Tuesday, 12 July 2011

"Lionizing" by Edgar Allan Poe

This is Edgar Allan Poe's fable Lionizing from his 1840 Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, most notable for the previously published The Fall of the House of Usher. Read it, then analyse your reaction. Perhaps my comments at the end might help.



-all people went
Upon their ten toes in wild wondernment.
Bishop Hall's Satires.

I AM, that is to say I was, a great man, but I am neither the author of Junius nor the man in the mask, for my name, I believe, is Robert Jones, and I was born somewhere in the city of Fum-Fudge.

The first action of my life was the taking hold of my nose with both hands. My mother saw this and called me a genius:-my father wept for joy and presented me with a treatise on Nosology. This I mastered before I was breeched.

I now began to feel my way in the science, and soon came to understand that, provided a man had a nose sufficiently conspicuous, he might by merely following it, arrive at a Lionship. But my attention was not confined to theories alone. Every morning I gave my proboscis a couple of pulls and swallowed a half-dozen of drams.

When I came of age my father asked me, one day, if I would step with him into his study.

"My son," he said, when we were seated, "what is the chief end of your existence?"

"My father," I answered, "it is the study of Nosology."

"And what, Robert," he inquired, "is Nosology?"

"Sir," I said, "it is the science of Noses."

"And can you tell me," he demanded, "what is the meaning of a nose?"

"A nose, my father," I replied, greatly softened, "has been variously defined by about a thousand different authors." [Here I pulled out my watch.] "It is now noon, or thereabouts-We shall have time enough to get through with them all before midnight. To commence then: The nose, according to Bartholinus, is that protuberance-that bump-that excresence-that-"

"Will do, Robert," interupted the old gentleman. "I am thunderstruck at the extent of your information-I am positively-upon my soul." [Here he closed his eyes and placed his hand upon his heart.] "Come here!" [Here he took me by the arm.] "Your education may now be considered as finished-it is high time you should scuffle for yourself-and you cannot do a better thing than merely follow your nose-so-so-so-" [Here he kicked me down stairs and out of the door.]-"So get out of my house, and God bless you!"

As I felt within me the divine afflatus, I considered this accident rather fortunate than otherwise. I resolved to be guided by the paternal advice. I determined to follow my nose. I gave it a pull or two upon the spot, and wrote a pamphlet on Nosology forthwith.

All Fum-Fudge was in an uproar.

"Wonderful genius!" said the Quarterly.

"Superb physiologist!" said the Westminster.

"Clever fellow!" said the Foreign.

"Fine writer!", said the Edinburgh.

"Profound thinker!" said the Dublin.

"Great man!" said Bentley.

"Divine soul!" said Fraser.

"One of us!" said Blackwood.

"Who can he be?" said Mrs. Bas-Bleu.

"What can he be?" said big Miss Bas-Bleu.

"Where can he be?" said little Miss Bas-Bleu.-But I paid these people no attention whatever-I just stepped into the shop of an artist.

The Duchess of Bless-my-Soul was sitting for her portrait; the Marquis of So-and-So was holding the Duchess' poodle; the Earl of This-and-That was flirting with her salts; and his Royal Highness of Touch-me-Not was leaning upon the back of her chair.

I approached the artist and turned up my nose.

"Oh, beautiful!" sighed her Grace.

"Oh, my!" lisped the Marquis.

"Oh, shocking!" groaned the Earl.

"Oh, abominable!" growled his Royal Highness.

"What will you take for it?" asked the artist.

"For his nose!" shouted her Grace.

"A thousand pounds," said I, sitting down.

"A thousand pounds?" inquired the artist, musingly.

"A thousand pounds," said I.

"Beautiful!" said he, entranced.

"A thousand pounds," said I.

"Do you warrant it?" he asked, turning the nose to the light.

"I do," said I, blowing it well.

"Is it quite original?" he inquired, touching it with reverence.

"Humph!" said I, twisting it to one side.

"Has no copy been taken?" he demanded, surveying it through a microscope.

"None," said I, turning it up.

"Admirable!" he ejaculated, thrown quite off his guard by the beauty of the manoeuvre.

"A thousand pounds," said I.

"A thousand pounds?" said he.

"Precisely," said I.

"A thousand pounds?" said he.

"Just so," said I.

"You shall have them," said he. "What a piece of virtu!" So he drew me a check upon the spot, and took a sketch of my nose. I engaged rooms in Jermyn street, and sent her Majesty the ninety-ninth edition of the "Nosology," with a portrait of the proboscis. That sad little rake, the Prince of Wales, invited me to dinner.

We are all lions and recherches.

There was a modern Platonist. He quoted Porphyry, Iamblicus, Plotinus, Proclus, Hierocles, Maximus Tyrius, and Syrianus.

There was a human-perfectibility man. He quoted Turgot, Price, Priestly, Condorcet, De Stael, and the "Ambitious Student in Ill-Health."

There was Sir Positive Paradox. He observed that all fools were philosophers, and that all philosophers were fools.

There was Aestheticus Ethix. He spoke of fire, unity, and atoms; bi-part and pre-existent soul; affinity and discord; primitive intelligence and homoomeria.

There was Theologos Theology. He talked of Eusebius and Arianus; heresy and the Council of Nice; Puseyism and consubstantialism; Homousios and Homouioisios.

There was Fricassee from the Rocher de Cancale. He mentioned Muriton of red tongue; cauliflowers with veloute sauce; veal a la St. Menehoult; marinade a la St. Florentin; and orange jellies en mosaiques.

There was Bibulus O'Bumper. He touched upon Latour and Markbrunnen; upon Mosseux and Chambertin; upon Richbourg and St. George; upon Haubrion, Leonville, and Medoc; upon Barac and Preignac; upon Grave, upon Sauterne, upon Lafitte, and upon St. Peray. He shook his head at Clos de Vougeot, and told with his eyes shut, the difference between Sherry and Amontillado.

There was Signor Tintontintino from Florence. He discoursed of Cimabue, Arpino, Carpaccio, and Argostino-of the gloom of Caravaggio, of the amenity of Albano, of the colors of Titian, of the frows of Rubens, and of the waggeries of Jan Steen.

There was the President of the Fum-Fudge University. He was of the opinion that the moon was called Bendis in Thrace, Bubastis in Egypt, Dian in Rome, and Artemis in Greece.

There was a Grand Turk from Stamboul. He could not help thinking that the angels were horses, cocks, and bulls; that somebody in the sixth heaven had seventy thousand heads; and that the earth was supported by a sky-blue cow with an incalculable number of green horns.

There was Delphinus Polyglott. He told us what had become of the eighty-three lost tragedies of Aeschylus; of the fifty-four orations of Isaeus; of the three hundred and ninety-one speeches of Lysias; of the hundred and eighty treatises of Theophrastus; of the eighth book of the conic sections of Apollonius; of Pindar's hymns and dithyrambics, and of the five and forty tragedies of Homer Junior.

There was Ferdinand Fitz-Fossillus Feltspar. He informed us all about internal fires and tertiary formations; about aeriforms, fluidiforms, and solidforms; about quartz and marl; about schist and schorl; about gypsum and trap; about talc and calc; about blende and horn-blende; about micaslate and pudding-stone; about cyanite and lepidolite; about haematite and tremolite; about antimony and calcedony; about manganese and whatever you please.

There was myself. I spoke of myself;-of myself, of myself, of myself;-of Nosology, of my pamphlet, and of myself. I turned up my nose, and I spoke of myself.

"Marvellous clever man!" said the Prince.

"Superb!" said his guests;-and next morning her Grace of Bless-my-soul paid me a visit.

"Will you go to Almack's, pretty creature?" she said, tapping me under the chin.

"Upon honor," said I.

"Nose and all?" she asked.

"As I live," I replied.

"Here then is a card, my life. Shall I say you will be there?"

"Dear, Duchess, with all my heart."

"Pshaw, no!-but with all your nose?"

"Every bit of it, my love," said I:-so I gave it a twist or two, and found myself at Almack's.

The rooms were crowded to suffocation.

"He is coming!" said somebody on the staircase.

"He is coming!" said somebody farther up.

"He is coming!" said somebody farther still.

"He is come!" exclaimed the Duchess, "He is come, the little love!"-and, seizing me firmly by both hands, she kissed me thrice upon the nose.

A marked sensation immediately ensued.

"Diavolo!" cried Count Capricornutti.

"Dios guarda!" muttered Don Stiletto.

"Mille tonnerres!" ejaculated the Prince de Grenouille.

"Tousand teufel!" growled the Elector of Bluddennuff.

It was not to be borne. I grew angry. I turned short upon Bluddennuff.

"Sir!" said I to him, "you are a baboon."

"Sir," he replied, after a pause. "Donner und Blitzen!"

This was all that could be desired. We exchanged cards. At Chalk-Farm, the next morning, I shot off his nose-and then called upon my friends.

"Bete!" said the first.

"Fool!" said the second.

"Dolt!" said the third.

"Ass!" said the fourth.

"Ninny!" said the fifth.

"Noodle!" said the sixth.

"Be off!" said the seventh.

At all this I felt mortified, and so called upon my father.

"Father," I asked, "what is the chief end of my existence?"

"My son," he replied, "it is still the study of Nosology; but in hitting the Elector upon the nose you have overshot your mark. You have a fine nose, it is true; but then Bluddennuff has none. You are damned, and he has become the hero of the day. I grant you that in Fum-Fudge the greatness of a lion is in proportion to the size of his proboscis-but, good heavens! there is no competing with a lion who has no proboscis at all."




The reader may well feel uneasy while reading this fable. For a modern reader, the title of the volume signals the very notion, although the words grotesque and arabesque also refer to the complicated pattern of decorative art found in Roman and Arabic architecture. This thus also reflect the complicated and interwoven nature of the story.

The unease could have a number of causes. Freud explains the term uncanny or unheimlich ("unhomely") in his essay on the term from 1919 as the snag that makes something familiar and safe unfamiliar and scary. He does, amongst other examples, explain how the eyes are understood as vital from a very early age and that any deficiency in these would promote the feeling of the uncanny. (See for instance Neil Gaiman's Coraline.) What makes Lionizing uncanny is the warped sense of reality, biology and the use of a familiar mode of narration to relate this warped sense.

Beginning with the last, the narrative structure looks very much like that of fairy tales and fables (hence my labelling in the introduction). These genres are generally used to teach, that is induce certainty, and entertain, which would induce ease and a feeling of belonging and safety. The subject matter of Lionizing on the other hand does neither.There is very little consistency in the characters and very little exposition of setting and yet the characters are shown to be highly important through massive use of references and emphasis of their comments. This makes the reader feel at a loss. Furthermore, while the structure of repetition would normally promote a feeling of stability and unity, the fragmentary nature of the narrative (especially in terms of setting) and the subject matter undermines this. The fable does, however, rather surprisingly have a lesson at the end.

There is a warped sense of reality which keep appearing. References are given to real life scientists etc. but many of the matters of discussion and the protagonist's area of expertise are nonsensical. Also, the protagonist undergoes an unnaturally rapid development and consorts with an unlikely array of figures who acts in ways uncalled for. The fable contains several references to reality which, each on their own, can be accepted but which in combination makes the text uncanny.

Finally, the warped sense of biology. Notice a child's fascination with any kind of physical deformity and deficiency. This is an aspect of the same feelings Freud discussed. The protagonist is uncommonly smart and has an uncommonly attractive nose. As long as this is proven by the other characters through their exaggerated attention to the nose, the sense of unease is maintained, because the natural has become unnatural.

As a closing side note, Poe is not really known for being humourous. Perhaps the unease may stem from a rather unsuccessful attempt at comedy and the whole uncannyness was unintentional? For humourous nonsense, I guess you would have to look to Lewis Carroll or Roald Dahl, or perhaps Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories.

Sources: Text, Pic., Uncanny

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