THE CENTENARIAN (1822) – Written by THE Honore de Balzac. Thirty-one days of Halloween continue here at Balladeer’s Blog! The Centenarian or The Two Beringhelds was one of the “quickie” novels that Balzac wrote in his early career, this one under the pseudonym Horace de Saint-Aubin.
Balzac himself looked down on The Centenarian and other early works that he churned out for quick money like the Pulp writers of a century later. Still, this work has value, just like the early Pulp stories from writers like Tennessee Williams, Dashiell Hammett and others. Plus I’m a Napoleon geek so I love immersing myself in the time period in which the novel is set.
The title character is really Count Maxime Beringheld Sculdans. The Centenarian was born in 1470 and led an adventurous life, supposedly even serving as a ship’s doctor when Columbus visited the New World. During his wanderings across the globe Count Maxime studied all the medicine and related sciences that he could.
Under the Rosicrucians the Centenarian learned various secrets of alchemy, including universal healing powers and immortality. Those last two secrets often worked hand in hand: Maxime would use his powers to mystically withdraw the illness or injury out of a sufferer but his “fee” was the draining of the life essence of another person in return.
The Centenarian leeches out the vitality of his victims but NOT by sucking out blood like a vampire. He drains their life force via alchemical means with his “medical” equipment. By the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Count Maxime has grown a bit weary of his eternal life in typical Gothic style.
In recent centuries our title character has devoted himself to secretly watching over his family line, mysteriously saving their lives or killing off their enemies at crucial periods. The Centenarian has most recently intervened in Spain during the Wars of the French Revolution, saving the life of his descendant General Tullius Beringheld.
Intrigued, Tullius seeks out information on his enigmatic savior and eventually learns the Centenarian’s true identity and about his supernatural nature. By this point (the 1790s) Maxime’s body is misshapen. His arms are emaciated but his torso and legs are thick and muscular.
He is unusually tall but the skin on his head is so thin that his scalp and facial features resemble a living skull. He smells of the grave but his powers of healing make others treat him with fear and respect despite the awful fee he demands.
The Centenarian’s additional powers include immunity to hanging and other forms of mortal injury. He has superhuman strength and his fiery eyes can induce fear, paralysis or death. He can read minds and teleport as well. Continue reading