LITERARY PROSE

Let us look at the opening paragraphs of FRANZ KAFKA’S ‘METAMORPHOSIS’ translated by David Wyllie.

“One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin. He lay on his armour-like back, and if he lifted his head a little he could see his brown belly, slightly domed and divided by arches into stiff sections. The bedding was hardly able to cover it and seemed ready to slide off any moment. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, waved about helplessly as he looked.

“What’s happened to me?” he thought. It wasn’t a dream. His room, a proper human room although a little too small, lay peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of textile samples lay spread out on the table – Samsa was a travelling salesman – and above it there hung a picture that he had recently cut out of an illustrated magazine and housed in a nice, gilded frame. It showed a lady fitted out with a fur hat and fur boa who sat upright, raising a heavy fur muff that covered the whole of her lower arm towards the viewer.”

We note the following:

• The story is told by an omniscient narrator who controls the whole situation and goes straight to the point. There is no dilly-dallying.
• The past tense is used throughout.
• There is a variety of sentences: simple, compound and complex.
• Direct and reported speeches are used.
• The descriptive technique is as precise and succinct as a surgeon’s scalpel. Samsa is lower-middle class (a travelling salesman) and his life is far from being exciting. His room is small, the picture on the wall has been cut from a magazine and the picture frame is gilded – not genuine. The lady in fur seems to symbolize the fame and fortune people dream of to forget a dreary reality – the table covered with samples. Is the fur used to hide poverty?
• The punctuation marks help the reader to negotiate the meaning of the text and are vital for proper understanding.

This is good prose. It is the kind of prose which journalists master to tell their ‘stories’. Please note that in English ‘story’ also means a news item and the term ‘un/une story’ has entered the French language.

Now study the Mauritian version which is an attempt to develop ‘literary prose’ in our national language.

“Enn gramaten, ler Gregor Samsa so somey, trouble par kosmar terib, ti kase, li ti dekouver ki, lor so lili, li ti finn vinn enn bebet kouma enn kankretorti zean. Li ti alonze lor so ledo-lakok, e ler li ti lev so latet enn tigit li ti kapav get so vant maron ki ti enpe sorti e ki ti akot kouma tol kannle. So dra ti vinn tro tipti pou kouver so gro vant e koumadir li ti pre pou glise, tonbe. So bann lapat meg-meg konpare ar so lekor ti pe bat fol dan ler.

“Ki finn ariv mwa?” li ti panse. Pa ti enn rev sa. So lasam, enn lasam normal, enpe tipti kikfwa, ti pe repoz anpe ant kat miray familie. Lor latab ti ena enn koleksion santiyon latwal – Samsa ti enn revander anbilan – e lao lor miray ti ena enn foto ki li ti koupe dan enn revi e ki li ti met dan enn kad kouler larzan. Foto la ti montre enn madam ki ti ena enn sapo fourir, enn esarp fourir otour so likou. Li ti asiz drwat e li ti pe ris enn fouro fourir otour so lame ek avanbra ki ti leve ver dimoun ki pe get foto la.”

You will certainly note that the past tense marker ‘ti’ is used systematically whereas in speech and oral literature, it is dropped once it has been established that the narrative takes place in the past. You may wonder whether this is necessary. I do think it is necessary but you may not.

Learning to read any language is difficult for we are not genetically programmed to do it but learning to read prose be it journalistic or literary is a very complex matter which demands a lot of painful practice. A prose writing and reading culture in a new language takes a lot of efforts and time to develop.

31.08.19

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