Stefan Grabinsky (Grabinsky) (Stefan Grabiński) – a Polish writer, one of the founders of Polish science fiction, best known for stories in the horror genre, in particular, from the collection “Demon ruchu” (Demon of movement), entirely based on the motives of the train and the railway. The prose of Grabinsky was appreciated by Stanislav Lem, who wrote an afterword to the publication of his short stories in 1975.
Grabinsky was born on February 26, 1887 in the city of Kamenka-Bug (Lviv region) in the family of a district judge. As a child, he was often ill; he developed early bone tuberculosis. He graduated from the philological faculty of Lviv University. He taught at the gymnasium in various Polish cities (the longest, in 1917-1927, in Przemysl). He made his debut in print in 1909 under the pseudonym Stefan (Polish: Stefan Żalny) with the story “Crazy Manor”, which was included in a small collection of macabre works. After the end of the First World War in 1918, he published a collection of six short stories, “Na wzgórzu róż” (“On a Mountain of Roses”), which received some good reviews. He made the greatest impression on Karol Izhikovsky, an influential critic and author of innovative avant-garde prose. Izhikovsky, already familiar with the stories of Grabinsky, called him “a strikingly original author who showed a sharp mind and masterfully mastered the word.”
Despite the fact that Stefan Grabinsky wrote many fantastic works, during his lifetime he was practically unknown in Poland and, with the exception of two minor publications in Italy, was not translated. Grabinsky’s period of greatest success falls on 1918-22, when he published five collections of short stories. Grabinsky did not seek the favor of critics and the public and soon took a militant stance against criticism of his works. In one of his early tales, “The Incarnation,” he portrayed his fictional double: a dedicated artist who despises the norm and breaks up with his audience to move towards the comprehension of the powerful, supernatural forces generated by his imagination. Like the character of this story, Grabinsky was a lone idealist who sought to understand the hidden powers of the world and the human mind and embodied them in fiction about the supernatural.
Although Grabinsky proved that he could write a straightforward “horror story” like “Opowieść o grabarzu” (“The Tale of the Gravedigger”), most of his best works are open to diverse interpretations and demonstrate many old and new influences, representing the author’s connected worldview. A passionate opponent of mechanism and determinism, he combined the concepts of such ancient philosophers as Heraclitus and Plato with the modern philosophy of Henri Bergson and Maurice Meterlink in his struggle against the modern world, where the original human sense of self and nature was smoothed out by machines, restrictive systems and not far people.
Bergson was particularly influential. Grabinsky used his theory of duration in the Saturnine Sector. But in Grabinsky, the deepest strings were touched by the Bergsonian concept of “elan vital” – a spiritual force or energy that underlies reality and affects matter. He combined this “life force” with movement theories put forward by scholars such as Newton and Einstein in a series of railroad tales of homeless railroad workers, crazy passengers, and mysterious trains assembled under the name Demon ruchu in 1919. The collection met the warmest welcome in Poland. The railway world gave Grabinsky a symbol of Bergson’s “elan vital”. There was a moving forward, a powerful, direct force that could be felt underfoot and in the movement of cars, a force that embodied the hidden power of life; it was an environment that any person of that time could understand. The railway world led straight to the main problems of the anti-authoritarian, anti-materialist worldview of Grabinsky himself.
Grabinsky also touched on the topic of physical relations between the sexes. He openly and boldly revealed the dark forces of libido in such stories as “Sygnały” (“Signals”), “Lover of Shamoty” and “W przedziale” (“In the compartment”). In these works, the author anticipated the problem of gender identification. Some of his railway stories end with a clear orgiastic explosion, and Shamoty’s Mistress can be considered, at one of the levels of perception, as a story about the insanity caused by masturbation.
Unlike other writers of Eastern Europe, Grabinsky usually refrained from using the rich Polish folk tradition available to him. In this regard, his gaze was more directed to the West than to the East, and the writer took a modern approach to science fiction. In his works, he depicted only those supernatural entities that were known in the folklore of all European peoples. But even these entities acquired a distinct “Hrabin” character.