Wirydianna Fiszerowa: A Noblewoman’s Perspective on Public and Private Life in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Poland
The subject of this thesis is the eighteenth-century Polish noblewoman Wirydianna Fiszerowa and her memoirs. Covering the years 1768 to 1815, the memoirs are not only a story of Fiszerowa’s private life, but also a history of the public demise of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the birth of a new Polish identity. By writing her memoirs, Fiszerowa embarks on a process of self-discovery and self-creation that merges with an exploration of the transformations of national identity as the story of her life progresses. The spotlight shifts from the author to the partitioned Commonwealth, from the private to the public, as Fiszerowa ultimately transcends the self to focus on the nation.
The main body of the thesis is structured around three key moments in Fiszerowa’s life. Each moment is not only important to her development as an eighteenth-century woman, but also to the evolution of her national consciousness. Within each of these moments, the blending of the public and private is particularly vivid and each occurs at crucial points in Poland’s history. Following the first historiographical chapter, Chapter Two examines Fiszerowa’s ‘becoming’ a woman in both a biological and cultural sense through her childhood and education, against the backdrop of the Bar Confederation (1768-1772) and First Partition (1772). Chapter Three explores the development of Fiszerowa’s social and political identity during the Four-Year Sejm (1788-1792), whilst also considering the wider role of women and fashion in politics. Chapter Four investigates the theme of patriotism and the consolidation of Fiszerowa’s patriotic ideals through her encounter with Tadeusz Kościuszko in the aftermath of the Third Partition (1795).
Fiszerowa wrote her memoirs at a time when the idea of the nation was undergoing dynamic development in Poland and abroad. By writing about her own experiences, she too contributes to its construction. Ultimately, this thesis argues that Fiszerowa and her memoirs serve as an example of the contribution of women in the development of Polish national consciousness.