Jakub A. Malik

Jakub A. Malik

Maleski, Patkiewicz and the third one, or simply: the novel’s students, came to life on 1 February 1888 in the seventieth instalment of The Doll, published in issue No. 32 of the Kurier Codzienny. They appeared with a splash that Wokulski, a visitor to the Łęckis’ house, heard as an unmistakable sound, and a stream of water poured down from the third floor, hitting the outstretched head of the Baroness and splashing all over the yard.

It is hard to infer from The Doll that the residents of the third floor actually study at a Russian university. Students of the university (and, earlier, of Warsaw’s Main School) were usually thought to work hard on ensuring that the Polish nation is up-to-date and can compete with the Russian occupiers; as such, they were genuinely cherished by Varsovians. Out of the novel’s characters, it is Rzecki who is their greatest friend. At first astonished and virtually stunned by the eloquence displayed by one of them, the old clerk starts to fervently support them in their clashes with Baroness Krzeszowska; he calls them the honest students, these charming young men, and Patkiewicz – the dear fellow. They are also well liked by agent Wirski and even Jadwiga Misiewicz.

Many students of that time lived in rooms similar to the one described in The Doll. Here is what the flats of students – including Prus himself in his university years – looked like: Three beds. […] I also saw a trunk, an empty valise and many books on shelves, on the trunk and on the floor also. Finally there were a few bent chairs and ordinary unpolished tables where, on looking more closely, I observed a painted chess-board and overturned chess-men. Then I felt quite faint: for, next to the chess-men I saw two human skulls: in one was tobacco, and the other held sugar.

Students’ uniforms are another important issue to mention here. The uniform was there not just to create the police atmosphere in the university, it also conferred an air of exclusiveness, even elitism. Students wearing their uniforms were immediately recognised in the street. The group was very small, as university students constituted only about 0.26 percent of the Warsaw population at the end of the 1870s and the beginning of the ‘80s. University uniforms allowed people who could be trusted, approved of, cared for to be easily identified. They also brought democratisation to the academic community: they made it impossible to differentiate between people according to their social background by veiling social affiliation, nationality (whether Polish, Jewish or Russian) and socio-economic class (no distinctions between peasants, bourgeoisie and aristocrats). Moreover, uniforms could connote independence by reminding of the Main School (Szkoła Główna Warszawska, today’s University of Warsaw), a free Polish university; the Imperial University of Warsaw still used the Main School uniforms, and, by 1878–1879, the actual Main School graduates of 1862–1869 were already distinguished and honoured as social elite – the title no one would question or take away from them.

So, who exactly are the unruly residents living in the third floor of the Łęckis’ tenement house? Józef Bachórz claims that the statements voiced by one of the students imply his allegiance to the Marxist analysis of the capitalist system. Zygmunt Szweykowski and Henryk Markiewicz consider also them to be socialists. The same label is given by Baroness Krzeszowska, but, when used by her, the epithet “socialist” sounds like an outright invective.

Maleski, Patkiewicz and the third one as a group are also strikingly similar to bohemia. This is one of the keys to comprehending the students’ behavioural style. All the indicators relating to bohemia in the theory of culture also apply to Maleski, Patkiewicz and the third one. The three students differ from bohemians in the strictest sense only by not being artists themselves. However, one should bear in mind that, even with bohemians, acts of creativity are only occasional, superfluous, not required to actually belong to the circle. It is more important to follow a certain lifestyle, to shape and direct one’s manner of living like a work of art. Bohemian students are not a rare phenomenon. Student communities tend to be organised like bohemia and resemble its specific habits and customs, such as a deliberate lack of stabilisation, outfits, and behaviours that may seem provocative to people outside the coterie, impecuniousness, a peculiar morality (including an erotic one), the use of stimulants and other substances popular among students, as well as adherence to an outsider ideology. The main goal: fighting the philistine. Textbook philistines that are introduced in The Doll can be identified largely by the fact that they are pestered by the students in the name of confronting the bourgeois. These figures are Baroness Krzeszowska and Mr Maruszewicz. Of course, both characters also have attributes that mark them out as philistines. Krzeszowska is known to come from the middle class, and Maruszewicz embodies all major philistine vices: hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, duplicity, and calculated self-interest (still, he is a failed philistine, as he lacks adequate means). Both Baroness Krzeszowska and Maruszewicz follow philistines’ favourite pastimes, i.e. spying on their neighbours and spreading gossip.

In the novel, the students behave like typical bohemians. Firstly, they do their best to make life difficult for any alleged or actual philistine; secondly, they aim to bewilder, confuse, and eventually scandalise them. In this way, “fighting the philistine” was obviously not meant to eliminate this group in the literal meaning, but to shock them into broadening their intellectual and cultural horizons so that they realise they cannot dictate what is right or wrong, and that their complacency and self-conceit is ultimately ridiculed.

As mentioned above, students always try to upset philistines and nonplus everyone around. They achieve this effect by, among others, following a specific erotic morality, which is also a distinctive feature of bohemia. And, to a certain extent, they do succeed. Many of their neighbours are scandalised by the fact that they invite round all the girls working in the laundry located on the ground floor. Students make no secret of their sexual life, nor do they intend to respect the privacy of Maruszewicz. They are also reported to walk around in the nude, or – according to one of the students – just in incomplete sets of clothes: Maleski goes about without his shirt on, and Patkiewicz goes about without underpants, but in a shirt. In this way, argues the student when deflecting accusations of obscenity, a daughter of their neighbour opposite actually sees an entire costume.

Bohemian life has a highly theatrical quality. In line with the concept of image creation, every major event needs to be arranged like a show. It is precisely the treatment given to a turning point in the students’ lives, their moving out after losing the trial to Baroness Krzeszowska. They are fully aware that their removal will be a sort of demonstration, as evidenced by their promise: We’ll give the whole house something to talk about!

The students’ story does not have a happy ending. They come back to the tenement house of the Łęckis – now, of the Krzeszowskis – stealthily and without their usual bravado. When Maruszewicz informs against them, the Tsarist police finds out that the students and Klein discuss socialism during their meetings. In fact, their “idealistic reality denial” is also to blame for their downfall. According to Zbigniew Szweykowski, those who are inspired by even the most noble motives but do not know what real life is like are doomed to failure. And bohemia as a rule is opposed to realistic, rational thought. This combination had to end in disaster.

→ Krzeszowska, Baroness; → Scandal; → Socialism;


  1. W. Klemm, „Panna Leokadia widzi cały garnitur.” O ubraniach w Lalce Bolesława Prusa, “Pamiętnik Literacki” 1997, vol. 4.
  2. M. J. Olszewska, Studenci z Królestwa Polskiego przed powstaniem styczniowym. (Glosa do Lalki Bolesława Prusa), Warsaw 2004.
  3. A. Malik, Lalka. Historie z różnych światów, Lublin 2005.