Zofia – an early feminist and active supporter of the marginalised
Zofia Nałkowska – a woman, a writer.
Tall and striking, of large proportions, ‘a ship in full sail,’ Zofia was famous for her wit, her charm and her piercingly blue eyes. ‘Forget-me-not blue,’ said her admirers. ‘Rapacious,’ her critics said. Those eyes looked unflinchingly at human nature in all its foibles and turned their gaze on herself too as she confided her inner thoughts to the diaries she kept lifelong.
Zofia presented herself as the grand lady of Polish letters and crafted her outer persona as carefully as her award-winning prose. The only woman in the Polish Academy of Literature, Zofia became an institution in her own right. Young people attending her secret gatherings in Occupied Warsaw during the Second World War referred to her as though she were a university course.
Zofia Nałkowska was a European on a grand scale. She read French, English and Russian in the original language and took part in literary events all over Europe, from Norway to the Balkans, including a visit to London and Edinburgh in 1935.
Intimately involved with the ‘movers and shakers’ of Polish political and literary life, Zofia portrayed people at the top of society as well as bringing to life those at the bottom whose hopes and dreams went unnoticed. The thing that mattered most to her was people. ‘The most interesting thing that a person can get to know is another person,’ she always said and made it her life’s work to understand others. Her appointment to the Committee for the Investigation of Nazi war crimes in Poland in 1945 gave rise to Medallions, short stories, immediately acknowledged as a masterpiece. One colleague concluded, ‘If you wrote in French, English or even Norwegian you would be the most famous writer in the world.’