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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Homeless

Stefan Żeromski

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase The Homeless

Title: The Homeless
Author: Stefan Żeromski
Genre: Novel
Written: 1900 (Eng. 2024)
Length: 315 pages
Original in: Polish
Availability: The Homeless - US
The Homeless - UK
The Homeless - Canada
Die Heimatlosen - Deutschland
from: Bookshop.org (US)
directly from: Paul Dry Books
  • Polish title: Ludzie bezdomni
  • Translated by Stephanie Kraft
  • With an Introduction by Jennifer Croft and Boris Dralyuk
  • Ludzie bezdomni was made into a film, Doktor Judym, in 1975

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting presentation of the times and conditions, but less than ideally put together

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Athenæum . 7/7/1900 .
The Quarterly Review . 1/1902

  From the Reviews:
  • "The chief figure in the tale of S. Zeromski, The Homeless Race, recalls the People’s Enemy of Ibsen, and it is besides pervaded by a boundless pessimism which prevents the hero and heroine of the story, a youthful doctor of medicine and a young teacher, from finding in marriage happiness and a home, although their hearts are united by a devoted and noble love for one another. The objection has been urged, not without grounds, that this novel forms no artistic whole, but a collection of episodes, yet this defect does not prevent its being a work of great talent, and undoubtedly it is one of the most striking productions of Polish fiction that have appeared of late years." - The Athenæum

  • "The book has no outward appearance of unity; it is made up of detached episodes whose connexion and sequence are at first sight exasperatingly hard to discover. But a careful study shows us the unity, the genuine though concealed unity of character, design, tone, and contrast. The diction is extremely unequal; now far better than anything previously written by the same pen, and now far worse. It looks as though the book had been dashed off in a 'spell of inspiration,' and published uncorrected. But if The Homeless Race is a work rather of promise than achievement, the promise, at least, is great." - The Quarterly Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Though very much a novel of Poland, The Homeless opens in Paris, where Tomasz Judym is completing his studies. In the opening chapter he ventures to the Louvre and runs into a group of tourists, four women who are, like him, from Poland: a Madam Niewadzka, her two orphaned granddaughters, Natalia and Wanda, and their companion, governess Joanna Podborska. Judym is class-conscious -- "He understood that he was their social inferior, but at the same time he, a cobbler's son but now a doctor, was an aspirant to 'society'" -- but they welcome being shown around a bit by their compatriot and the young women certainly intrigue him (especially Natalia, who: "looked him in the eye for a moment, boldly, searchingly, intoxicatingly"). Still, it's just a short adventure: they're soon off, headed for England -- and presumably out of his life.
       That first chapter is more or less just an episode, or preamble; the second finds Judym back in Warsaw, a full year later, settling down and trying to establish himself. He also visits his family -- a brother and sister-in-law who remain stuck not being aspirants to 'society'. Judym's brother Wiktor notes the difference between them: "You went away from home, and we stayed as we were". Judym's path up and out of these conditions was facilitated by their aunt, who chose between them -- as Wiktor recalls it: "She took you because you were better-looking, and that was it". Even so, Judym did not have it easy, but her support did allow him to complete his medical studies.
       Judym's idealism immediately clashes with the established medical order; his complaint that: "The doctor of today is the doctor of the rich !" doesn't go over well among the doctors whose comfortable lifestyles this arrangement allows for. Judym is frustrated: here and later, it's obvious to him that the unsanitary conditions faced by many poorer folk could easily -- and should -- be addressed. He insists: "Isn't it our duty to promote hygiene in places where there is none, and where such terrible conditions prevail ?"
       Judym hangs out his shingle, but fares poorly. Soon enough: "The rest of the money his aunt had left him ran out, his credit with the shopkeepers was cut off and his future was murky". He's bailed out by a job offer -- a new opportunity, as assistant to a Dr. Węglichowski at a kind of spa, the Cisy Health Institute, presents itself, and, for wont of any real alternative, Judym takes the position.
       As it happens, the institute and the estate belong to Madam Niewadzka, so Judym encounters her, her granddaughters, and Joanna there -- though mostly he's kept busy with his duties, so for quite a while there's limited interaction between them. He does get used to the spa-lifestyle -- "Without quite knowing when, Judym became a young fop, stylishly turned out and spouting cheerful cliches" -- but his ambitions to dry out Cisy -- "Cisy is too damp", with stagnant water festering -- is too great a reach for the powers that be. And when they do dry out things a bit, it's the poor locals who suffer for it.
       Along the way, Judym finally realizes that it is Joanna he loves, not Natalia, and a romance develops -- but then Judym is forced to leave his position, separating the would-be lovers .....
       Again, Judym conveniently runs into an old acquaintance, Korzecki, who can help him out, and he eventually takes a position as a factory doctor, with Korzecki his only local friend -- though: "It was ot a healthy relationship" (no kidding). And, to the bitter end -- which comes with quite a bit of drama --, Judym can't get over his sense of obligation as a doctor to help the impoverished unfortunates whom no one else seems willing to do anything for, a sense of duty that is so profound that he comes to see it as irreconcilable with personal romantic happiness .....
       The structure of The Homeless is a bit haphazard, with Żeromski relying too much on convenient coïncidence rather too often -- including the almost comic one of Judym's sister-in-law, on her way to Switzerland with the kids (don't ask ...), running into runaway Natalia. In several places the story simply doesn't feel sufficiently thought-through, most notably with the out of nowhere appearance of Korzecki -- when we learn the previously unmentioned fact that, while in Paris, Judym had treated and accompanied him to Switzerland, as: "Partly in the capacity of physician, partly as a fellow countryman and companion, he had followed Korzecki around from one institution to another for three months at his own expense". There's also the underdeveloped -- and incomplete-feeling -- story of Wiktor, who tries to find his way abroad, giving it a try in Switzerland but then determined to go to America, sure that he can make it, given his experience in steel-making, as:

Bessemer is everywhere in the world. I follow it. Where they pay the most, that's where I go. Am I going to stay in this hole ? Nobody is that stupid !
       Like Natalia's, his course would surely have been worth following up on.
       Though focused on Judym, there's also a long middle chapter that is presented in the first person, diary-entries by Joanna, which reveal a great deal about her life and experiences -- but it's also a one-off, as Żeromski struggles to balance presenting both sides of the would-be romance that doesn't quite manage to be at the heart of the novel.
       Odd bits, such as Judym's first journey to Cisy -- with a very annoying young boy getting very much on his nerves -- also aren't really tied in to the story as a whole, though they could be without too much effort.
       The writing is also uneven -- much of it quite good, especially when Żeromski simply gets on with the story, but awkward when he tries for grander things, as when Judym is traveling to Cisy:
The doctor had never seen the country -- the land, soil, open space -- at that time of year. A sacred primitive instinct awakened in him, a dreamlike passion to farm, to sow and tend grain. His feeling diffused and wandered in those wide perspectives.
       There's a solid story here, and Judym's passion (and sensible ideas) impress; it's just all a bit clumsily put together. Żeromski tries to do too much and just lacks follow-through too often -- and seems leery of making the love-story too prominent a part of the story.
       It's still a solid work, and a good enough read, with the presentation of the social and class issues of the times certainly of particular interest, but as a novel it falls a bit short all around.

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 April 2024

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The Homeless: Stefan Żeromski: Doktor Judym - the film: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Polish author Stefan Żeromski lived 1864 to 1925.

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© 2024 the complete review

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