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This article examines Henryk Sienkiewicz’s proto-racist distinction between the gentry and the commoners in his novel With Fire and Sword (1883–1884). This division, which is believed to be part of the divine world order, credits the commoners with an inferior humanity. It is founded on a set of essentialist beliefs – that social class is inherited, that ‘noble blood’ confers superiority, and that physiognomy bespeaks high birth (you can tell a noblemen or noblewoman by their physical appearance). As the article claims, Sienkiewicz allows no room for a voice questioning those beliefs, let alone exposing their class-bound arbitrariness.
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