I focus on representations of masculinity in three novels: The Doll by Bolesław Prus, The Polanieckis Family by Henryk Sienkiewicz, and The Promised Land by Władysław Reymont. These works became the subject of public discussions, but they also have a discursive relationship with each other: Sienkiewicz's saga was his response to Prus's novel, and Reymont's book took issue with both about the social — and gender — changes caused by modernity. The narratives articulate and dramatize certain anxieties and ambiguities about masculinity, and changing patterns of homosocial relationships in the modernizing Polish society.
I discuss three aspects of this masculinity crisis. The symbolic patricide represents a dismissal of the paternalistic masculinity embodied by the traditional gentry paterfamilias. The new type of friendship offered new modes of trans-class and transnational male relationships (for example, business partnerships). It challenged the traditional social boundaries between men as well as traditional notions of patriotism. The new meaning of respectability resulted from the changing attitude toward sexuality, and from its connection to money. Traditional masculinity was characterized by shared moral values, local networks that legitimized social positions, and conspicuous consumption as a marker of class. The new masculinity was based on its challenge to traditional moral codes (including the commodification of sex), unrestrained social mobility upward, and modern financial accountability. Moving the center of social life from the village estates to the cities also resulted in the confinement of middle-class women to a differently defined private sphere, which challenged the traditional gender status quo by depriving them of their patronizing authority.