Richard Melson

September 2006

Bruno Schulz

Bruno Schulz

Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass
by Bruno Schulz

Bruno Schulz (July 12, 1892November 19, 1942) was a Polish novelist and painter,

widely considered to be one of the greatest Polish prose stylists of the 20th century.

Schulz was born in Drohobycz,

at the time when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the province of Galicia.

Now Drohobych is in the Ukraine.

At a very early age, he developed an interest in painting, and eventually studied architecture at Lwów University, and fine arts in Vienna. He taught drawing in his home town, where his father, Jacob Schulz, was a paper merchant.

The author nurtured his extraordinary imagination in a swarm of identities and nationalities: a Polish Jew who spoke Yiddish, Polish and German. Yet there was nothing cosmopolitan about him; his genius fed in solitude on specific local and ethnic sources. He scarcely ever left his home town, and his adult life was that of a hermit, uneventful and enclosed.

Schulz became a writer by chance, after several letters that he wrote to a friend, in which he gave highly original accounts of his solitary life and the details of the lives of his fellow-citizens, were brought to the attention of the novelist Zofia Nalkowska. She encouraged Schulz to have them published as short fiction, and The Cinnamon Shops (Sklepy Cynamonowe) was published in 1934; in English-speaking countries, it is most often referred to by its English title, Street of Crocodiles. This novel-memoir was followed three years later by Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (Sanatorium Pod Klepsydra). The original publications were fully illustrated by Schulz himself; however, in later editions of his works these illustrations are often left out or are poorly reproduced. While Schulz spoke German and Yiddish, he wrote his stories in Polish. He also translated Franz Kafka's The Trial into Polish, in 1936. In 1938, he was awarded the Polish Academy of Literature's prestigious Golden Laurel award.

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 caught Schulz living in Drohobycz, which was occupied by the Soviet Union. There are reports that he worked on a novel called The Messiah, but no trace of this manuscript survived his death. Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, as a Jew he was forced to live in the ghetto of Drohobycz, but some accounts state he was temporarily protected by Felix Landau, a Gestapo officer who admired his drawings. During the last weeks of his life, Schulz painted a mural in his home in Drohobycz, in the style with which he is identified. Shortly after completing the work, he was shot dead by a German officer, a rival of his protector, and his mural was hidden.

A new edition of Schulz's stories was published in 1957, which led to French, German, and later English translations, and his work was rediscovered by a new generation.

Schulz's work has provided the basis for two films: Sanatorium pod Klepsydra (1973, shown briefly in the U.S. as The Sandglass or The Hour-Glass Sanatorium), a Polish adaptation drawing from a dozen of his stories that emphasizes the unforgettably dreamlike quality of his writings; and a short stop-motion animated film called Street of Crocodiles (Ulica Krokodyli) (1986) by Stephen and Timothy Quay.

In 2001, representatives of Yad Vashem in Israel were allowed to come to Drohobycz to examine his final mural. Controversy ensued when over the course of the next three days, they removed five sections of the mural and transported them to Jerusalem, lacking either authority or export licenses from Ukraine to do so.

In the 1980s, the original Austro-Hungarian advertisement [1] that Schulz likely must have seen somewhere and subsequently incorporated into Sanatorium pod Klepsydra was discovered in a library. The advertisement is a page from "The Book" of Sanatorium pod Klepsydra. Schulz actually quotes a few lines from "The Book" in his novel and one generally assumed it was something Schulz had just made up. However, the quote starts with: I, Anna Csillag with my hair that's 185 centimetres long which grew during the 14 months of using a cream of my own invention — which also happens to be the beginning of the advertisement for hair growth (see link above) that presumably formed a part of "The Book".


Film Adaptations

External links

Schulz has an ability to make even the most ordinary event revolutionary and poetic. A book transforms into a magical, almost living entity in the young narrator's mind. A look into a friend's stamp collection draws allusions to Alexander the Great's quest for world domination. His descriptions bring life to every minute detail. I only wish I knew Polish to read the original words.

This fiction is like looking out a window at a Las Vegas water show under colored lights: riotious, gorgeous and original.

Everything by this Galician Polish Jewish writer/artist is genius.

The title story "The Sanitorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass"

deals with Schulz's fantastic visit to his deceased father in the afterworld.

Bruno Schulz

September 20, 2006