Balladeer’s Blog resumes its examination of the macabre 1868 French language work The Songs of Maldoror.
THE MIDNIGHT OMNIBUS
Midnight strikes in Paris. An eerie double-decker horse-drawn omnibus bursts forth from the ground and begins making its way through the nearly empty, night-darkened streets.
A few late night wayfarers regard the unusual omnibus with a shudder as it goes by. The vehicle carries the full passenger load of twenty-four but all of the travelers on the upper deck appear to be lifeless corpses leaned against each other.
The top-hatted driver looks like another corpse, and the whip he uses to urge on his horses seems more alive than he is. That whip appears to be what animates the arm of the otherwise lifeless driver, not the other way around. Even the passengers on the inner deck remain mute and still and are likewise as pale as ghosts.
An eight year old child begins chasing after the omnibus as it rolls along. The child cries out that its parents have abandoned it and it has not eaten in over a day. Its legs are weary and it begs the driver to stop so that he may board the vehicle and reach his faraway home.
At last some of the omnibus’ passengers – Maldoror among them – begin to stir. Mostly they regard the boy’s cries as an annoyance and quickly lapse back into their former lethargy. Meanwhile, jolted awake by the desperate shouting of the child, inhabitants of homes along that Paris street fling open their windows to see what is going on.
Catching sight of the eerie omnibus and its unliving passengers they swiftly shut their windows again and retreat to their beds, some of them trembling. On the bus itself Maldoror is intrigued to note that one figure – a man named Lombano – feels the stirrings of conscience and seems concerned for the pleading child.
Unfortunately Lombano lacks the moral courage to stand up to his fellow passengers, who make it clear they do not want the driver to stop even to pick up the pursuing and still-crying child. Lombano bitterly ponders if this is what is meant by “human charity”.
Trying to affect the same unfeeling airs as his fellow passengers Lombano says “After all, why should I concern myself with a little child? Leave him well alone.” Maldoror is not fooled by the man’s pretended callousness and notes a tear running down Lombano’s cheek.
Maldoror also senses that Lombano is disillusioned with the 19th Century but is resigned to his lot in this cold, uncaring time period. The man seems to consider himself as trapped in this horrible world as Maldoror himself feels and our narrator expresses how pleased he is with Lombano.
At last stirring himself into action Lombano indignantly rises to his feet to indicate that he wants to exit the vehicle but the driver and his fellow passengers are as indifferent to this as they are to the pleas of the unfortunate child chasing them down the street.
Maldoror makes room next to him and gestures for Lombano to sit down by him. The young man, accepting that the omnibus will not be stopping, even to let him off, does so. Far behind the vehicle the pursuing child falls and strikes his head on the pavement.
The fallen boy is approached by a ragman (Scavengers who would dig through people’s trash looking for anything they could eat or use or possibly hock for money. In Paris at the time these figures were required by law to work ONLY at night.). Maldoror is relieved and seems convinced that the ragman will properly help the little boy.
Personally I’m not as convinced of that and, after all, Maldoror is not exactly the sanest of individuals but the narration indicates nothing sinister about the ragman’s intentions. Plus I always wonder how safe he would have been had he succeeded in boarding the macabre omnibus.
An infuriated Maldoror inwardly seethes and vows that this type of indifference to those in need is why he loathes humanity so much. (Pretty hypocritical posturing from a figure who tortures and murders people, including children.) He vows eternal vengeance against the callous creatures of the Earth and against their Creator. His every deed and his every written word will be devoted to that one thought. +++
This stanza comes across as a pretty obvious – even clumsy – allegory about the callousness of a seemingly uncaring world. Maldoror’s disgust seems a bit naive unless this is supposed to be an early encounter with such indifference. Overall it’s like a James Joycean epiphany from Dubliners but presented as Gothic horror since it’s from Isidore Ducasse.
As always Maldoror’s self-righteous indignation about human nature is ridiculous given his own conduct. Once again his (or Ducasse’s) thought process puts me in mind of serial killers who often use mankind’s general callousness as an excuse for their own atrocities.
Up next Maldoror resumes his blood-soaked ways. Be here. Aloha.
I WILL RESUME THIS LOOK AT THE SONGS OF MALDOROR 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/
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