun in Buenos Aires during the war and finished in 1948, The Marriage was first published in Spanish as El Casamiento (Ed. EAM, Buenos Aires, 1948) before appearing in Polish in 1953 in an edition by the Literary Institute, Paris, in a volume with Trans-Atlantyk.
The Spanish translation was completed by Gombrowicz’s friends Alejandro and Sergio Rússovich in collaboration with the writer himself. The translation was published thanks to financial backing from another Argentinian friend, Cecelia Benedit Debenedetti.
From 1948 to 1953, the Polish text existed only in a few typewritten copies sent by Gombrowicz to the philosopher Martin Buber in Israel, his sister, Irena, and a few other friends in Poland, such as Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz and Adam Mauersberger.
In 1949, Gombrowicz took this Spanish translation of The Marriage as inspiration for the French version, completed with the help of two French female students and a French journalist, M. Debeney of Paris-Match in Buenos Aires. This typewritten translation, published on stencil—which has never been found—was sent to André Gide, Jean-Louis Barrault, and Albert Camus, among others.
In Poland, The Marriage was first published in 1957, during a brief liberalization of the Communist regime, in the same volume as the novel Trans-Atlantyk, Ed. Czytelnik, Warsaw.
On this occasion, Witold Gombrowicz made several modifications to the text. This revised and corrected version is the one that would serve as a reference for further translations.
In 1960, the first stage production of The Marriage took place in a student theater in Gliwice in Silesia, directed by Jerzy Jarocki and designed by Krystyna Zachwatowicz. The production was closed by government censors after only a few performances.
The French version of The Marriage will not be published until 1965, in a translation by Georges Sédir and Koukou Chanska (Ed. Julliard, Maurice Nadeau’s collection “Les Lettres nouvelles”).
“Between you and me, modern man must be exceedingly more flexible; modern man knows that there is nothing permanent or absolute, but that everything is forever creating itself anew ... creating itself between individuals ... creating itself …”
“[The Marriage] is a dream, dreamt by Henry, a Polish soldier in the last war, who finds himself somewhere in France, in the French army, fighting the Germans. Within this dream Henry’s concern for his family, lost in Poland, emerges together with the more essential worries of contemporary man straddling the slopes of two epochs.”
—A Kind of Testament: Interviews with Dominique de Roux [Trans. Hamilton]
While Ivona, Princess of Burgundia is the best-known of Gombrowicz’s plays around the world, The Marriage remains his most-performed in Poland.
“The greatest difficulty is the fact that The Marriage is not the artistic expression of some sort of issue or situation (something to which France has accustomed us), but a relaxed outlet for the imagination, an imagination that is striving, it is true, to move in a certain direction. This does not mean that The Marriage does not tell us a certain story: it is the drama of a modern man whose world has been destroyed and who (in a dream) finds his home changed into an inn and his fiancée into a wench.”
—Diary, 1954 [Trans. Vallee]
“In vain do I struggle to get free of myself to reach all of you
“Yes, I’m imprisoned ...
“I am a prisoner
“Even though I am innocent”
Jorge Lavelli’s production of The Marriage in 1963 marked Witold Gombrowicz’s entry into world theater history. The play won first prize at the Concours des Jeunes Compagnies in 1963. From January 1964 on, the play was performed at the Théâtre Récamier in Paris, where it was met with great critical and public interest.
Gombrowicz’s theater made its official debut on Polish stages in 1974, when Rita Gombrowicz authorized its production, all while preserving Witold’s work from Communist censorship.