"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.
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" , "In the Light of the Moon" , 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" ).
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...
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.
- "Mold of the Earth" (a micro-story by Bolesław Prus).
- "The Living Telegraph" (a micro-story by Bolesław Prus).
- Prose poetry.
- "A Legend of Old Egypt" (Prus' first historical short story).
- Christopher Kasparek, "Two Micro-Stories by Bolesław Prus," The Polish Review, 1995, no. 1, pp. 99–103.
- Zygmunt Szweykowski, Twórczość Bolesława Prusa (The Art of Bolesław Prus), 2nd ed., Warsaw, Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1972.
- Barbara Bobrowska, "Latarnicy Wóycickiego i Prusa, czyli o 'fizjologii parabolicznej'" ("Wóycicki's and Prus' Lamplighters: 'parabolic physiology'"), in Małe narracje Prusa (Prus' Small Narratives), Gdańsk, słowo/obraz terytoria, 2004, pp. 113–34.
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