Agnieszka Bąbel

Agnieszka Bąbel

[Suzin about a Russian woman in love with Wokulski] ‘Mr Wokulski is sitting in Warsaw playing the national anthem on the piano… and never spares a thought for such a foolish girl… but Luboczka, nothing, like a stone…’ And then Maria Siergiejewna says: ‘I don’t give a damn for that rotten Poland, let it perish for all I care, but I’m sorry for the child.’ (741)


A comparison between the instalments published in Kurier Codzienny (29 September 1887–24 May 1889) and the book edition of The Doll (January 1890) shows numerous changes, resulting mostly from political censorship. The fragments excised from the book edition involve all mentions that could remind the reader of the January Rising, deportations to Siberia, or emigration. Hence, for example, the words unhappy country or the rebirth of the country have been removed from the Prince’s comments, and Wokulski’s red hands no longer carry the association with exile, due to the removal of Flora’s utterance He got them frozen in Siberia and the conversation she initiates at the Łęckis’ house about the enthusiasms of youth. The author was forced to add a passage in “The Journal of the Old Clerk” which made those hands a permanent feature of Wokulski’s appearance. The lengthiest withheld fragment is the beginning of the chapter entitled “First Warning,” which contains the passage from the epigraph: a snippet of a conversation between Wokulski and Suzin, who has just arrived in Warsaw. This fragment (concerning, among other things, reminiscences of their time in Siberia) did not make its way back into the novel in later editions because it disrupts the flow of the plot, and it is usually inserted as an appendix.

The issue of the Rising was censored so rigorously in The Doll that even critical comments were forbidden, according to the principle that all mentions of and allusions to that event need to be removed in an effort to completely erase it from history. The censor diligently removed even the memory of how money collected during the Rising was embezzled, which Prus had put in the mouths of the critical Warsaw populace (Other people, my dear sir, enriched themselves on Polish money – and nothing was said. So there!). The censors’ suspiciousness – bordering on obsession – gave rise to the Aesopian language: a particular way of communicating with the reader, based on allusions and elliptical statements.

Some of the changes were of religious and social nature. For example, during the Easter collection, Wokulski overhears a conversation between little Helunia Stawska and her mother: the girl asks whether Jesus came alive again like a fly. In the book edition, Prus shortened the passage and edited it extensively. This was probably not due to artistic value but to prevent the outrage of the more conservatively religious readers, for whom the child’s naïve curiosity could border on unwitting blasphemy.

The Warsaw Censorship Committee, based at Miodowa Street, was created in 1869. It reported directly to the government in Saint Petersburg. The position of a censor in Warsaw was extremely lucrative, also due to the considerable freedom guaranteed to censors by law – in Prus’s era, the lack of any regulations gave licence to the Committee’s employees, who could make arbitrary decisions about textual interpretation. This, unsurprisingly, resulted in bribery as publishers and editors regularly bought themselves out at Miodowa.

The only things that were officially banned were criticism of the Russian Orthodox religion; any details of court cases before their conclusion and court sentences; the actions of the government; and any information about the Tsar and his family other than what was printed in the Goniec Urzędowy (Tsarist Information Bulletin). Censorship itself evolved as well. In the era of Nicholas I, people loved anecdotes about the mindlessness of censors, who tended to focus on the forbidden words regardless of their context (Agata Tuszyńska writes about the famous report from a ball given at the Royal Castle by Ivan Paskevich in which the censor, seemingly forgetting that in Polish the word “rząd” means both “row” and “government,” and mindful that “government” should always have positive associations, edited the report and created the following statement: The Castle steps […] were lined by a benevolent government of superb orange trees. Later, during the times of Alexander II, a much more intelligent and dangerous practice of censorship focused on controlling the meaning of printed matter and its possible associations.

In terms of methods, censorship functioned along two lines: preventive, based on intercepting materials before their publication (this was typical in absolutist countries, i.e. Russia), or repressive, which meted out legal (fines, detainment) or administrative (closing down printing presses) punishments to publishers for the content of the printed matter. Paradoxically, it was repressive censorship that functioned in the nineteenth century in the more liberal European countries. The sacramental words “censor-approved” had to appear on all printed matter – the only exemptions were visiting cards, invitations to weddings and balls, labels, price lists (without advertisements), classifieds, and wrapping paper. In Prus’s Warsaw, censorship extended not only to some books but also to images (for example, portraits of the Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko or Napoleon) and items of clothing (black dresses reminiscent of national mourning).

→ Aesopian language; → Russia; → Poles in Siberia;


  1. Z. J. Adamczyk, Cenzura entry, in Słownik literatury polskiej XIX wieku, ed. J. Bachórz i A. Kowalczykowa, Wrocław 1991.
  2. J. Bachórz, Introduction to B. Prus, Lalka, BN I 262, Wrocław 1991, 1998.
  3. A. Tuszyńska, Rosjanie w Warszawie, Warsaw 1992.