Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

28 Oct 2011

(Short Story) The Mark of Appeles/Il Tratto de Apelle by: Boris Pasternak

(Reaction) That's Art? by: Antonio Conejos

I'm loath to begin a reaction with a sign of surrender but I have to admit that I found the plot of this short story by Pasternak to be impenetrably obtuse. As such, I will attempt to emulate the method of any good detective faced with a mystery: piece together what happened (as best I can) and then attempt to draw some sort of a conclusion from that.

Emilio Relinquimini and Heinrich Heine are both coincidentally at Pisa in the same time but fail to meet. Heine leaves word for Relinquimini that he (Heine) is proceeding to Ferrara. Ferrara incidentally is featured prominently in Relinquimini's poetry, in all the amorous poems of Relinquimini, there is the unchangeable annotation: Ferrara. Heine is confident that Relinquimini will follow, how he will run to the station when the lackey informs him of my journey!

When Heine arrives in Ferrara he posts a notice in a newspaper that he has discovered a notebook lost by Relinquimini and that it can be claimed from him at his hotel. A woman, Camillia, comes to claim the notebook and she and Heine end up in an amorous affair.

This spontaneous relationship is surprising, not least because they have just met, We are almost strangers to one another. The relationship between the two is a sign that lines between reality and art are blurred. Right before Heine departs Pisa, he leaves for Relinquimini a sheaf of papers which read, But Rondolfina and Enrico have discarded their old names and changed them into names hitherto unprecedented.

These names seem to be fictional as the papers were selected from some manuscripts. Yet the fictional names and characters come alive because Heine and Camillia begin to take on these names and address each other as such. In enticing Heine out of the hotel, Camillia addresses him as, Signor Enrico... Come out in the street. It is so much better to leave the stupid drawing room. Heine is even more explicit with in identifying Camillia with Rondolfina, O Camillia, Rondolfina is you!

The unreality (ie. the surreal quality of fiction mixing with life) of Il Tratto de Apelle is further emphasized by Heine constantly questioning whether he has in fact woken up, if he is not in fact dreaming the entire episode with Camillia. Camilla herself asks this of him, I do hope the lackey definitely woke you.

Given the dream like whirlwind between Heine and Camillia, fictional characters given form and life, the mark of Appeles then would seem to be that art and fiction intermingle to the extent that we cannot separate one from the other. Perhaps though, as seen in Pasternak's short story, the real mark of art is its impenetrability.


Difficult, difficult read. I've never read Pasternack's Doctor Zhivago but if his epic is anything like this short story then I'm intimidated already.

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