Shades (story)

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"Shades" (Polish: "Cienie") is one of Bolesław Prus' shortest micro-stories. Written in 1885, it comes from a several years' period of pessimism in the author's life caused partly by the 1883 failure of Nowiny (News), a Warsaw daily that he had been editing less than a year. Prus, the "lamplighter" who had striven to dispel darkness and its attendant "fear, error and crime," had failed to sufficiently interest the public in his "observatory of societal facts," Nowiny.[1]

"Shades" is one of several micro-stories by Bolesław Prus that were inspired partly by 19th-century French prose poetry.[2]

Prus scholar Zygmunt Szweykowski writes:

Night, darkness, unfamiliar places with indeterminate details of topography, and indeed any powerful phenomenon arouses anxiety in Prus, which prompts him to personify nature. There appears before him a world of living, mysterious, menacing things... full of uncanny experiences, of strange shapes, of striking contrasts of light and shade. The latter realm of sensations, especially, is represented in a most interesting way; extraordinary moments sensitize Prus to changes in light, and the more so to its absence; from this, spring interesting poetic suggestions of the lives of shades in his works ("Shades" [1885], "In the Light of the Moon" [1884], etc.)....

Based on an exact familiarity with nature and with scientific abstractions, which Prus knows consummately how to render concrete, the writer creates a completely original world, not encountered in other authors, of splendid visions striking by their perspectives of infinity; these translate the longings, yearnings and struggles of the human soul to the universe ("In the Light of the Moon") or bring to light a higher, religious, mythic or legendary order of the universe ("New Year" [1880]).

These far-reaching perspectives, present at the start of Prus' writing career, intensify markedly after 1882 with the failure of Nowiny [News]. The writer's attitude to his art changes decisively; that art becomes ever closer to him, and we see his writing gain remarkably in depth, and humor assume a distinct role, and Prus begin to avoid writing [the kinds of] pieces [that he had been writing, motivated previously by] a desire to amuse the reader [with] jibes and jokes...[3]

Prus' micro-story "Shades" comprises two successive parts. The first half evokes the above-described atmosphere of dread, via Prus' description of an eternal contest between light and darkness. The second half of the micro-story pictures the efforts of one of a number of nameless lamplighters to dispel the darkness, for as long as his limited lifespan permits.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christopher Kasparek, "Two Micro-Stories by Bolesław Prus," The Polish Review, 1995, no. 1, p. 99.
  2. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa, p. 99.
  3. ^ Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Art of Bolesław Prus), pp. 93–94.