Plzeňské sympozia

Tomáš Kolich

Light Effects in Jakub Arbes’ ‘Romanetta’

pp. 113–124 (Czech), Summary pp. 124–125 (English)

Jakub Arbes' "romanetta" constitute a genre combining a realistic framework with elements of fantasy. Th?e motif of light effects (coloured, flashing, or otherwise unusual radiance), though it has so far not been examined very much, is a key feature in this respect, because in Arbes' work it often accompanies or directly motivates a surreal
phenomenon, which, however, is usually rationally explained at the end of the story. Arbes uses light effects more or less constantly and describes them with considerable care. In his romanetto Ďábel na skřipci (Th?e Devil on the Rack, 1865), the narrator witnesses a change in the colour of the light in the room, which is later explained as
a side-effect of a substance he had taken. In Svatý Xaverius (Saint Xavier, 1872), while digging up a treasure the grass catches fire and one of the characters sees in the flames an image of the Saint. ?e strange colour of the flame is finally explained as having been caused by a certain mineral scattered in the grass and the revelation is accounted for by overwork. In the romanetto Ukřižovaná (Th?e Crucified Woman, 1876) a woman on a cross repeatedly appears to one of the characters at moments when they are suddenly dazzled, and madness caused by an intense coloured brightness also appears in the romanetto Poslední dnové lidstva (Th?e Last Days of the Human Race, 1895). Arbes may have drawn his inspiration for the motif of light effects from Edgar Allen Poe, who uses them in some of his short stories. ?e source may also have been phantasmagorical performances, either directly or mediated through the prose writings of Christian Heinrich Spiess. ?e consistent rationalisation of the phenomena induced by light, in which Arbes even goes into the field of physiology of sight and the function of the optic nerves, can be attributed not only to the nature of his genre of his romanetta, but also to his attempt to educate the public and demystify the phenomenon of human superstition as such.

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