Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror.
CANTO SIX: STANZA TWO
This 6th and final Canto of The Songs of Maldoror is entirely different from all the previous Cantos. Instead of being self-contained episodes that jump around to different periods in the long life of the supernatural main character these closing Stanzas form an extended narrative set entirely in late 1860s Paris.
The story details Maldoror’s efforts to seduce a 16 year old youth named Mervyn into abandoning his family and becoming his latest lover and traveling companion as well as the attempts by Mervyn’s family and the forces of God to save the young man. This sudden change of approach as well as the author Isidore Ducasse’s obsession with precise movements through the streets of Paris in this section has spawned a conspiracy theory of sorts among some circles of Maldoror readers.
For those readers Ducasse is using Maldoror as a fictional stand-in for himself as he relates a real-life seduction and murder of a young man at his own hands. In the eyes of those readers these final Stanzas even include coded directions to the location in Paris where Ducasse supposedly hid the body.
Putting that aside my own view is that this closing Canto cements Ducasse as the “first 20th Century writer” in world history, despite the fact that the new Century was still 30 years off when he died. The tug of war that goes on between Maldoror and Mervyn’s family for Mervyn’s soul is a perfect metaphor for the way in which parents of later decades would feel themselves competing with popular culture and alternate sexual lifestyles for the minds, souls and futures of their children.
In that respect Maldoror is rock and roll … he’s violent movies or video games … he’s Heavy Metal music or drug use or any other pernicious influence that the traditional family viewed as rivals for their children’s loyalty and affection. The main difference is that we readers know for a fact that Maldoror is definitely a fatal negative influence. In real life it’s never that clear-cut.
The irony of all that is that Mervyn’s “bourgeois” family (as they would have been described in later years) is RIGHT. Though Ducasse has spent the previous Cantos openly ravaging anything and everything traditional the plain fact is that Mervyn’s family genuinely cares for him. Maldoror will just use him and then kill him. He will literally pay with his life for his fling with the bohemian lifestyle.
This 2nd Stanza of the 6th Canto presents Maldoror living in late 1860s Paris. His reason for settling down for an extended period is that he feels he has always had better luck finding victims in heavily populated areas. He boasts to the reader that he knows that the authorities of many nations seek him, as do the private agents of a host of powerful enemies but he has no fear.
He reminds the reader of how he has so often thwarted the plans of those who seek his destruction and he feels confident that he can afford to remain in one place for a while. He reflects on how he previously launched prolonged reigns of terror on Madrid, St Petersburg and Peking. Now it is Paris’ turn.
Our malevolent protagonist reminds readers how he has, since the dawn of time, tried to exterminate humanity in large numbers by inciting wars, pestilence (his 15 year lice) and civil unrest. Though he claims to have slain countless generations of people, hated humanity continues to thrive. For the near future Maldoror has decided to kill off victims one by one, the better to relish their individual suffering.
CANTO SIX: STANZA THREE
The actual narrative of this Stanza begins with Maldoror walking the gaslit, abandoned streets of Paris at night. He has lingered so long in the City of Lights preying on various victims that the citizens have become so thoroughly terrified that the streets are deserted after nightfall.
At length he spots 16 year old Mervyn, a young man hurrying home after a late appointment with his fencing instructor. Maldoror contemplates killing the young man outright but as he stalks him he becomes struck by the youth’s physical beauty.
He rapturously compares Mervyn’s beauty to the retractibility of the claws on birds of prey and to many other things climaxing with a comparison to “the fortuitous encounter upon a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.” That last line is often lovingly quoted by surrealists of future decades when they praise Ducasse’s writing.
At any rate this Stanza ends with Maldoror trailing the increasingly nervous and fearful Mervyn to his family’s home on the Rue Lafayette.
I WILL BE EXAMINING ADDITIONAL SECTIONS VERY SOON. CHECK BACK ONCE OR TWICE A WEEK FOR NEW INSTALLMENTS.
FOR PART ONE CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2015/02/28/maldoror-a-neglected-masterpiece-of-surreal-horror/
FOR OTHER PARTS OF MALDOROR CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/maldoror/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.