Friday, July 3, 2009

shake hands with the devil#2

Blues Guitar players in the delta went to the crossroads at midnight and traded soul for the ability to play. If you were poor and desperate it seems like a reasonable deal. Though I’d stipulate that I had to sound so good people didn’t say: hey, you sound just like Martin Simpson….

The folk story versions usually have the clever peasant or the dumb peasant’s clever wife outwitting the devil. (Martin Carthy’s “devil and the feathery wife” being a fine example)

But the literary paradigms are less interesting. Faust is simply greedy and we all know he’s going to get screwed at the end. He simply isn’t likeable and his actions are petty. There’s something adolescent about his bargain: Gimme Everything: NOW! (and why Helen of Troy? Leaving aside the problem of whether ideals of beauty in 13th century BC Greece are yours, after the novelty wears off how is Helen of Troy in a penthouse in Paris any better than Helen of Totnes in a bed sit in Brixton?) Anyway.

Enter Maturin. Another Irishman. The names dominate 19th century gothic: Maturin, Le Fanu, Stoker. The latter is the best known but the other two are as good as he is and Le Fanu is easily the better writer. Which raises the question: Why is Dracula so popular: the Wanderer is a more interesting character and Carmilla the better vampire story? And why did th eirish get so drawn to this genre?

There’s phds in there somewhere.

Anyway, Melmoth. The twist; the Wanderer can save himself if he can find someone else so desperate that they will take on his bargain. So Melmoth haunts mad houses and prisons, the starving and desperate, the love lost and forlorn… and everybody turns him down. Like stoker’s Dracula he is “off stage” for most of the narrative, and like Dracula, he gains in mystery and force from that. Like Dracula, the end is anti climatic.
The narrative progresses through a series of nested stories.

So first some attempt to set them out.
The frame itself is straightforward.
A) John Melmoth goes to his uncle’s house.
B) Uncle dies.
C) Jm inherits house. Stays there. Reads garbled narrative.
D) One stormy night watching a shipwreck he is rescued by the Spaniard, Moncada
E) Who tells him his story over a number of days.
F) The Wanderer appears, cuts short the story telling, and dies.

But in this are embedded other stories, each of which obviously pre-exists the main time frame.
(E) Moncada tells his own story up to the point where he is saved by the Jew and is asked to read another story.
E1Moncada beaks his own story, which is never resumed, to tell John Melmoth this story of Imalee up to her first death on the island. Then the story appears to break but actually continues. Imalee, now Isadora, re-encounters the Wanderer and their story continues up to the night of their “marriage” when the story once again breaks.
E2 Moncada, still narrating the story he read, introduces the story of Imalee’s father, Don Francisco’s, journey. Although ostensibly the same story as E1, the break is such that it becomes a separate sequence. This story is itself broken:
E3 The stranger at the inn tells Don F the story of Guzman and the Walbergs. The Don continues his journey, gets lost and meets the Wanderer..
E4 The Wanderer, in an attempt to save Imalee from himself, tells her father the story of the Mortimers, which itself is broken by
E5 The narrative of the priest who tells of Melmoth’s first death and hints at a Faust like bargain.
E4 finishes with the father missing the point.
E6 Because Imalee’s father is dense the Wanderer now tells the father the father’s story.
E1 resumes the night after the marriage and continues until Imalee’s death in the hands of the Inquisition.
F) Cuts short the story telling. The Wanderer tells in the present something of his story and the book comes to an end.

In terms of narrators and audiences it is superficially complicated; John Melmoth is Moncada’s audience, but in e2, 3, 4 and 6 the audience is her father. In e5 the story is told by the priest to Elaine in a story told by the wanderer to the father which is being told by Moncada to John Melmoth in a story written by Maturin to me……

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