The Great Enigma: Adela S. and the First Polish Translation.

The first Polish translation of Alice in Wonderland is like the Enigma, an encryption machine whose  name comes from the Greek word  αίνιγμα, “riddle”. In 1932, using permutation theory, a Polish team under the leadership of  mathematician Marian Rajewski broke the German Enigma encryption code. But after 1939, the practical use of knowledge of the code was beyond the capabilities of that team, so the information was passed on to the English at Bletchley Park, where the Government Code and Cypher School was located, and a team of cryptologists worked to perfect the deciphering of German messages.( One of the most outstanding members of this team was Alan Turing,  an English mathematician, computer scientist, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. Thanks to Dr. Franziska Kohlt’s  recent webinar, we know that Alan Turing borrowed three books by Lewis Carroll from the school library: Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Game of Logic.)

The following is the story of my search for the first Polish translation,  Przygody Alinki w krainie cudów, and explanation of why I associate the word “enigma” with the first translator.


The article in The Carrollian about Alice’s first Japanese translations inspired me to write a similar article about Polish translations ♣1. Both the first Polish Alice in Wonderland and its translator turned out to be great puzzles. The year was 2002, and Wikipedia had just launched; if you wanted to learn anything, you  had to personally check in libraries or write and call people who had knowledge. Additionally, the topic of the first Polish translation turned out to be confusing  because some pieces of information on the subject were sometimes contradictory, as some examples show:

The venerable Wielka Encyklopedia Powszechna  referred to the incorrect year of publication:  “the Polish edition of 1927.”  [2*]

In 1955, Alice in Wonderland  was translated by Antoni Marianowicz, the third translator. This has been the best version for kids so far.  By 2002, Marianowicz’s book had ten editions.  In the introduction to the first edition, addressed to young readers, the previous two Polish translations of Alice and their translators are not mentioned. However, in the fourth edition, from 1988,  we can read in the Introduction: “The first Polish edition was published in 1927.” The translator’s name is not mentioned. The same (mis)information was repeated in a beautiful edition with illustrations by Gosia Mosz in  2005. [3*]

It seemed that more information could be found in a scholarly work on children’s literature,[4*] which said, “the first Polish translation of Alice in Wonderland, made by Maria Morawska (1910), did not leave a lasting mark despite Antoni Lange’s contribution to the Polonization of the verse inserts.” The year of the  first edition is correct but not the name of the translator.

There was completely different data in a book by Barbara Tylicka,[5*] who mentioned the first Polish edition, correctly  called Przygody Alinki w krainie cudów, 1910, but was unable to provide me with more detailed information.

I was faced with a double conundrum. Does the book of the first Polish translation physically exist—and who is its author?

I found a more specific answer from Robert Stiller, the fifth translator of Alice.[6*] In the introduction to his bilingual version, he provides enigmatic information about the book and its first translator: “I know nothing about the earliest version of Adela S. Published in 1910, it completely disappeared and only a trace of its existence remains in a bibliography.”

I then knew whom and what to look for. It seemed to me that a university library might contain such an old book. Unfortunately, I was wrong. None of the university  libraries boasted of having Alinka.


Enigma in Knight LetterHowever,  I found evidence  in the oldest Polish university library, the Jagiellonian, that the book existed. In 1910, Przewodnik Biblioteczny  (The Literary Guide) noted the release of Przygody Alinki w krainie cudów translated (“Polonized”) by “Adela S.” based on the Macmillian 90th –thousand  edition. The book was published by M. Arct and illustrated with 38 pictures.

Another surprising fact was the cheap price of the book at that time – 60 kopecks. In 1910,  M. Arct Publishing House was located in Warsaw, which was part of the Russian partition, hence the price was Russian,  but  the book was in Polish. However, Przegląd Oświatowy (Educational Review) lists a  price of 1.5 million marks (Due to hyperinflation), because  the publisher of this magazine was based in Poznań,  another part of Poland under the Prussian partition. This is not the first paradox associated with this unique specimen. (Poland regained its independence in 1918.)


Compared to thirteen other Polish translations, the title of the Alice’s book, author’s name and illustrations require explanation.

There is a striking discrepancy in the spelling  of the pen name of the Alice’s author. All Polish translators, except the first, have retained the original spelling. Adela S. adapted not only the content of the book but the name of the author as well. Therefore, Lewis Carroll was changed into “Karrol Ludwik.” Although the change might have been accepted by some Polish language purists, the word “Karrol” is still misspelled as a proper name. “Karrol” with double “r” does not exist in Polish. Besides, the  letter “K’ made my search more difficult, because I naturally  searched for a catalog based on the first letter of the surname “C.”. Further, the issue of the title might cause another linguistic problem or two, as the book has two titles. A reader can see Przygody Alinki w Krainie Czarów on the cover. However, on the title page of  the book  the title appears as  Przygody Alinki w krainie cudów and this title was mentioned in the entry of Przewodnik Biblioteczny.[7*]

To tell the truth, it reminds me of Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat – Would you tell me which way  . . . here,  which title  ought I to choose?  Theoretically,  it doesn’t matter, but  in fact, readers may feel confused and be led to believe that they are two different books. The name of the protagonist  is also a problem. In the Polish tradition, there are three popular female names: “Alicja,” “Alina,”, and “Adela.” The Polish diminutive of ”Alicja” is “Ala,” which was used by Maria Morawska, the second translator.  The version used by Adela S. should be considered as being derived from another proper name, “Alina” (the English equivalent  would be “Adeline” or “Aline”’). All later translators use  the name  “Alicja.”

Finally, the last issue to discuss is the question of the 38 illustrations. The illustrator’s name is not given. However, it is not hard to notice there are three types of pictures: Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska    discovered that twenty  pictures were based on illustrations by Thomas Maybank, which can be seen in the Routledge edition from 1908, [8*] whereas ten pictures are Tenniel’s originals. The third type of illustrations are a combination of both artists’ style .

In 2002, when I was writing about the Polish translation for The Carrollian , [9*] I was bothered with the question why Alinka was despised or ignored by critics. Ultimately, my search for any review or analysis was a failure;  I could base things only on Robert Stiller’s opinion. He too was searching for Alinka without a positive result, so I supposed that he could be right when he wrote,  “In 1927, the Publisher Gebethner and Wolf ordered a new translation, apparently finding the previous one to be useless.” I also suspected that Adela S. could be aware of the poor quality of her translation and preferred to hide her surname under the initials. It was bit of a risky opinion, as I based it only on the renowned translator’s information.


Nowadays it is possible to read Przygody Alinki on the Internet, [10*] but its author has remained unknownan untill 2019. In 2019,  Teksty Drugie (Second Tests), a bimonthly magazine issued by the Institute of Literary Research, published an intriguing hypothesis presented by Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, a profesor of German studies and applied linguistics. [11*]

According to Adamczyk-Garbowska, Alinka was published in the cheap “Moja Biblioteczka” (my Bookcase) series; however, the text translated by Adela S. was too faithful and too “adult” for the needs and expectations of the Polish reader of the early twentieth century. Contrary to Stiller’s opinion, Professor Adamczyk-Garbowska  rates the quality of the translation quite highly. Besides a concise analysis of the translation, she focuses on the probability the real person disguised behind the family name which was shorten to a letter “S” and  “suggests that the pseudonym might stand for Adela Silberstein, a philosopher who wrote a pioneering study in aesthetics.”

 Adela Silberstein was born in Warsaw in 1874. She studied philosophy and psychology at university in Zurich, Switzerland. Little is known about her life, although  Adamczyk-Garbowska did try to reconstruct it based on information from old newspaper articles and correspondence. Adela S. was the author of the Introduction to Modern Aesthetics.[12] Together with her brother Ludwik, a Polish-American physicist, she translated the texts of W.K. Clifford, a British philosopher and mathematician. Independently, but under the pseudonym Ada Silbi, she translated the works of Ellen Key, the Swedish feminist. It is supposed that having translated Alinka, she preferred not to reveal her real family name because she intended to develop her career as a philosopher.  Adamczyk-Garbowska  did not conclusively say that Adela Silberstein was Adela S. , Alice ‘s translator; she claims the key to the mystery has not been found yet.  


Probably Adela S.  had to know German better than English, which may be confirmed by a funny example. Alice as translated by Antoni Marianowicz was aimed at  children. However, Marianowicz was often criticized for his poor English, which was supposed to be indicated by the word “bank” in the first sentence. He translated it as a “bench,”  probably, as his critics suggest, because  he associated this word with its German equivalent.[13*] However, the same mistake can be seen in Adela’s translation. She not only used the Polish word “ławka” (bench) but the  illustration on the cover shows  the girl on the bench, surrounded by animals.

Although Adela S. is no longer with us, a few copies of her book are  currently available to interested readers. In 2002, when I was intensively, but unsuccessfully searching for Alinka, Ewa Rajewska was successful in finding the book while she was writing her master’s thesis. It turned out that the  book was not in the university library, as I supposed,  but in the Raczyński Library in Fabianowo.  Agata Miśko from  the Children’s Book Archive confirmed to me that the book existed, but was a little damaged. It had lost its cover and lacked pages 103-106.  It was bought by the Raczyński  Library in 1969 but nobody knows the details. Another copy belongs to  Maciej Sieńczyk, a cartoonist, illustrator and comic book creator. He has loved Alice since his childhood and had luck to buy Alinka  at an auction several years ago. Now he shares his Alinka on Wikipedia. Another person I contacted to confirm the existence of this unique  book was  Professor Elżbieta Muskat-Tabakowska [14*]. An old friend of hers offered her his own copy of Alinka when she received a PhD in linguistics. So far I have  contacted three owners of Alinka and hope to find other copies.


For years the very book Przygody Alinki was elusive untill Ewa Rajewska ( a student then and currently  a professor at Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU), found a  copy in the Children’s Book Archive and mentioned it  in her book.[15*]  Apart from scientific analyses of the three divergent Alice’s in Polish, Ewa Rajewska presented her own view on the little protagonist, using  a poem by the Polish Nobelist Wisława Szymborska and illustrated some of its lines with the photos taken by Lewis Carroll.

Will Silberstein ever be proven to be the translator? Perhaps. But some enigmas are never meant to be solved.


1.       Mikiko Chimori, “Tenkei Hasegawa’s Kagami Sekai: The First Japanes Alice Translation,” The Carrollian, Issue 6, Autumn 2000.
2.       The Wielka Encyklopedia Powszechna (PWN), published between 1962 and 1970 by Państwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, was, until 2005, the largest Polish ecyclopedia ever written.
3.       Antoni Marianowicz, tr., Alicja w Krainie Czarów, Nasza Księgarnia, 2005. It also included Through the Looking Glass, tr. Hanna Bałtyn.
4.       Ryszard Waksmund, Od literatury dla dzieci do literatury dziecięcej, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego, 2000.
5.       Bohaterowie naszych książek (Heroes of our Books),  Literatura, 1999.
6.       Przygody Alicji w Krainie Czarów, Lettrex, 1990.
7.       The Polish language has two words denoting unusual phenomena, cud and czar (plural: cuda, czary; genetive: cudów, czarów). Both words describe unnatural changes, yet they belong to different semantic fields. Cud (miracle) is a popular belief connected with the supernatural force attributed, mainly, to God.  A czar (enchantment) belongs to the realm of fairy tales. Although the two words can be used synonymously, czar implies duration, whereas cud is an isolated case or happenning. The czar (charm) of a book lasts even when a reader finishes the last sentence; its cud (miracle) happens only once.
8.       Monika Adamczyk-Garbowska, “ Adela S(ilberstein)?  Zagadkowa tożsamość autorki pierwszego polskiego przekładu Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Lewisa Carrolla”  (Adela S(ilberstein)?  Identifying the Person Behind the First Polish Translation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”   in Teksty Drugie 4, 2019
9.        “The Polish Translations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass,” The Carrollian, Issue 11, Spring 2003.
11.   Note 8, above.
12.    Ada Werner-Silberstein, Wstęp do estetyki nowoczesnej, E. Wende, 1911.
13.   In German, “die Bank” is either a bank or a bench.
14.   Elżbieta Muskat-Tabakowska is an emeritus professor at the Jagiellonian University and the ninth Wonderland tranlator, in edition illustrated by Tove Jansson, Wydawnictwo Bona,  2012.
15.   Dwie wiktoriańskie chwile w Troi, trzy strategie translatorskie. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Lewisa Carrolla w przekładach Macieja Słomczyńskiego, Roberta Stillera i Jolanty Kozak  (Two Victorian Moments in Troy, Three Translational Strategies:  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll in Translations by Maciej Słomczyński, Robert Stiller and Jolanta Kozak. Poznańskie Studia Polonistyczne, 2004

“Originally published in the Knight Letter, the magazine of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, Volume III, Issue 11, Number 111, Fall 2023″Enigma- Artykuł