Jan Potocki

Biografie şi Bibliografie

Count Jan Nepomucen Potocki (March 8, 1761 – December 1815) was a Polish  nobleman, Polish Army captain of engineers, ethnologist, Egyptologist, linguist, traveler, adventurer and author whose life and exploits made him a legendary figure in his homeland. Outside Poland he is known chiefly for his novel, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa.


Jan Potocki ( was born in 1761 into the Potocki family, an aristocratic family that owned vast estates in Poland. He was educated in Geneva and Lausanne, served twice in the Polish Army as a captain of engineers, and spent some time on a galley as a novice Knight of Malta. He was probably a Freemason and had a strong interest in the occult.

Potocki's colorful life took him across Europe, Asia and North Africa, where he embroiled himself in political intrigues, flirted with secret societies, contributed to the birth of ethnology — he was one of the first to study the precursors of the Slavic peoples from a linguistic and historical standpoint.

In 1790 he became the first person in Poland to fly in a hot air balloon when he made an ascent over Warsaw with the aeronaut Jean-Pierre Blanchard, an exploit that earned him great public acclaim. He also established in 1788 in Warsaw a publishing house named Drukarnia Wolna (Free Press) as well as the city's first free reading room.

Potocki's wealth enabled him to travel extensively about Europe, the Mediterranean and Asia, visiting Italy, Sicily, Malta, The Netherlands, Germany, France, England, Russia, Turkey, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and even Mongolia. He was also one of the first travel writers of the modern era, penning lively accounts of many of his journeys, during which he also undertook extensive historical, linguistic and ethnographic studies. As well as his many scholarly and travel writings, he also wrote a play, a series of sketches and a novel.

Potocki married twice and had five children. His first marriage ended in divorce, and both marriages were the subject of scandalous rumors. In 1812, disillusioned and in poor health, he retired to his estate at Uladowka in Podolia, suffering from "melancholia" (which today would probably be diagnosed as depression), and during the last few years of his life he completed his novel.

Potocki committed suicide in December 1815[1] at the age of 54, though the exact date is uncertain — possibly November 20, December 2 or December 11. There are also several versions of the circumstances of his death; the best-known story is that he shot himself in the head with a silver bullet — fashioned from the strawberry-shaped knob of a sugar bowl given to him by his mother — which he first had blessed by his castle priest. One version of Potocki's suicide suggests that he gradually filed the knob off the lid, a little every morning.


Potocki's most famous work is The Manuscript Found in Saragossa. Originally written in French as Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse, it is a frame tale which he wrote to entertain his wife. On account of its rich interlocking structure and telescoping story sequences, the novel has drawn comparisons to such celebrated works as the Decameron and the Arabian Nights.

The book's title is explained in the foreword, which is narrated by an unnamed French officer who describes his fortuitous discovery of an intriguing Spanish manuscript during the sack of Saragossa in 1809, in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Soon after, the French officer is captured by the Spanish and stripped of his possessions; but a Spanish officer recognizes the manuscript's importance, and during the French officer's captivity the Spaniard translates it for him into French.

The manuscript has been written by a young officer of the Walloon Guard, Alphonse van Worden. In 1739, while en route to Madrid to serve with the Spanish Army, he is diverted into Spain's rugged Sierra Morena region. There, over a period of sixty-six days, he encounters a varied group of characters, including Muslim princesses, Gypsies, outlaws and cabbalists, who tell him an intertwining series of bizarre, amusing and fantastic tales which he records in his diary.

The sixty-six stories cover a wide range of themes, subjects and styles, including gothic horror, picaresque adventures and comic, erotic and moral tales. The stories reflect Potocki's interest in secret societies, the supernatural, and oriental cultures, and they are illustrated with his detailed observations of 18th-century European manners and customs, particularly those of upper-class Spanish society.

Many of the locations described in the tales are real places and regions which Potocki would have visited during his travels, while others are fictionalized accounts of actual places.

While there is still some dispute about the novel's authorship, it is now generally accepted to have indeed been written by Potocki. He began writing it in the 1790s and completed it in 1814, a year before his death, though the novel's structure is thought to have been fully mapped out by 1805.

The novel was never published in its entirety during Potocki's lifetime. A proof edition of the first ten "days" was circulated in St Petersburg in 1805, and a second extract was published in Paris in 1813, almost certainly with Potocki's permission. A third publication, combining both earlier extracts, was issued in 1814, but it appears that at the time of his death Potocki had not yet decided on the novel's final form.

Potocki composed the book entirely in the French language. Sections of the original manuscripts were later lost, but have survived in a Polish translation that was made in 1847 by Edmund Chojecki from a complete French copy, now lost.

The most recent and complete French-language version, edited by François Rosset and Dominique Triaire, was published in 2006 in Leuven, Belgium, as part of a critical scholarly edition of the Complete Works of Potocki. Unlike Radrizzani's 1989 edition of the Manuscript Found in Saragossa, Rosset and Triaire's edition has been based solely on Potocki's French-language manuscripts found in several libraries in France, Poland (in particular, previously unknown autograph pieces that they discovered in Poznań), Spain and Russia, as well as in the private collection of Potocki's heirs. They identified two versions of the novel: one unfinished, of 1804, published in 1805, and the full version of 1810, which appears to have been completely reconceived in comparison to the 1804 version. Whereas the first version has a lighter, more sceptical tone, the second one tends towards a darker, more religious mood. In view of the differences between the two versions, the 1804 and 1810 versions have been published as two separate books; paperback editions were issued in early 2008 by Flammarion.

The first English-language edition, published in 1995, was a translation of Radrizzani's edition by Oxford scholar Ian Maclean.

Potocki's novel became more widely known in the West via the stylish black-and-white film adaptation made in Poland in 1965 as The Saragossa Manuscript (Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie).

It was directed by renowned film-maker Wojciech Has and starred Zbigniew Cybulski as Alphonse van Worden. Cybulski was one of the biggest stars in 1960s Polish cinema and, because of his good looks, rebellious image, and premature death, is often described as "Poland's James Dean."


    * Histoire Primitive des Peuples de la Russie avec une Exposition complete de Toutes les Nations, locales, nationales et traditionelles, necessaires a l'intelligence du quatrieme livre d'Herodote (St. Petersbourg: Imprime a l'Academie Imperiale des Sciences, 1802)
    * Voyage dans les steppes d'Astrakhan et du Caucase (Paris, 1829).
    * Voyage en Turquie et en Egypte (1788; Polish translation by Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz, Podróz do Turek i Egiptu, 1789).
    * Voyage dans l’Empire de Maroc (1792)

Modern editions have appeared as follows:

    * Voyages en Turquie et en Egypte, en Hollande, au Maroc (Paris: Fayard, 1980; new edition, Phébus, 1991)
    * Voyage au Caucase et en Chine (Paris: Fayard, 1980)

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