As I was reading The Dedalus Book of Lithuanian Literature, I noticed that there are two features which many of the stories have in common and I was a little bit surprised by what they were, having read the Introduction in which its author emphasizes the importance of historical events that influenced Lithuanian literature. The common themes which stand out for me are the importance of nature and the emphasis on an individual’s experience. The three stories which I would like to discuss to illustrate this are Antanas Vaičiulaitis’s ‘The Light of Your Face,’ Romualdas Lankauskas’s ‘No One’s to Blame’ and Juozas Aputis’s ‘A Cry in the Full Moon.’ Vaičiulaitis(1906 -1992), Aputis (1936-2010), Lankauskas (b1932) all wrote in the twentieth century.
In the first short story ‘The Light of Your Face,’ the reader is not provided with information about the setting or when the story is set. The story revolves around an old woman, Theresa. She struggles to come to terms with the hostility and contempt of the younger members of her family. It is only when she leaves the house and begins to wander in the countryside that she feels alive and at home. Nature is a source of comfort and creates a place which is familiar and welcoming, in contrast to the treatment Theresa receives from people.
In ‘No one to Blame’, the author deals with the themes of infidelity, responsibility and blame. There is an emphasis on the relationships between people and their treatment of one another. The story is written in a naturalistic mode, unlike the short story discussed earlier. Although the questions which the work poses are related to a particular situation, they are universal problems which constantly occur in our lives. As in the first story the role of nature is given an important role in a man’s life. Here, however, it does not serve as a shelter but rather an escape and a source of beauty and astonishment. As the narrator goes fishing with his friend, he ponders on how humanity is becoming more distant from nature and lacks the feeling of infinity and wonder which it provides.
In the third story, ‘A Cry in the Full Moon,’ the author introduces a figure of a hunchback and compares him to Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo. The hunchback wanders around the village and we observe through his eyes the lives of the villagers. Unable to express himself and seen as ‘different’, he is an outcast. At the same time, however, he is aware of his superiority to the others precisely because he is different. He recognises simple phenomena and reacts to them instinctively. He is an interesting character and by seeing the world through the eyes of an outcast we are forced to see reality differently and have our preconceptions challenged. You feel both sympathy and sadness for the hunchback. ‘A Cry in the Full Moon’ makes you ask questions about yourself and those who live around you.
Nature and its effect on the individual permeate the Lithuanian short stories in various guises and extents. It is what remains in my mind after reading The Dedalus Book of Lithuanian Literature.