When comparing tales by Jan Neruda from his book Prague Tales we can find similarities in the style and topics choosen as well as differences.
Jan Neruda was a famous Czech writer and poet in the nineteenth- century Prague. He grew up in Malá Strana, in the old part of Prague. The Tales of the Little Quarter is his most popular prose work. The book of Prague tales consist of thirteen short stories describing events from Neruda´s childhood and youth. His book is particularly famous for the satirical depictions and colorful characteristics of people, places and events from the Little Quarter. The three tales we read are following: The Three Lilies, The Tender heart of Mrs Rus, The S. Wenceslas Mass.
The Tende heart of Mrs Rus is a story of a woman who goes to all funerals to cry and slander when finally the police prohibits her to do so. Neruda is the narrator of the story, however he does not personally participate in the story. He depicts the characters such as Mr. Velš („… pleasant figure:medium-sized, plump, a small head constantly nodding, and the smile…“) and Mrs. Rus. He specifies places in Prague, writes about traditons and customs not only of funerals at the time of the 40s and 50s of the nineteen century Prague. Neruda has a certain interest in peculiar characters (Mr. Velš, Mrs. Rus). He portaits the disappearing life of the inhabitants of the Little Quarter.
The Three Lilies is a short tale quite different from the others in the book. It is a short poetic story of one summer rainy evening in Prague. Neruda is the narrator telling his personal experience. He tells a romantic story of a girl dancing in a pub. Suddenly she receives a message that her mother died, but she continues in enjoyment. At the end she walks out from the pub in hand with Neruda. It is quite a surprising end.
The story shows human impassibility, a person that stays calm even when her mother died. The Three Lilies is an intense and dramatic story. I like how the author describes the atmosphere. The reader can almost feel the muggy cold weather and yet the heat of the dancing body. Neruda uses nice metaphor to describe the girls eyes: „… they were clear as water, inscrutable as the surface of the deep, insatiable.“
The St. Wenceslas Mass – describes the authors own experience from his childhood. Again Neruda is the narrator of the story and the main hero at the same time. Neruda is remembering an evening when he was a little boy and he stayed overnight in St. Vitus cathedral to see mass of St. Wenceslas, however he overslept everything. The story is dramatic. Neruda greatly describes the atmosphere of the church interior as well as feelings of the young boy, his thoughts and imaginations. It is a bit strange that the story does not deal with faith in God but rather than faith in national heroes which the boy vividly imagines.
The three tales have some similarities in the language used, themes and common characteristics.
The original language in which the stories are written has its charm which can´t be observed in the English version that much. Neruda uses contemporary spoken language which helps to emphasis the realistic picture of city life. He uses the language which the people used at that time – simple and sometimes even non-literary. Neruda´s aim is to portrait the real life in his native city, show the human face of ordinary individuals. He usually picks peculiar characters, Mrs Rus is a good example, her „hobby“ is to go to cry down at funerals. The story The Tender heart of Mrs Rus characterizes the best the life among the inhabitants of the Little Quarter compared to the other stories we read.
The point all three stories have in common is a general human theme. The topic Neruda pictures are every day themes from life without idealization. He criticises the petty bourgeoisies, their indifference and slander and narrow-mindedness especially in the first tale.
Even though I read the tales in both Czech and English I have difficulties to find special links between the tales. There are some symbols which could be discussed, however I think that the primer aim was to portrait the society. Write a non-fiction book which anyone could read.
Neruda shows the beauty and value of seemingly small events and things in life. It is a pleasure to read Neruda´s „bittersweet symphonies“ of the Little Quarter of Prague and feel the atmosphere of the old days.
25. srpen 2007